I started my run back to the lodge, and after making it only three streets away from Highcliff, I heard the crunching of gravel behind me. Oh, well, must be another jogger, I thought. Pretty soon the sound got louder-and I felt a presence getting near. Most joggers were courteous enough not to get too close but to move over. Not this one. I quickened my pace.
So did he.
I assumed it was a he, but to be sure, looked briefly over my shoulder. Yep. A he. All in black. Getting closer. And not looking familiar or like a real jogger since he had on jeans.
He was following me!
I sped up, and when I got one street away from the lodge I cut across a neighbor’s yard. Despite some large dog barking, I ran as if trying to save my life-and I might have been.
Soon the lights of the lodge brightened my view-and my mind. There on the porch sat a couple, who I assumed would save my life if need be. Suddenly they looked past me, causing me to swing around.
The black figure sped past and out of sight.
Who the hell was that?
If I hadn’t needed a shower, I could have gone right to Highcliff. Geez, having Daphne Baines see me up close and personal, then being probably stalked, I made it back in record time.
Now I was more convinced that it was she on the cliff with that guy. Her husband? Lover? Hm.
And what the heck did they throw into the sea?
Before I’d hightailed it out of there, I did notice gigantic diamond rings on her fingers. If she were a divorc'ee, it didn’t seem as if she’d wear all the markings of a married woman.
After a quick shower, I dressed in my pink nursing scrubs and decided to go see Goldie. Even though it killed me to stick on the damn outfit, I thought I’d look less conspicuous at Highcliff wearing it. And besides, I could get into areas that were for staff only.
“Miss Sokol,” Ian said, causing me to yank my head up from his computer.
“Hm?” I bumped my temple on the shelf of the desk, but swallowed back a cry of pain.
“Miss Sokol, may I help you with something?”
Nonchalantly I hit the X in the upper corner to close the window on Daphne Baines’s files before Ian could rat me out.
Seems old Daph was married-to a gazillionaire. He owned business after business, mostly in the real estate game. With the prices of housing around here, I figured the Baines clan didn’t want for much. No kids, and I figured that was because Daphne didn’t want to ruin her perfect body, which she’d paid dearly for.
Interestingly enough, I’d found that Daphne had suffered the ultimate to be beautiful-eleven plastic surgeries. Wow. It was a darn good thing that her hubby had the big bucks. Nothing she “required” would have been covered by insurance.
Ian moved closer, his black wing tips tapping on the wooden floor as he moved about, and he looked at his computer and then at me. “If you need something, just ask me. I’d rather you didn’t feel free to do what you want around the clinic.”
Ouch. Chastised by a twentysomething. Oh well, I told myself. There were a lot of things in this business that I had to learn to ignore, and getting myself into trouble or being embarrassed was one of them.
“I’m so sorry, Ian. It’s just that I’m used to taking care of my patients and…well, doing whatever is necessary to care for them.” I sat myself on the edge of the desk-partly out of defiance and partly out of pride so that Ian wouldn’t throw my butt out of the clinic.
He eased past me, clicked on the mouse, and his screen disappeared to the desktop. A lovely paradise island. “I understand you are used to working other places, but around here, no one is allowed behind the desk…except me.”
Now I really needed to get on the good side of Ian. There were other computers in the back room, but in my gut I knew Ian’s private computer held whatever I might need.
Had to pull out the big guns. “Understood, and I’m truly sorry. Hey, let me make it up to you and take you out to lunch.”
I could see a “never” forming on his lips, and no wonder. Not only had he caught me snooping, but also I was not dear Ian’s type-even in my sexy pink scrubs. Quickly I added, “With Goldie.”
Ian’s eyes brightened. “I’ll be ready in ten. I have some business to attend to first.”
And I had a friend I needed to convince to pretend to put the moves on him-despite him being my other friend’s lover.
What the hell was I doing?
Suddenly I thought of Jagger and how he’d gotten me out of trouble on more than one occasion. Well, I really wasn’t in any trouble or danger right now, but I would have to do some fancy footwork to make picking up the lunch tab worth it.
“Yum! This place smells wonderful.” I looked around The Market on the Boulevard and had to swallow in order not to oversalivate.
Along one wall ran the deli counter-with one section for meats, salads, and cheeses from around the world-and continued all the way down to the bakery section. I stood in front of the prepared foods, which ranged from cooked cocktail shrimp to fabulous looking beef tenderloin. The place was a baby boomer’s dream-gourmet food and no cooking.
