• Kelly Zimmer

Gifted Girls Only: Cruisin' in a Sea of Trouble


Chapter One

"I'm not your little sister, Emi." Allison flipped a blonde braid over her shoulder.

"Be Theresa's little sister then," I said, "you're twenty. You can't cruise unless you've got an adult in your cabin." Allison's excellent fake ID wouldn't help her at check-in. She needed her passport, which bore her actual birthday.

Mike Spinelli's Lincoln Town Car limo eased to the curb at the passenger drop-off. We popped out, eager to get our party cruise started. I couldn't resist a little more teasing. "What time is Allison's curfew?" I asked Theresa as I lifted my suitcase from the trunk.

Theresa pulled out her rolling bag. "Depends on when the teen club closes."

"Funny, guys. Once I'm on board, I'm nobody's little sister." Allison yanked her bag from the back, and we hoofed it to the check-in.

The limo rolled off to the parking lot. Mike promised Sean and Tony he'd make sure we were safely on board before heading home. Theresa, Allison, and I worked for Sean and Tony at Mayweather Executive Solutions. It's a business services company in Tallahassee staffed with gifted people. By gifted, I mean talented. By talented, I don't mean good at music or sports. We had wild skills that most people don't suspect exist outside of fantasy novels.

The lines at security were long but snaked steadily ahead. With only two groups left ahead of us, our line came to a frustrating halt. A woman with two teenage girls trailing her had bumped into a language barrier with the clerk.

We sighed and ignored the problem which would resolve itself once they found a translator. Relief came sooner than we expected. A guy from the adjacent line studied the situation. His eyes narrowed as voices rose, and he took a sideways step out of his queue. He appeared to listen for a moment before stepping to the counter and speaking to the clerk.

The words, "oh, I see," floated back to us. The clerk shoved some documents to the group. They smiled and spoke to the guy who returned to the head of his own line.

"Portuguese," Theresa said.

Allison frowned. "Who's Portuguese?"

"The woman with the teenagers spoke Portuguese. I bet they’re from Brazil."

I let my gaze wander to the guy. "Why is a good-looking guy like him traveling alone?" I asked no one in particular.

He was mid-twenties, not too tall, and better-dressed than the other guys in the vast, echoing room. Long lashes framed brown eyes which focused on the middle-aged security clerk as though her words were the purest gold.

After showing our boarding passes and identification, we climbed the gangway to the ship. The party began and I forgot the good-looking stranger.

Chapter Two

Allison used her fake ID to order our bon voyage beverages. Bouncing along with the steel band, we claimed space on the deck and searched for Mike Spinelli on the dock below.

"This is so freaking great," Allison squealed as the ship finally pushed away from the dock.

"Who gave us the tickets?" Theresa asked.

"Friends of Sean and Melanie," Allison shouted over the music. "Sean did them a favor a while back."

Theresa's hazel-green eyes narrowed in disbelief. "Sean and Melanie have three kids at home. They didn't want a getaway?"

"Sean promised Melanie a seven-day cruise with a balcony and couples' massages. The deal is, I get this cheapo cruise, and in exchange, I babysit the kids for a week when they take their luxury cruise."

"Can't beat that," I said, "and I'll help you with the kids when the time comes. Let's hit the pool."

"There's Mike at the end of the dock," Allison screeched.

We yelled and bounced and waved until we were sure he saw us then dashed to our cabin to change for a swim.

Elbows and knees bumped in the tiny interior cabin as we unpacked and changed into our swimsuits. Before heading out, we checked out our cruise swimwear and awarded ourselves ten out of ten for style.

Blonde and shapely, Allison filled out a pink two-piece guaranteed to shatter eyeballs. Theresa rocked a white Ralph Lauren one-piece that popped against her brown skin and spotlighted her endless legs. My friends assured me that my high-rise teal one-piece gave me the illusion of height, and the shirring hid my tummy.

We scored three lounge chairs at the pool, sipped calorie-bomb drinks, and watched our fellow cruisers.

"Why are there so many more chicks than guys?" Allison asked.

"The guys are at the bars," I said.

A glance to the left confirmed that knots of guys congregated at each end of the pool deck. Those not at the bars focused on the women they were with, only briefly distracted when an exhibitionist chick "lost" her top in the pool. The girl's friends snickered, but the act did the trick. A tall, gray-haired, middle-aged knight came to her rescue.

