All the way back to Highcliff, I couldn’t help but think of the pain in Lydia’s eyes and the suicide statement from someone so young. Someone who should be looking forward to her entire life-and enjoying the heck out of her youth.
Then I thought of her situation. Where were her parents? Why live with an aunt? Why would that aunt marry some assumed gigolo who was young enough to be her son, according to Lydia?
By the time I walked into the driveway, I had no answers and only more questions. So I decided I’d get right to a source that might help me with my dilemmas.
When I walked into the lobby, I noticed Goldie sitting on the high-back chair near the fireplace talking to a few women. They were chatting and laughing, so I merely waved and headed to the reception desk-to my new buddy.
Ian sat with his back toward me while he typed away on the keyboard. If only I could stand there innocently and read over his shoulder. But the guy had radar like a bat and turned as soon as I let out what I thought was a very silent breath.
How come he couldn’t have been some hard-of-hearing old geezer of a receptionist?
“Hey, Ian.” I eased closer and wanted to sit on the edge of the counter, but knew he wouldn’t go for that.
“Pauline. Leaving for the day?”
I’m sure you wish. “Oh, no. Just back from lunch. I love that Market on the Boulevard. Their clam chowder is to die for.”
Did he just flinch?
It looked as if he did, but Ian was a pretty up-tight kind of guy so just my being here could make him flinch or any other number of negative behaviors. It wasn’t that I didn’t think he liked me, more that he liked Goldie better and I was a reminder that maybe he didn’t float Goldie’s boat. I’m sure he blamed it on me somehow.
“Ah…yeah. Great stuff. Need something?” he asked.
“Nope. Why would you think I needed something?”
He swung around to his computer, wiggled the mouse and clicked to that paradise scene on his wallpaper. Guess he didn’t worry about being too obvious that he was hiding something from me.
And here I was just a plain old private-duty nurse. Why would the guy act like that with me? Unless…he had such a guilty conscience that anyone that came near his precious files was automatically disliked.
Dear Ian, just what are you hiding?
The guy sat there on the mahogany desk chair, at the mahogany counter, looking oh so cute and innocent yet acting like one of the queen’s foot guards at Buckingham Palace.
I was no dummy. I needed reinforcements.
While Ian kept his back to me, I looked over at Goldie and gave him a mental Help! over and over until he looked up. Man. That actually worked. Or else he just happened to look up. I chose to think I had some kind of special connection and/or powers. I winked at him and motioned with my head.
In seconds my friend was next to me and making small talk with Ian the guard, who at this point would have let me raid his computer without a thought while he drooled over Goldie.
Sure I felt guilty-but only for a few seconds.
Before I knew it, miraculously, Goldie had Ian up and walking toward the back patio to get a cup of tea! For a few minutes I stood there in awe until I realized it was my chance to do the real work that brought me there.
The women in the living room area were so preoccupied at looking in the many mirrors that decorated nearly every wall in the place and with chatting like a Stepford wives’ coffee klatch, I felt I could make this move unhindered.
My theory-which I’d just developed, by the way-was that if you acted nonchalant and like nothing was wrong and like you belonged, no one would question you. So I walked purposefully behind the desk, gave a quick look toward the patio door, to see it was empty, and sat in Ian’s chair. Thank goodness I was shorter than he because once I was down, no one could see me behind the counter.
Luckily he hadn’t stuck the computer into some security mode where I’d need a password. Thank you, Saint Theresa. Then again, maybe Goldie’s presence had made poor Ian so nervous that he forgot. Either way, I was happy. Not being the most computer savvy girl in the world, I clicked and fiddled until I found the Window’s Explorer icon. When I opened it, my heart sank.
Ian had some weird code name system for all the files. How the heck did the other receptionists follow along? Then again, noting the way Ian had been with me, I’d bet he “volunteered” to do all the files and computer work himself, leaving them to only answer the phones and “guests’” questions.
Very clever guy that Ian.
But was he somehow involved in the fraud and knocking me over-not to mention Mr. Baines’s murder?
My heart skipped a few needed beats on that one. Just the mention of the word did that to me since I changed professions mid-career. Sure I’d dealt with death in nursing, but murder took on a whole new meaning-and not a very pleasant one.
Little Mary Sunshine. Darth Vader. Brad Pitt. Johnny Depp. I took a moment to sigh. Little Red Riding Hood and Alice out of Wonderland. What the heck kinds of file names were those? I didn’t have time to open and close each one so I had to make a judgment call here.
What would Ian title his most secret file?
I ran the cursor along the right column to scan down the list of file names on the left side. Suddenly one caught my attention. All the others had been capitalized but not this one: ff.
At first I thought it a typo, then I leaned back in my chair. Frequent fliers. Ian had called the repeat customers “frequent fliers.” I clicked on the file folder icon and opened a document that listed familiar names like Daphne Baines, Devin McCloud, and Babette LaPierre. Ian had been wrong though. There weren’t only seven names listed.
There were twelve.
