Neal? Neal? Neal was up for auction? Apparently so, as the gentleman who’d introduced Neal started taking bids-starting at ten grand!
Wow. Last night I’d nearly gotten a real bargain, I thought, and would have loved to shove that in the perfect man-made faces of the two women…who were no longer next to me.
“Fifteen thousand!” Babette yelled out.
Suddenly she and Daphne were way up front bidding against each other along with plenty of other women in the room. Make that every woman in the room. However, one of the voices from the back sounded rather deep, and kept outbidding everyone.
I sipped my champagne, decided it actually tasted delicious and laughed and enjoyed the festivities, as everyone else in the room seemed to be doing.
“Going once, twice, three times,” the auctioneer said, finishing with, “Two hundred fifty-five thousand to the anonymous bidder in the rear.”
Everyone in the room turned around. No one was there except two waiters with half empty trays.
The auctioneer laughed. “Of course we won’t take that bid out of those gentlemen’s salaries. No, the bidding is complete and anonymous, however the bidder informed us that I am to announce who the winner is right now.”
For rowdy, snooty rich folks, the room hushed instantly.
“The bidder has already paid up, and the winner of the date with Dr. Forsyth is…Ms. Pauline Sokol.”
Along with everyone else, I looked around the room to see who the hell she was.
Hands covered my eyes so I gave a swift slug behind me with my elbow.
“Ouch! Hey, Pauline. It’s me. Your prize.”
My eyes were uncovered as I swung around to come face-to-face with Neal.
“I won you? I won you, Neal?”
He laughed and kissed my cheek. “Don’t be so shocked, Pauline. I had Marie do the bidding. I thought it a great surprise for you. It’s for a good cause, you know. The scholarship goes to a high school student who is underprivileged.”
Hm. Guess I could have sex with Neal for such a worthy cause. I would have figured the entire thing out, but I never got to see Marie. Oh, those upstairs or downstairs maids were so discreet!
Suddenly I had a strong urge to go to confession. Damn that morality-induced upbringing. I looked at Neal, allowed myself a little hot flash and said, “Guess I could suck it up.”
We laughed as he hugged me-and over his shoulder I saw Jagger…approaching.
Damn. Now I didn’t have any time to question Neal to see if he knew who paid for our date.
Trying not to be too obvious, I eased myself free of a rather surprised Neal, and why wouldn’t he be? After last night’s antics, I shouldn’t have been embarrassed to be held by him in public, but there was Jagger, approaching!
“Oh, Neal, have you met Jagger?” I asked before he got close enough to even hear.
Neal turned around, and I’m sure suddenly had second thoughts about dating me, even for 255 grand. “Um. No. Jagger?”
Jagger came up to me and eyed Neal. “Hey.”
I introduced the two as “he’s also staying at the lodge,” that’d be Jagger, and “Goldie’s doctor,” that’d be Neal. Sounded very noncommittal I thought and mentally patted myself on the back.
The two kinda growled at each other, then Neal was called up to the “stage” area to announce the grand total made for the auction and Jagger stood silently next to me-and I could feel every second of him staring at me.
The crowd yelled and clapped after Neal announced a staggering number that had been paid for the bachelors. I couldn’t help myself as I leaned toward Jagger, who still looked at me, and said, “They could have doubled it if you were auctioned off.” Then I laughed.
He glared at me.
Oops. “Lighten up, Jagger. It’s for a good cause.”
I know he wanted to say something about my “winning” Neal, but probably didn’t want me to think he cared. “Who paid for your ‘date’?”
Damn. I’d nearly forgotten about that. “Hm. You know I have no idea. Do you?”
Jagger looked down at me, and I’m sure wanted to roll his eyes. “You need to find out. Could be related to your case.”
“My case? What the hell does this have to do with my case?”
Jagger stood silent.
I punched his chest. Not that he probably even felt it, but I said, “Do you know something you’re not sharing with me? Something about Mr. Baines’s murder?”