"She's got a sugar-daddy for the duration," Theresa said. Her manicured fingertips clawed the air. "You going to try that, Allison?"

Allison snorted and tossed her braids over her shoulder. "Losing my top? Nah, I'll just drop my hanky like in the old days."

We laughed and let the sun and sweet drinks work their magic on us. Limp with relaxation, we dozed and swam and met some of our fellow cruisers until our appetites nudged us off our lounge chairs. Before dinner, we strolled around the ship to learn the layout and work up an agenda for the evening. The two dance clubs were closed, but a peek inside got us excited with the colors and lighting. We planned on visiting both, and the casino was a must-see since my friends wanted to put my fortune-telling to the test at blackjack.

As we passed the blackjack tables, I said, "There's too much noise and too many flashing lights. I can’t focus on cards."

Allison craned her neck to take in the chandeliers. "Try it, Emi. What have you got to lose?"

"Fifty bucks."

"You can have my fifty bucks, too," Theresa said.

"My fifty is going into the slot machines," Allison said, "but I'll hang with you for good luck.

"Why don't you get friendly with the dealers and tell Emi what their cards are."

Allison scrunched up her face. "No, I don't see how to make that work."

"That's cheating, and I won't do it," I said. My friends rolled eyes at me. "Okay, I'll try it with one hand, but you know how my thing works. I’ll see the perfect hand dealt next Thursday."

As we passed through the gaming floor into one of the many lounges, Theresa nudged me. "There's that guy again."

I spotted him hovering on the fringes of a group of Japanese tourists. Eyes focused on one of the small, aged women in the group, he appeared to be listening intently. He flagged a server and whispered something. After smiling and nodding, he moved on.

Theresa screwed up her face. "Portuguese and Japanese?"

I shrugged. "Maybe he's a linguistic guru."

We elected not to attend the fancy sit-down dinner. We didn't have those kinds of clothes, and if we did, we wouldn't be able to fit in them long if we ate like that every night. Also, the first seating for dinner wouldn't be for an hour, and we were already starving. We changed into our club dresses and heels then hit one of the casual buffets.

It was after eight when we finished eating, but the sky was still bright as we stepped into the casino. At the garish and noisy entrance, a couple argued loudly, arms flailing.

"Little early for that nonsense," Theresa noted, "they've hardly had enough time to get drunk."

Though most people skirted the disturbance, a small crowd gathered. Theresa, Allison, and I hung back and watched.

"Do you think we should help?" I asked Theresa.

"How, I can't understand a word they're saying."

She was right. The language sounded Slavic, maybe Russian, what did I know.

"You see anything, Emi?" Allison asked.

I focused on the couple, not the angry, unintelligible words spewing from them, and concentrated. In my head, they stood hand in hand, smiling at a brilliant sunset.

"They'll be fine," I reported and turned. As I did, there he was again.

He'd changed into a black, short-sleeved shirt over black jeans and looked older and sexier. He edged up to the couple, listened, nodded, and moved past us. Apparently, he'd come to the same conclusion that I had.

We blinked at each other. "Do you think he's one of us," I began, but Allison had already taken off after him.

Chapter Three

By the time we caught up, Allison had already introduced herself. "And these are my friends," she continued without a pause, "Emi Watson and Theresa Fitzpatrick."

His smile reached his brown eyes, which crinkled at the corners. "Davin Kenny. I noticed the three of you at security."

"We noticed you, too." Allison's eyes sparkled.

"You helped that woman with the two girls," I said.

Davin opened his mouth to speak, then stopped.

Theresa changed the subject. "We planned to hit the casino, but we’re in no hurry. Let's have a drink, our treat."

Davin busted out laughing. "With three hot girls? I was hoping to meet just one."

***

We chose the Fusion Bar because it was the least full of senior citizens.

"At the risk of sounding politically incorrect," Theresa said, "how come a good-looking guy like you is cruising alone?"

Davin shoved a lime wedge into his beer. "The cruise was a surprise for my fiancée. Well, she was almost my fiancée. I wanted to propose during the Captain's Ball. Last weekend, she surprised me instead by running her BMW into my folk's swimming pool. My best friend was in the passenger seat."

A vision popped, and I squinted at Davin. "Were they naked?"

"How did you guess?" he said, but he didn't seem surprised that I'd scoped in on his humiliation. "I’m on a rebound cruise. Why are you three here?"

"Friends of our boss gave us the tickets," Allison said.

"You girls work together?"

We nodded and made non-committal noises.