And all files were dated within the last six months.
Because of Lydia, I clicked on Devin’s file first. “Oh…my…God!” snuck out before I could swallow it back. The before and after and after and after photos of the guy were unbelievable. He’d started out looking as if he’d spent way too much time in the sun and at a young age, and thus had more wrinkles than a Chinese shar-pei. Not only was his nose bigger than needed, but it also seemed too far up on his face.
Remembering back to lunch-nothing was misplaced on old Devin’s mug now.
I ran through the file and saw he’d had numerous surgeries in a very short amount of time. Dr. Forsyth had performed the first few then Dr. Cook took over.
Suddenly I wondered if I really wanted to go out with Neal. Then again, I’d do it for my case. In my mind I could hear my mother saying, Pauline, if you lie, your nose will grow like Pinocchio’s but since yours is not wood, it will hang down to your knees.
Man! That had to have had some physiological effect on me. Maybe that’s why I wasn’t such a good liar. Nevertheless, I had to go out with Neal and find out more about these patients.
Quickly I opened and read six of the others’ files, including Babette’s and Daphne’s since I “knew” them. All really did suffer from BDD. There were a few notes from Neal about “highly suggest waiting on this procedure,” then the next entry would be a pre-op note from Dr. Cook stating that he and Dr. Forsyth had discussed the issue and surgery was scheduled in a week.
Neal had agreed.
I heard a rustling sound and paused.
“Ian, can you get me the file on Mrs. Benoit, please?” a woman called out.
I mumbled an “Uh-huh,” all the while hoping the woman wouldn’t lean over the desk.
“I’ll be back in ten,” she said and I heard the clicking of shoes getting fainter.
Quickly I jumped up to see her standing by the elevator. She couldn’t see me since Ian had the most beautiful silk flower arrangements adorning the area. One of the larger ones had a school of tiny fish swimming about in the clear glass vase. The plants were real since long roots fluttered in the water, giving it a wonderful fantasy atmosphere. It was almost as if Ian had built himself a stylish, chic barrier around his workstation.
I could see that the woman was one of the nurses, since she had on navy scrubs with matching clogs. Thank goodness I had excellent vision for distance and could read her name tag: Kerie Cetin. I hadn’t met any of the nursing staff yet, but she would be a start.
My only problem was, how to get her message to Ian?
When I clicked the close button on the ff file, I heard Goldie talking so loudly that one would think he was deaf. For a second I thought about yelling at him to quiet down, but then realized-Goldie!
Working better under stress, I scribbled a note for Ian about Mrs. Benoit’s file, signed it a messy Kerie and jumped up. Before they made it back to the desk, I was out the front door, huffing and puffing-not from lack of exercise, but merely from nearly getting caught.
“Sounds as if someone is not in very good shape.”
I swung around toward the voice. “Oh, hi, Dr. Forsyth.”
Neal? Please? What the heck? “Oh, yeah. Neal. Actually I am very much in shape…I mean…my body has never been…er…actually I’m fitter today-”
I felt a finger touch gently to my lips.
Since I was making such a fool of myself, he should have just strangled me.
“I have two eyes, Pauline. I can clearly see what shape you are in.”
My knees buckled.
Thank goodness I wasn’t an airhead and could recover my wishful thoughts quickly. I took in a deep breath, let it out slowly then smiled at Neal. “You’re a doll to say that.” Hopefully that came out chatty and not enticing.
“Are you finished for the day?”
I leaned against the stone wall that ran the length of the driveway and, wondering why everyone around here thought I was leaving-or maybe should be-said, “Oh, no. I have to review some pre-op stuff with Goldie. Mr. Perlman, that is.”
He chuckled. “He’s quite the character.”
My shoulders stiffened. No one insulted my dear friend. But then Neal chuckled again, and I got the feeling he wasn’t really making fun of Goldie. “He is a fantastic guy,” I said.
Neal smiled. “I’m sure. Look, how is next Monday for you?”
Next Monday? I barely knew what I was going to be doing in the next hour. Back in my nursing days, every hour, every minute, was planned out to meet patients’ needs and do patient care. Since leaving that highly organized profession, I found my days had no plan to them. I could come and go and do my investigating as I pleased. Seems as if my organizational skills had burned out with my resignation from that career.
It still amazed me to surf the TV channels to see Jerry Springer or Martha Stewart mid-morning. However, it hadn’t taken me long to get used to the fact that I could come and go at will. “I think Monday would be fine, depending on Goldie’s recovery.” I stood there smiling and waiting.
“I’ll pick you up around seven.” He smiled back and again my knees did the thing they do when a hot guy gives me that look. Jell-O.
“Okay. So. Seven.” I turned toward the door. “Oh, Neal. I forgot to tell you where to pick me up. I’m at the-”
“-Freeman Lodge. Got it.”
Got it? How the hell did he get it?
Once in Goldie’s room, I flopped onto the bed and while sinking into the fluffy duvet said, “I need a moment here, Gold.”