I was starving after my jog and having found out something about Daphne Baines-even if I had no idea if it would help-I stood there getting hungrier by the minute. “Great choice, Ian.” No harm in buttering him up over and over and over.
He turned to me, and I could tell he was glancing at Goldie over my shoulder. I looked around. Yep. Goldie was eyeing the specialty cheeses.
“Yes, Pauline. This is where the locals shop. Great gourmet food.” His gaze followed Goldie toward the bakery section.
I’d be heading there myself real soon. Ian was proving to be a tough nut to crack, and I was about ready to pull out the chocolate. Not for him though. For me.
“Next,” the college-aged girl behind the counter asked. She had an adorable Irish brogue, and I found out that several foreign students worked there and at various other places in Newport.
I waved my hand since Ian was still engrossed with watching Goldie. “That’d be me. I’ll have a cup of clam chowder to start and three cocktail shrimp.” Even as I said it, I winced. The little delicacies were over twenty bucks a pound, but I figured I could afford three of them-and fill up on the free oyster crackers that sat in various baskets above the salads and next to the white plastic silverware.
After I received my chowder and shrimp, I got a free cup of water, and then sat at a table by the window. The tables were all very close together, but I found one that was next to an unoccupied one. If I got anything out of Ian, I didn’t want any local ears eavesdropping. Not that they’d know what we were talking about, but I’d learned from the best in this business (Jagger) never to assume anything or talk about a case in public.
Okay, I was bending that last rule since “the best way to a man’s anything is through his stomach” rule overrode the public one. Ian should be pleasantly satisfied by the time I had to pay the bill.
And hopefully I’d have something to work with other than, well, frankly-nothing.
Goldie sat down with his goat cheese, salad, and side order of pesto tortellini. Ian had some kind of roast beef wrap. Everything looked great.
I glanced down to see the liquid butter slosh around my clam chowder as I stuck my plastic spoon into the delicacy. On first taste I think I moaned. Damn. Fat and calories aside, it was delicious.
Goldie started the conversation with small talk and soon we found out that Ian had been at the clinic only three years. The way he ran the place, I would have guessed longer. But, still, three years is long enough to help me out here, I thought.
I stuffed the last of my horribly expensive yet fabulously delicious shrimp into my mouth. After the cocktail sauce had my eyes watering just so, I swallowed and said, “Ian, you must have seen some interesting cases being at Highcliff Manor for so long.”
Yes, he did eye me over his wrap as if I really thought three years was “so long.” But he was a gentleman, since at the same time Goldie gave him his world-famous smile, and Ian nodded. “Oh, yeah. I’ve seen plenty.”
Goldie and I looked at each other and laughed. It didn’t sound as fake as I thought it might. Like one of my little nieces, I leaned toward Ian and said, “Tell us. Tell us your most memorable story!”
Now I know what the term “pregnant pause” meant. It always sounded stupid to me, but I imagine when you lived through one, it would be very similar to nine months of pregnancy then hours of labor. You could hear Goldie’s Rolex ticking.
Goldie touched Ian’s hand. “Hey, man. Don’t worry. Pauline and I are trustworthy. We’d never tell a soul.” He leaned over more. “Just us friends talking.” With that he held onto Ian until the guy looked as if he’d explode.
I said a silent prayer that dear Ian wouldn’t get hurt. I knew Goldie would never do anything to cause Ian heartache, but the look in the younger guy’s eyes said he might already be hopeless.
He turned toward Goldie, smiled and said, “Well, sometimes we get these women who have had that bypass surgery and lost oodles of weight.”
I got stuck on the “oodles” and wondered if the obese women would have thought of their accomplishment in that term.
“And they take off pounds and pounds of skin,” Ian added.
And I bit my lip in order not to scream.
About ten more Ian stories later we had nothing. Nothing except the gruesome details of surgery. Seemed as if Ian had been a bit preoccupied with the actual procedures, and confessed to sneaking into the back of the O.R. to “peek.”
The horrible thought that Ian might not be my best snitch going sprang from my brain.
I was about ready to get up and order an entire ten layer chocolate cake when dear Ian finally made my offer of lunch pay off.
“There are some frequent fliers at Highcliff.”