"Where at?"

"Mayweather Executive Solutions in Tallahassee," I said, "what do you do?"

"Law student at the University of Florida. I graduated in May. This was my last hurrah before starting the grind."

Allison laid a hand over his. "Poor baby. Stick with us, you'll have fun, I promise."

I raised my hands with my palms out. "Full disclosure, I have a boyfriend back home."

"Me too," Theresa said, but she didn't sound wholly committed.

"I'm free." Allison winked and squeezed Davin's hand.

Davin laughed and waved for another beer. "Seriously, I just got dumped, I'm not looking for a relationship. I'm just looking to have fun."

"That," Theresa said, "we can promise you."

***

After another drink, we made for the casino as we'd planned. Davin slid onto the stool next to me at the blackjack table. Allison hovered over his shoulder.

Theresa whispered into my ear. "Clear your head and study your cards. Ignore everything else."

That was easier said than done. Slot machines jangled, beeped, and whirred. A siren blared. Squealing and applause followed. I tried to drive it all out and focused on our table. Davin didn't speak, but the people on my other side blabbed loudly in a language I didn't recognize. The two men were beefy and fair-skinned and never shut up.

I lost and won. Lost, then lost again, then won. Davin had similar luck until the sixth hand. He won and won again. On the next hand, I was contemplating another card when Davin's hand dropped to my thigh. I flinched. His forefinger tapped once. I flushed, wondering if he was hitting on me. Distracted, I forgot to ask for a card. I won.

Over the next thirty minutes, I figured out one tap meant to hold, and two taps meant to take a card. My win percentage rose from twenty percent to sixty percent. I left the table with my original one hundred and another one-eighty.

Not being stupid, I made no comment to Davin. "I need a restroom break," I announced, knowing my friends would take the cue. We held a mini-conference behind a potted palm just outside the casino. Davin cashed in his chips and returned to wait for us. He punched at his phone across the room.

"It appears he plans to hang around," Theresa said.

I shifted my gaze from him to my friends. "He's one of us, isn't he?"

"I got nada back in the lounge," Allison said. "He told the truth about his girlfriend and law school and all, but at the blackjack table, he was listening in."

"What was he listening to?" I asked.

"The men next to you."

"What were they talking about?"

"I don't know, I couldn't understand them, but Davin did. After they made their bets, Davin decided on his bet. I think that's why he picked that table and sat near them."

Theresa drew her brows together. "Because they were speaking an unusual language?"

"Languages," I said, "his gift is with languages."

Davin raised his head from his phone. We smiled, waved, and strolled over to him.

Allison positioned herself on the arm of his chair. I took the chair opposite, so I could focus on Davin's angular, unsuspecting face.

Theresa crossed her arms and gave Davin's shin a tap with her Christian Louboutin heels. "You're good at blackjack."

He grinned up at her, raised a brow, and moved to pocket his phone.

"Thanks for your help," I said. "What were they speaking, by the way?"

Davin's hand froze on the way to his jacket pocket. "Who—"

"You have a gift for understanding languages," I stated evenly. "You can't speak the language, but you can understand what's said. I take it the people on the other side of me were discussing their cards."

"I bet they were counting cards and speculating on the dealer's hand," Theresa added. "They thought no one understood them, but you could."

We waited. If Davin were a gifted person, he'd believe us. If he wasn’t, he'd think we were pulling his leg or were head cases. The worst that could happen would be he'd run off and avoid us for the rest of the cruise.

He stayed put.

I formed what I hoped was a disarming smile. "I can see into the future. I'm never sure if I'm seeing the future or just random nonsense. Oh, and Allison can read your mind."

Davin's head snapped up to Allison, who winked down at him. He turned to Theresa. "What's your story?"

"I have telemetric skills. I'm good at finding things and can tell you where they've been. I'm also aces at lock picking."

His eyes danced between us. "Three of you? Working together? Is this a shakedown?"

We laughed. Allison shoved his arm. "No, we want you to know that you're among friends."

"And I appreciated your help with the blackjack," I said. "My precognition gave me nothing."

Davin leaned back and crossed his legs. "Sounds like your precognition is as useless as my language skill."

"It has its challenges, but it's produced some surprising results."

"You use it in your work?"

I made a non-committal sound.

He grinned. "You don't want to talk about your jobs. Must be a hell of a company."

"We work for a business services company," Allison said.

"Sure you do."