“That case is closed.”
Then Ian really did kill him. But why? “Aren’t the cops even looking for motive?”
“What for? They can’t prosecute a corpse.”
I punched him again. “Ian was a person-”
“Who killed Mr. Baines.”
I went to punch him again, but this time his reflexes came into play and he grabbed my arm.
“But then who killed Ian?”
Jagger looked out past me as if he were thinking. “The cops have ruled his death a suicide.”
“Suicide?” My heart sank. How awful, yet, knowing Ian, it did sound believable. “Oh,” was all I could manage.
“Get to work, Sherlock. Why the hell do you think I brought you here? To win…”
He let go of my arm, turned and walked away.
What the hell did that mean? Instead of facing the daunting task of figuring out Jagger, I decided to look around the room for someone to talk to who might have something to do with my case.
“Congratulations, Ms. Sokol.”
I swung around to come face-to-scowling-face with none other than Olivia Wheaton-Chandler!
“Oh. Thanks. Thank you, Mrs. Chandler. Mrs. Wheaton-Chandler.”
She raised one eyebrow ever so slightly. “Olivia. Please.”
“Oh, yeah. Olivia please. I mean Olivia. Thanks.” For a few seconds I couldn’t even remember what she was thanking me for, but faced with critical situations all my nursing career, my mind snapped back. “Winning Dr. Forsyth-that is, a date with Dr. Forsyth-well, that was quite a surprise.” I stepped back to get a better look at her this close.
Olivia was beautiful and for someone her age looked rather young. I figured she had to be past fifty to be Lydia’s aunt from the stuff Lydia had shared with me, but there were only tiny crow’s-feet near Olivia’s eyes and the slightest droop to one eyelid.
Her hair had to be fashioned daily by a beautician, and the coloring, deep golden blonde tones, looked perfectly highlighted. Strong, high cheekbones gave her not only an air of being wealthy, she looked as if she were born to be.
A handsome woman one might say.
“Yes, dear. I’m sure it was a surprise,” she said, and then sipped on her goblet of champagne.
What was a surprise? I thought after I’d been studying her up close and personal. Oh, yeah. The Neal date. “Hey, do you know how it came about? I mean who coughed up all that dough for me?”
She leaned near. Earlier I hadn’t noticed how dark her eyes were. Very much like Lydia’s. Olivia’s, however, darkened further as she said, “I have no idea who coughed up the dough…or why.”
In seconds the crowd parted and Olivia Wheaton-Chandler walked graciously away as I stood there with my jaw resting on my chest-and everyone staring at me.
“One thing is for sure, Jagger, old lady Wheaton-Chandler is not a nice person,” I repeated in a whiny tone as Jagger walked in front of me into the lodge.
Okay, I’d said the same thing over and over all the way back, but he didn’t have to run away like that. “Hey, I’m not done!”
Over his shoulder he said, “Yes, you are, Pauline. Get some sleep.”
Damn it. I wasn’t done, I thought as I walked up to my room and opened the door. The window was closed but the room felt about thirty degrees. “Hey, Sam, I could use some help.”
The curtains ruffled.
For some reason I didn’t feel frightened and said, “You’re invisible. Maybe you could help with my case. Who the hell paid for that bid and why?”
The newspaper that the maid left on the bedside table each day, and I never had time to read, fluttered to the floor. I chuckled as if it were a sign from old Samuel as I bent to pick it up. It read:
Bachelor auction this evening. Dr. Neal Forsyth, the number one draw.
I looked up and laughed. “Why Sam, you dog you, are you telling me Neal had the hots for me and bid the money himself so I would date him again? Ha! Nice to be that rich that you could afford it!”
The room warmed…no, make that heated to an unusually warm temperature.
After tossing and turning most of the night and blaming it on the champagne and not the woo woo actions of Samuel, I finally got up and dressed for work. I didn’t want to be late for taking care of Goldie, although I was certain he was in good hands.