I put chocolate thoughts on hold. “Frequent fliers?” I knew he had to be talking about repeat customers but wanted to hear it from him. Another thing I’d learned in this business was to get clarification when a snitch told you something. Could save face and your salary in the future.
“Yeah,” he said and looked at Goldie.
Darling Gold smiled, took a sip of his Perrier and said, “Tell us about them, Ian.”
Poor Ian seemed to melt into a puddle of male receptionist with a foible for surgery viewing.
“Well,” he said with a mouthful of wrap. “There’s a couple. I guess about seven patients that keep coming back. I can’t get over how much they have had done, and the next thing I know they are back.”
Seven? Wow. I couldn’t imagine seven patients being hooked on plastic surgery or suffering from BDD in such a small town and small clinic. Then again, Newport was not exactly the boonies. These patients probably came from all over the world to the posh, world-renowned expensive clinic. I’d done my homework before allowing Goldie to volunteer as a patient-and all the docs were superb and all board certified in plastic surgery.
I leaned closer to Ian. “Seven? That sounds like a lot. How can they afford to keep coming back?” Yes, I did feel stupid saying that when I knew these ladies probably could buy and sell Hope Valley. Still, I often had to swallow my pride-and sometimes my sanity-in this job.
Ian looked at Goldie who nodded. Geez. They both were acting as if I were invisible.
“Silly Pauline,” Ian said.
I rolled my eyes but kept my mouth shut. I did have a great comeback but didn’t want to slow down his pace. We only had about five more minutes before he’d have to get back to work. Instead of telling him to get bent, I merely giggled.
Geez again. Pauline Sokol giggling.
Thank goodness Jagger wasn’t around to hear. I’d never live it down.
“Clients that come to Highcliff Manor are filthy rich,” Ian said.
His eyes darkened and that last word seemed to be forced through his clenched lips. Very interesting. Old Ian was making my day and lightening the fact of my coughing up the dough for this meal.
“Oh, I see. Lucky you.”
“What do you mean?” he asked while still looking at Goldie.
“I mean that you don’t have to deal with insurance companies.”
It was only a slight sign, and I wasn’t even certain I noted it correctly. But when Goldie’s eyes met mine in a look of “Ah-ha,” I knew that I’d read little Ian correctly.
He’d momentarily tensed when I mentioned insurance companies.
The rest of the day I spent hanging out at the reception desk, more than likely causing Ian to suffer roast beef wrap indigestion. But I had to find out more about these frequent fliers. If they could afford all their surgery-no problem, and I was stuck in a corner as far as my case was concerned.
But if for some strange reason one or more couldn’t-then maybe we were talking about a fraud investigation break in the case.
I said a silent prayer to my favorite saint, Theresa, that I was talking case break. I could sure use a bonus.
“Hm?” My head swung up to see Ian standing above me at the reception desk and looking as if he wanted to smack me. I know for sure that look said he really wanted to get rid of me. “Oh, hey. Yeah?”
“Is there something else I can do for you?”
Something else? He hadn’t done a thing for me yet. “Er…let’s see. Tell me more about Daphne Baines.” Oh…my…God. How’d that sneak out?
Ian glared at me as if he wondered how I knew Daphne Baines. If he asked, I had nothing. But just then my darling Goldie walked into the reception area-and I gave him a wink, a smile, and mouthed, Help!
Being the professional and doll that he was, Goldie came closer to the reception desk, leaned over and said, “Hi.”
Ian never took his eyes off of Goldie but said, “Daphne Baines is the queen of frequent fliers. She’s been here more times than me, and I get paid to come here daily. When she’d get to a point where she looked fabulous-”
He stared harder at Goldie, who had on a bright pink velour jogging suit that looked perfect with his blond wig-ponytail and all. Silver earrings dangled from his earlobes and a silver necklace sparkled on his neck. Good old Goldie looked sophisticated and hot all at the same time. He winked at Ian. “And?”
“…and, when she looks fabulous, she comes back for more.”
“Must get expensive,” I interjected in a soft tone so as not to break the “Goldie spell.”
Worked too since Ian continued, “Her hubby owns half of New England. But he doesn’t pay for her cutting anymore.”
I had to get Ian to continue, but he looked as if he might snap out of his twilight infatuation at any moment. That’s when I noticed Goldie smile and bat his false eyelashes. What a guy.
“Is she independently wealthy?” I asked.
Ian shook his head. “Insurance covers her…now.”