Theresa settled on the arm of the chair I was in. "And what about you, Counselor, how do you plan to use your stupid language thing in the courtroom?"

"Not in the courtroom, at the negotiation table." Long soft lashes fluttered. "Contracts."

Theresa's magenta lips formed a silent whistle. "You'll negotiate contracts for a multinational firm, but when they talk amongst themselves, you won't rely on a translator, especially away from the table. Sounds like big bucks."

A shoulder raised and lowered. "Eventually. I'll start as a grunt. How about you three? Do you make good money in the business services business?"

Allison snorted. "Would we be on this cheap-ass cruise if it did? Our boss gave us the tickets."

"You know what I'm wondering?" he asked.

"Allison, what is he wondering?" I asked.

She reached for Davin's arm, but he snatched it away and shook a forefinger in a naughty-naughty gesture.

"What I'm wondering," Davin said, "is how the heck I'm going to dance with three of you at once."

Chapter Four

Both dance clubs were fabulous, but we enjoyed Latin Vibe the most. We ordered drinks we never drank because we were too busy dancing with Davin and with strangers we’d never see again. At one, we needed air.

We strolled along the deck with shoes in hand. We paused at a rail near the spa, where we discussed our gifts and talents, especially their effect on our families.

"My folks want nothing to do with anything weird, including me," Theresa explained.

Davin studied the lights of another cruise ship in the distance. "At least you told them. I was in high school when I noticed my knack for understanding whatever people said, no matter what the language. Every time I considered mentioning it to my mom and dad, I worried they'd think I was on drugs and stick me in rehab."

"My dad knows," I said, "but not my mom."

Turning his head to Allison, Davin asked, "Did you tell your folks?"

"I don’t have a family. I live with my boss. Sean's gifted. His wife isn't, but she understands our world."

"Interesting. What do you guys have planned for tomorrow?"

"I want to shop in Nassau," Theresa said.

Allison huffed. "You're crazy, there's a beach just for the cruise passengers with a party bar. What about you, Davin?"

"The casino, of course."

This may work, I thought. "I say we do it all."

***

We got back to our cabin after two and arranged ourselves on the bed and sofa. We talked about Davin and our first day at sea but kept drifting off to sleep.

My eyes popped open early, eager to catch the sunrise at sea. I nudged my friends awake, and we got through our morning routines without stepping on each other. What to wear was an issue since our plans included shopping, beach, sightseeing, and the casino.

We selected shorts and strappy t-shirts over sturdy shoes. Hair went back into neat braids or buns, and we each packed a bag stuffed with makeup, swimsuits, sandals, and flirty sundresses.

Breakfast was a heavenly feast, and with such a busy day planned, we didn't sweat the calories. Davin found us as we dug into our second servings of everything. He put away his share, then we climbed downstairs to join the line waiting to disembark.

Allison bounced on her toes. "I've never been to a foreign country. Until I joined Mayweather, I'd never been out of Florida."

We discussed our plans for the day as the line edged forward. Davin lagged when the group ahead of us stepped out into the daylight. We hustled to close the gap.

"Hey," Allison yelled, "catch up."

Davin stood in his listening posture and jogged to rejoin us as I slid my boarding pass through the scanner.

We strolled away from the knot of passengers on the dock. Davin casually slipped on his shades. "Remember those Lithuanians from the blackjack table?"

I crinkled my nose. "Is that what they were speaking, Lithuanian?

"Yeah, they were behind us in the line."

"I saw you listening," Theresa said. "What were they talking about?"

"See that group in matching yellow shirts turning down Bay Street?"

I spun around.

"Not so obvious, Emi. The Lithuanians are right behind us."

"Are they planning on robbing people," Allison asked, "in the middle of the morning with a gazillion other cruise passengers around?"

"Not now, but they've got their eyes on potential victims for later. The bigger one, Jonas, suggested they follow a few groups to see who has money. The other one wants to go to the casino on Paradise Island, follow whoever wins big, and wait for an opportunity."

"They're scouting now, got it," I said.

Theresa turned to me. "Forget it, Emi, we're not getting involved. This is a vacation. Think shopping and the beach."

"We don't have to get involved," I said, "we can do what we'd planned to do while we keep an eye out for Jonas, and, what's the other guy's name, Davin?"

"Tomas."

Allison agreed. "There's four of us. It should be easy-peasy, as Anderson says."