When I went down to the dining room for breakfast, I noticed several settings had been used, but no one else was about. When the maid came to ask me if I wanted “savory or sweet,” I asked if Jagger had come down yet.
“Hours ago, ma’am. He had his suitcase with him too.”
“He left?” That rat! He wouldn’t leave without a word, or would he?
Yes, Pauline, I told myself, Jagger would do whatever the hell he pleased.
“Savory. No, sweet,” I muttered as I contemplated the fact that if Jagger felt he could leave Newport, I was perfectly safe, but still needed something sweet.
Yeah, I also entertained the idea that he left-jealous of Neal-and didn’t want to be around to see me go on another date.
“Is something funny, ma’am?” the maid asked.
I looked at her and realized I actually had been laughing-hysterically.
“Hey, Gold,” I whispered as I touched his hand. “It’s me, Pauline.”
He opened one eye and smiled. “Morning, Suga.”
“How you doing, buddy?” I sat on the edge of the bed and studied the bruising on his face and knew that was all par for the course. “Any pain?” Suddenly I wanted to bite my tongue. Old nursing trick: With patients like my dear Goldie, who had a low tolerance for pain, one should never bring up the subject of any discomfort and put it into their heads! How many times had I asked a patient if they had a headache and suddenly they did.
He moaned. “Some. Maybe I should take something?”
“Well, you were sleeping pretty soundly, Gold. I only woke you because your breakfast is here and I don’t want it to get cold. How about you eat and then we’ll see if you need something.” I stood up and Goldie grabbed my hand.
“Thank you, Suga.”
I winked at him and fixed the tray so he could sit up in his bed and eat while I promptly told him all about last night, including the auction and the Samuel newspaper incident.
“Don’t make me laugh with these damn bandages on my face, Suga. A ghost!”
“Hey, I’m really buying into it, Gold. He’s so real. And the strange thing is, he seems to know Jagger so well!”
We both laughed, and I sat in the stuffed chair near the window, fairly certain that dear Goldie, in his Burberry nightgown, false eyelashes and a silken bed jacket, was not in dire pain.
Since Goldie had assured me that he was fine while he ate breakfast in bed and watched Martha Stewart on television, I headed downstairs to return my stolen goods. Dear Goldie had given me some tips on how to sneak them back into the desk, and to make sure I’d wiped off any fingerprints-just in case.
Lydia was sitting at the computer, obviously lost in work. When I came around the side of the reception desk, I smiled. Solitaire. The kid was playing a game of Solitaire.
Actually, it then struck me as sad.
She should have been out with friends or in college and having the best time of her life, not holed up in this dead-end job because she was a relative.
What the hell did Olivia, and probably Devin, I’d bet my last dime, and Dr. Cook all have to hide that they needed to involve Lydia?
“Hey, Lydia. How about a tea? I made you some Earl Grey.” I set her mug of tea next to her computer. Getting the tea was part one of my getting the letters back. If nothing else, Lydia would be preoccupied, or at least have to leave for a few seconds since I purposely didn’t fix her tea correctly.
“Thanks.” She looked at her tea. “No milk, Pauline.”
“Oh. Sorry. I forgot how you take it,” I lied. “I’m fussy about my tea too, so why don’t you go refix it. I’ll watch the desk for you.”
She hesitated a second, looked at her cup and said, “Don’t touch the computer.”
I smiled to myself at my success and only frowned when I thought that I wished Jagger were there to give me an “atta girl.” Oh, well. I was on my own and apparently doing fine. No. Spectacular!
I hurried into the back room, looked around several times to make sure no one snuck up on me, and got the key to the desk. Before the clock’s handle could move, I had the desktop opened, the letters safely tucked back inside, and eased the cover closed.
Then I swung around to see that heavily bandaged woman standing at the desk-watching me.