Why would insurance cover her now after her husband spent thousands on nipping and tucking? It didn’t make sense.
“Interesting, Ian. Why does she file for insurance now?” No point in beating around the bush. Sure it was a long shot, but the Goldie spell hadn’t worn off yet.
“Her husband got fed up with her obsession for surgery. He refused to pay anymore.” He laughed. “Said she was obsessed and starting to look like a freaking mannequin. I heard he even threw all her credit cards into the ocean.” He laughed.
So the doctors had to come up with some medical reason why she should be nipped and tucked again. That had to be it!
Very interesting indeed.
And the Talbot’s bag had not been my imagination.
Once it seemed as if we wouldn’t get any more info out of Ian, Goldie made an excuse to talk to me about his surgery. We politely said goodbye since Ian would be off duty soon. I followed Goldie down to his suite where we both collapsed into salmon stuffed chairs and hugged silken pillows simultaneously.
“Well, that seems like a start. Huh?” I leaned back and shut my eyes. Sometimes I thought nursing was a piece of cake compared to investigating, but then again, this was much more fun-and I got to be my own boss so to speak.
Goldie flipped off his pink sneakers and set his legs over the arm of the chair. “A start. But we need to find out how these women get the insurance to cover their surgery. And why would someone with so much money deny his wife her beauty?”
I looked at him. “Gold, these are obsessive cases. They look gorgeous as it is, but are not happy. Actually, never happy and suffer the pain of-”
His eyes widened.
I waved my hand. “Oh, shoot. You won’t be having too much pain, Gold. I’ll make sure of it. I swear.”
He smiled. “I trust you, Suga. I do.”
He grabbed the remote control and pushed the power button. The local news had just started, and they were about to do the weather. Goldie pressed the mute button, leaned back and sighed.
I did the same but when I shut my eyes all I could do was think. Thinking was good, I told myself. I had to think since I was really working a case and not just doing private duty nursing for Goldie. Every so often I’d have to remind myself of that. Seemed as if going back to nursing was like riding a bike-you never forgot.
There had to be some analogy about remembering how to have sex after a long…break, but since it’d been a while, I wasn’t qualified to come up with that one. Back to work, Pauline, I thought, and thank goodness Jagger hadn’t popped into my mind.
Wait a minute, guess he just did.
I mentally shook my head and thought about Goldie’s question of how the women got the insurance companies to pay. We knew the doctors were involved with diagnosing them with medical conditions in order to justify the surgery-but how come the insurance companies bought that?
Because the doctors were credible.
I sprang upright.
Goldie startled and pulled back. “What’s wrong, Suga?”
“Oh, sorry. Nothing is wrong, Gold. I’ve been thinking. The doctors that file these claims have to be pretty credible in their made-up diagnoses. I mean, if they had to send in a photo of the patient, any fool would see someone like Daphne or Babette didn’t need anything tucked. And if all they filed was for a deviated septum-”
Goldie’s hand flew to his face.
I touched my nose and smiled. “You’re going to notice a huge difference in your breathing once the swelling goes down.”
Oh, boy. I had to remind myself whom I was dealing with. I got up, hurried over and hugged him. “I’m going to have you packed in ice to prevent any swelling. Really…oh…my…God!”
I pointed to the TV. “Turn it up. Turn it up!”
A blond-haired, blue-eyed yuppie newscaster stood outside some mansion. The bottom of the TV said, NEWPORT, RHODE ISLAND. “The police were called only minutes earlier to the Bellevue Avenue home of Mr. Chester Baines, real estate mogul…”
Goldie and I hurried toward the television and sat on the floor beneath it.
The blond continued with, “The body was found by the upstairs maid, who says she immediately called 911.”
“They really have upstairs maids?” I muttered. Then I looked at Goldie. “Daphne was murdered?”
“Sounds like.” He ran his hand across his chin. I had to smile since it was such a “male” thing to do. You had to love Goldie.
“Wow. That adds a new wrinkle to this case. Wonder why someone would kill her? Wish we knew more about her-”
That jaw thing happened as I pointed to the television.
“What the hell?”
The police and some fancy dressed man (lawyer type) were walking Daphne down the huge marble staircase in front of her place.
“If she’s alive, who…”
“Behind me you can see,” the news reporter said, “Mrs. Daphne Baines is being taken in for questioning about the death of Chester Baines, her husband.”
Goldie and I looked at each other. “Shit,” we both said.