And it was; for a while. Theresa had to stop in at Diamonds International, of course. The Lithuanians beat us there, and it was clear they had an American couple in their scopes. The couple's giggling whispers were easy to follow. He wanted to buy her a ring. She very much wanted him to buy her a ring but didn't want to spend all their cash.

Davin and I hovered near the target couple while Theresa and Allison drooled over the shiny rocks. I leaned close to Davin's ear. "If this pair even wins a hundred bucks at the casino, they'll be back."

Davin nodded and moved toward Jonas and Tomas, who pretended to check out watches.

Allison treated herself to a charm bracelet, and Theresa overspent on her earrings, but they were stunners.

"You're not getting anything, Emi?" Davin asked.

"I'm holding out for a bag. I'm nuts about bags the way some people are with shoes." I turned to Theresa. "Take me to handbags, oh Queen of Shopping."

Theresa led me to a darling boutique where I fell in love with a Tommy Bahama cross-body bag. Back on Bay Street, Allison and Davin spotted Jonas and Tomas, who had struck up a conversation with another American couple. Davin abandoned Allison as the Lithuanians stepped into an antique shop.

Theresa, Allison, and I lingered on the busy sidewalk until Davin reappeared.

Davin returned, wearing his smart-ass grin. "They won't bother with the two in there, but the couple from the diamond store is definitely on their list. They're going to the casino after lunch. They'll have a nice list of targets by then. I don't think we need to follow them around all morning."

"Cool," Allison said, "how do we get to the beach."

"Taxi," Davin said and waved one down.

We kept our eyes shut tight during most of the cab ride through the narrow streets of Nassau and over the Sir Sidney Poitier bridge. Our mouths wouldn't stay shut, however, and we laughed, screamed, and groaned throughout the harrowing ride. The driver rewarded our bravery with a view of crystal turquoise waters and a beach so pristine we could barely drag ourselves away until our stomachs growled. We rinsed off at the bathhouse and changed clothes.

Davin insisted on treating us to lunch. We tried to be frugal, but everything on Paradise Island was expensive. I shuddered to guess what lunch for four cost him. Davin didn't seem perturbed, and I got the no-special-gift required notion that he had money.

It was mid-afternoon when we strolled into the casino.

"Oh. My. Gawd," Theresa gawked. "This makes the casino on the ship look so rinky-dink."

"This makes the damn Taj Mahal look rinky-dink," Allison quipped and took off for the slots.

Davin startled me by slipping an arm through mine. He eased me around the edges of the floor toward the blackjack tables.

"I wouldn't dare try to play cards here," I said.

"Not even with the help of our friends?" Davin bobbed a chin toward Jonas and Tomas seated at a table near us.

"Come on," he said, "let's give it a go."

I climbed onto the stool next to Tomas. He smelled of peppermint.

Davin took the seat on my other side. He let his hand rest on my thigh, all lovey-dovey for the security cameras. As they had on the ship, the Lithuanians kept up a steady stream of dialog they assumed no one could follow.

I'd lost my initial hundred dollars when Davin started tapping on my leg: one for hold, two if he wanted me to take a card. I'd more than doubled my money when Davin gathered in his chips. I did the same and followed him toward the cashier.

"Do you think they'll target us?" I asked Davin.

"We're small fry. They have their eyes on the blue-haired woman at the end of the table."

I hadn't noticed the woman. She was around sixty, with white hair tinted with a blue rinse. The look was striking and made her fleshy, ordinary face glow. Or, perhaps, it was the five tall stacks of chips that caused the glow.

"Will you look at that," I said dumbly.

"Look at what?" Theresa asked as she joined us. She waved a fistful of bills at me. "Paid for the earrings."

"Davin thinks the Lithuanians are after that woman at the end of the table."

"They could be targeting lots of people," Theresa said. "How are we going to keep tabs on them?"

"I hoped you could help with that," I said.

Theresa grinned and pulled a chip out of her enormous bag. She studied it, caressed it, and then moved toward the blackjack tables at mosey speed. When she arrived, Theresa leaned forward to take in the action at the table. Jonas' jacket hung off the back of his chair. I didn't see it happen, but when Theresa returned, I was sure her chip was in Jonas' jacket pocket.

Allison joined us with a sunny smile and a ninety-year-old Texan. His name was Mac, and he wanted to buy us drinks. We let him until an exasperated caregiver appeared and led a happy Mac back to the cruise ship.