Got it? Now I really was curious to know how Neal knew where I was staying. I shut my eyes to try to remember if I’d ever mentioned it. Why would I have though?
I felt the bed sink on my left side and peeked out to see Goldie lying there, sans makeup, wig, and wearing a white tee shirt and jeans. Male jeans. He looked adorable.
“Hey, Gold.” I opened my eyes and pushed up onto three pillows. “Do you remember me ever telling Neal that I was staying at the Freeman Lodge?”
Goldie flopped onto his stomach next to me and looked me in the eye. “Neal? Neal?”
I slapped his arm. “Stop that. It’s nothing. Merely a tour of Newport and a meal.”
“Ha! Hey, I’m glad you have the hots for my doc.”
“Yeah. Okay. You found me out. I’m only going out with him to make sure his hands don’t shake when he holds his steak knife!”
Goldie let out a loud fake shriek.
I slugged him again. “Really though, Gold. He knew where I was staying, and I don’t remember ever telling him. Did you?”
He rolled onto his back and tapped a long red nail on his tooth. Even in his male clothes, somehow the nails fit. Only on my Gold though. “Geez. No, Suga. I don’t think I ever mentioned it. Doesn’t seem as if I’d have a reason.”
“Neal never asked about me?” I cleared my throat. “You know, professionally?”
“Don’t worry about sounding conceited, Suga. You’re a knockout of a woman so plenty of guys will be asking about you, but not Neal. Besides, I’ve never been alone with him. You’ve always been there too, Nurse Sokol.”
“Hm. You’re right.” I knew he was correct, the more I thought about it, which made it all the more interesting as to how Neal knew-and why.
The next few hours I spent on Goldie’s bed with him, discussing his surgery. After giving him a few more chances to renege on the deal, I was convinced that he wasn’t just doing this to help my case.
When I mentioned how I’d spoil him rotten post-op with fluffing the millions of pillows in this room, getting him magazines that he insisted I’d read to him, always have the remote handy, and black out the windows so he could sleep, Goldie would purr.
Warmed my heart. I’d smile.
Purr was not exactly the word I’d use when I tried to prepare him for things like: I’d have ice bags ready to prevent swelling, moisturizers and scar-reducing creams and petroleum jelly for incisions (with the doctor’s okay) not to scar, and laxatives at the ready since pain meds could be binding.
We agreed Goldie would follow all my rules and the doctor’s without hesitation. I gave him a hug, got up and thought to myself that taking care of dear Gold could be more work than having an entire caseload of fourteen post-op patients.
But I’d do my best.
And tender loving care would come easy for me.
I gave him a kiss on the cheek, left him on the bed so he could take a “power siesta” and headed out the door.
Back at the lodge, I walked in the doorway to find Arlene dusting the bust of, I guessed, Samuel Freeman. For a second I pictured Jagger’s face under her dust feather. Ha! Imagine him a bronze bust!
Arlene turned and smiled at me. “Hello, Pauline. Have a good day?”
I thought of the handsome Neal and said, “Sure. Yeah. It was a good one.” I walked closer and touched the cheek of the bust.
Cold. Hm. My finger felt cold.
I pulled back and told myself that bronze always felt cold. “Was he some patriot or something?”
Arlene gave me a confused look then turned toward the bust. “Oh, him?”
I nodded but refused to touch him again. Way too woo woo for me, this ghost stuff.
She laughed a deep hearty laugh. “I think there actually was some patriot up in New England named Samuel Freeman, but that’s not our Sam. Oh, no.” She tapped the bust on the head, laughed and said, “Patriot…ah…no.”
I half expected it to turn toward her and shout, “Cut that out!”
But the bronze remained firm and Arlene continued, “Patriot is not the word I’d use for Samuel Freeman-”
“Pirate. Scallywag,” a voice said from behind.
A familiar voice. Oops. There went the pitter-patter of my heart.
I swung around to see Jagger in the doorway and asked, “He was a pirate?”
“Swashbuckler extraordinaire.” He remained standing there in black jeans, black tee, and sunglasses still on. I wondered if they had a tiny camera in them and if he was filming right now.
I only wished.
I fluffed my hair just in case and laughed. “Wow. Imagine. A real pirate lived here.” I looked around and felt a cold breeze on my face. That came from the open door behind Jagger, I told myself.
The two-story foyer gave the place an air of opulence. The deep mahogany wood said expensive, as did the handmade stained-glass ceiling of clouds and waves above. Actually this was the first time I’d noticed waves on the ceiling. Sure as heck didn’t look like some pirate’s lair.
Jagger stepped forward, letting the screen door slam behind him. I looked at Arlene, waiting for her to yell at him, but she kept dusting.
He turned toward the stairs and said, “Don’t let the place fool you. Freeman was a buccaneer-and deserved what he got.”
The screen door flew open-by itself, it seemed.
Arlene scurried out of the room.
And Jagger swaggered up the stairs-as if nothing had happened.