We resumed our surveillance of the Lithuanians. Theresa and Allison stayed on Jonas, who hung out around the poker tables. The reason he was hovering was apparent. The guy who wanted to buy a diamond ring for his girlfriend was winning.

Davin and I stuck to Tomas, who sat at one of the bars, his not-so-subtle attention focused on the Russian couple who'd had the fight the day before. Davin lifted my hand to his lips and whispered, "The Russians didn't win, but they plan to make up for it by buying a bunch of booze to take home."

"Do they have cash?"

"Tomas seems to think so. Here come your friends."

Allison and Theresa appeared twenty paces behind Jonas, who was twenty paces behind the American couple. We followed at a discrete distance, in no hurry. The eight of us had ample time to make it to the diamond store before it closed.

Chapter Five

We scrambled out of the cab a half block from the diamond store. On the sidewalk, Tomas was already approaching the young American couple.

"Where's Jonas?" I hissed.

"I don't know. I didn't see him get out of the cab. That damn horse and carriage got in the way." Theresa snapped.

"Relax," Allison said, "you can track Jonas anytime. What's Tomas saying, Davin?"

"They're speaking English. We could hear them if we shut up."

We hovered and listened.

"If you want a good buy on diamonds," Tomas said, "go to Charlotte Street."

The woman remained skeptical. "I don't know. There's one in here I really, really love."

Her guy kissed her forehead. "But if the prices are better, we could get you a bigger stone."

"Is it far?" the woman asked Tomas. "We have to be back on the boat by eight."

Tomas waved a hand. "Only two blocks, and there's a shortcut. I show you."

Before he could lead them off, Allison squealed, "Tomas!" and skipped to the burly man to wrap both hands around his thick forearm.

Tomas frowned then caught the bemused look on the faces of the young couple he hoped to rob. "Who are you, little lady?"

"From the casino, remember?" Allison's blue eyes grew wide with fake hurt. "You promised me a drink, then you ran off."

"I didn't promise you nothing."

We caught up with Allison, and I waved her toward me. "You don't need another drink. Leave that guy alone."

Allison pouted and stomped over to us.

Tomas shook his head in confusion and relief. He turned back to his victims, but they'd already stepped into the diamond store. His window of opportunity had closed.

We turned toward the port. "He's following them," Allison whispered anxiously.

"You and I can stay on the couple," Davin told Allison. "Theresa can use her tracking skills to keep tabs on Jonas."

Theresa grabbed my elbow. We jogged to the end of the block where she got her bearings. She shut her eyes, rolled her shoulders, and strode up Frederick Street. I struggled to keep up with Theresa's long strides as she turned onto Shirley Street. After two blocks, she slowed, stopped, and then stepped tentatively into a narrow alley between shops.

I looked around. "Nothing here." I took three hesitant steps into the alley. At its end, a blue-tinted head came into view. Blood still oozed from the scalp.

***

The Bahamian police were very considerate. Theresa and I were shaking and stammering and had no trouble convincing them we'd gotten lost and bumped into the body when we took a wrong turn down the alley. The cops took our statements and had us back on the ship before the deadline. If they needed us, they knew where to find us.

Davin invited us to his stateroom to give us privacy for the conversation we didn't want to have. His junior suite was more than twice the size of our cabin. The chairs, lounger, and table made the balcony a perfect conference room, and the view was unparalleled.

"The dead woman's name is Jonetta Brozek," I reported. "She was from Dayton, Ohio. Her purse and wallet are missing, but she had her boarding pass in a pocket."

"Was she from this ship?" Allison asked uneasily.

"No," I said, "the big one parked next to us. Someone bashed her on the head."

Davin pushed his hair off his forehead. "You guys didn't see Jonas, did you?"

"We didn't see him," I said. "The casino chip Theresa planted on him wasn't far from the body, though. Did Tomas make it back?"

"Yeah," Allison said, "We followed the couple out of the diamond store and back to the ship. Tomas looked at us kind of disgusted, but I don't think he suspects we're on to him. What did you tell the cops about Jonas?"

Theresa pulled the elastic out of her hair, releasing it from the bun at the nape of her slender neck. "I told them Emi played blackjack at the table with Jonetta. Two men I recognized from our cruise ship sat at the same table. That should be enough to put them onto Jonas."

"You'd think," Davin said, but didn't sound convinced. "Tomas will give him an alibi, though."

I stood and moved to the balcony, resting my elbows on the rail. "How do we tell the authorities what we know without telling them how we know it?"

"I could tell them I overheard their conversation," Davin said.

"Which conversation?" Theresa asked. "And how are you going to convince them you understand Lithuanian when you can't speak a word of it?"

"The chip puts the killer at the casino and in the alley," I said, "and Jonas was definitely in that casino, video can prove that."

"So were you," Davin reminded me, "and Theresa's fingerprints will be on the chip."

"I could say I picked the chip up before I realize the woman was dead. And the cops won't suspect Emi or me, anyway. We didn't have Jonetta's blood on us."

"I could find out what Tomas and Jonas are thinking," Allison offered. "That might give us a hint at what to do next."

"Sounds good," Davin said, "as long as you're not alone with them. And speaking of hints, what does your precognition tell you, Emi?"

I closed my eyes but was too agitated over finding Jonetta’s body. "Could I use your sofa for a few minutes to clear my head?"

"Sure." Davin led us back inside.

While I relaxed and cleared the clutter from my brain, I heard my friends chatting and taking full advantage of the spacious bathroom to wash off the day's sweat. I let my mind go blank and released the stress and fear that had overwhelmed me when I spotted Jonetta Brozek. My eyelids fluttered shut then shot open when I recalled her beautiful hair tinged with red.

Taking a deep breath, I forced my eyes closed until black velvet filled my inner vision. I heard Allison and Theresa leave the cabin, their voices happy, but far away.

In my vision, Tomas and Jonas sat around one of the ship's blackjack tables. Their eyes were on their cards, but they talked with each other, a steady stream of unintelligible words. They were alone at the table until a broad-shouldered black man in a tropical print shirt joined them. He took the seat next to Jonas. In my mind, I watched the game and smiled. I knew who the stranger was and why he was there. I just had to figure out how to give him what he wanted.


Chapter Six

When my eyes opened, I was alone. I sat up and caught sight of Davin on his balcony. I joined him and told him what I'd seen and what I thought we had to do. Allison and Theresa interrupted our scheming with loud pounding on the suite's door.

Our host jogged to admit my friends who dragged luggage, including mine into the suite.

My mouth dropped open. "What the hell?"

"Sorry, I should have mentioned," Davin said. "I've got all this room. It's a shame to waste it, so I suggested the three of you move in for the rest of the cruise."

My jaw tightened.

Davin raised both hands in front of his chest. "I expect no reciprocity."

"He means he doesn't expect us to have sex with him," Allison explained unnecessarily.

Theresa rolled her eyes and unpacked her clothes into the walk-in closet.

"I ordered a rollaway bed for me. You three can have the bed and pull-out sofa." Davin gave me a forced smile that showed all his teeth.

I relaxed. "That's so generous. Are you sure?"

"Am I sure I don't want to spend the next two days alone in my suite thinking about my almost-fiancée sleeping with my best friend? Yeah, I'm sure."

***

The next step was out of our hands and, if my vision were accurate, it would happen late the next day. We slept well, considering, and took the first launch to the cruise line's private island in the morning.

Davin reserved us a cabana to give us a break from the sun. In between swimming, snorkeling, and playing at the water park, we talked about our families and friends back home and our weird skills.

We didn't worry that we might run into Jonas and Tomas on the island. People didn't bring cash or wear their best jewelry. With the job on hold, we relaxed and had fun. Sean and Tony wouldn't have approved, but we opened up to Davin about our bosses' practitioner skills and explained what Mayweather Executive Solutions really did. Davin shared more about his gorgeous but flighty girlfriend. The breakup crushed him, but with our help, he was getting over it.

Back on the boat, Davin took care of business while the three of us visited the onboard shops. While souvenir shopping, we spotted Tomas and Jonas, and they spotted us.

Theresa's hazel-green eyes widened. "They're talking about us."

"How do you know?" Allison scowled at the Lithuanians who were staring at us.

"Jonas pointed," Theresa said. "He probably pointed out Emi and me as the ones who found Jonetta's body."

A shiver ran through me. "Everybody swears," I said, "that we stick together, nobody goes anywhere alone."

While scurrying back to Davin's suite, I spotted the broad-shouldered black man from my vision. My spine tingled from the knowledge that I would realize that vision sooner than I expected.

Chapter Seven

We knew where Tomas and Jonas would be, but not when. After a quick dinner in the cafeteria-style restaurant, we hung out in the casino. Allison, Theresa, and I moved everywhere in a pack and stuck to the inexpensive slots and club soda.

The Lithuanians didn't appear until nine. As they selected an empty blackjack table, we hustled to fill the vacant spots. When I took the empty seat next to Tomas, he glared down at me. I needed no special skill to know he expected something was up. Allison distracted him by taking the seat next to Jonas. As she did, her knee bumped his. She smiled apologetically and hunched her shoulders, drawing his attention to her boobs spilling out of the gold halter top.

I won three hands before the man in the tropical-print shirt joined us.

With the table full, our quarry relaxed, and Davin's hand slipped to my thigh.

We let two hands play out.

“Kortos yra geros,” Davin said.

Two square blond heads turned to him.

Davin had merely commented that it was a good table.

I replied with "Taip, ši lentelė man patinka." Hopefully, I'd said that I enjoyed playing at that table, too. My translation app didn't provide voice output for Lithuanian, so I had to guess at the pronunciation.

The blonde heads swiveled to me. We played another hand.

The man in the tropical-print shirt inclined his head toward Jonas and asked Theresa if that was the man she'd seen. "Ar tai tas vyras, kurį matėte?"

Hovering at his shoulder, Theresa replied, "Taip, tai jis," confirming that he was.

Jonas slammed a palm on the blackjack table. "Ji yra! Buvau valtyje, kai ji rado tai."

We didn't react since we didn't understand what he'd said, but play paused as Jonas and Tomas turned to each other and let loose a barrage of unintelligible words.

As we'd each only memorized one line in Lithuanian, we didn't understand a word of the discussion. The body mike caught it, though. Someone on the other end understood what they said because, within minutes, two cruise security workers joined the Bahamian cop in the tropical print shirt. They quietly and discretely escorted Jonas and Tomas from the casino.

Without help from Jonas and Tomas, I lost all of my blackjack money.

***

The teak and brass Shipwreck Lounge provided some of the best views on the ship, but only four other tables were filled, which suited us fine.

Inspector Ferguson raised a glass to us. "To four quick-thinking people."

Theresa waved away the compliment. "It was a guess on our part. Thanks for taking us seriously."

The detective's face compressed in Davin's direction. "How was it you knew they were speaking Lithuanian? You said you don't speak the language yourself."

"I asked a server at dinner," Davin lied fluently. "She wasn't sure, but she found someone who recognized the language. You know how accommodating cruise ship staff is."

That topic was too close for comfort, so Allison distracted the detective. "We got suspicious of them in the diamond store early in the day." The blue eyes went wide and innocent. "I saw them stalking the cute couple that got engaged tonight at the Captain's Ball."

Davin winced.

"When Theresa and I remembered they were playing blackjack right next to Jonetta Brozak, my hair stood on end," I said with a gasp. I was over-selling it, but having fun. "We didn't see them in the alley, but I was sure it was one of them."

"I'm surprised you took us seriously," Davin said. "What made you trust four flaky American tourists who suggested you memorize Lithuanian and wear a wire?"

Ferguson sipped his rum and thought. It was a full minute before he replied. "I don't know. There's something about you guys. I just can't put my finger on it."

Chapter Eight

We crammed way too much into the last day of the cruise. The four of us hit the spa in the morning, the pool in the afternoon, and the dance clubs at night. We overate, drank too much, and took a thousand pictures to help remember a guy we'd never see again.

The day started early and ended late. It was my turn to get the sofa bed to myself. By the time I'd pulled it out and arranged the pillows, my friends were asleep. I turned to the rollaway cot pushed against the sliding doors leading out to the balcony. It was empty, but the curtains to the balcony fluttered slightly.

Davin's elbows rested on the rail. I slid beside him.

I inhaled a lung full of tangy sea air. "Did you have fun?"

Davin raised his head to the star-strewn sky. "What do you think? I assumed I'd be spending four days getting drunk, maybe getting lucky, then hating myself afterward. Instead, I stumbled into another world."

"You didn't know there were other gifted people?"

"I assumed there were, but you three are the first to confirm it. It's good to know I'm not alone, at least not when it comes to skills."

"You won't be alone much longer."

His eyes found mine in the weak illumination of the lights stringing the balcony. "Have you seen something in my future?"

I nodded.

"Are you telling me I'll meet someone?" Hope tinged his voice.

I nodded again.

"A forever someone?"

I slid the balcony door closed. "Not a forever someone, but I promise you'll never forget her."

END

© 2020 by Kelly Zimmer.

  • Facebook
  • Pinterest
  • Instagram