It wasn't your usual encounter. I was groggy and had tumbled backward onto the mussed-up bed, sending a champagne flute bouncing to the floor off the nightstand. And I was as naked as I had been last night when I passed out with Aaron Blum's cock pumping inside me. For her part, the Miami homicide detective who had answered my distress call of the previous day was standing in a crouched ready-to-pounce stance, her Berretta held out to her side in both fists, and at least four government agents fanned out around her. My stateroom was pretty big, but waking up to this scene made me feel like I was in a crowded bad dream.
"Thought I told you to get off the yacht yesterday," Sylvia growled again into the silence. I hadn't had the presence of mind yet to answer her initial, provocatively posed question.
"Couldn't," I said, "The Final Curtain II was already moving out to sea when I called you. They did some filming with a float plane out there."
"It's OK, guys," Sylvia then said, "He's a cop too. He's the one who called me before I called you and asked if I could come along on the raid."
All five of them-the identically attired G-men and the female Miami cop-loosened their stance, and I felt the tension and testosterone flowing back out of the room.
"Why don't you all keep going and see who you can raise on this tub," Sylvia suggested.
When they were gone, I asked the obvious question.
"They're DEA-and a couple of FBI agents too," Sylvia answered. "You got yourself plop inside a massive drug-smuggling bust. They've been working on it for months between them. They say that's what Gary Meltzer was working on too. That's why I told you to get off the ship. Too many connections between you and Meltzer and this ship; I can't see how you managed not to get popped off before now. Somebody must love you."
"I can't believe that Theo Kline would be involved in anything like this," I answered stubbornly, putting emphasis on my words by pulling up my zipper at that exact point.
"Kline? Do you think Kline is behind this?"
I looked at Browne with what must have been an idiotic expression. And then it hit me that she hadn't made the leap from her declaration that one of the drug smugglers must love me and Theo Kline. "This is his yacht," I said, somewhat lamely.
"It's Joe Blum the DEA has been pursuing," Browne answered. She reached over and helped me button the buttons on my shirt. I was still groggy enough that I couldn't get them aligned. She let her fingers linger just a bit longer than they needed to, and I recognized the unspoken invitation. As gorgeous as she was in all her redheaded splendor, though, I just couldn't muster the interest. I was what I was.
"The FBI has been on his tail too. He'd taken the body of that woman he shot in California across the state line. The FBI's been all abuzz in frustration that they can't seem to get him pinned down on that case. It's open and shut. Anywhere but Los Angeles and he'd be swinging from the yardarm already."
"Oh," I said with relief. And as I said it, I sort of stumbled into her, which she misinterpreted and raised her face for a kiss. I clumsily pulled away from her, though, and plopped down on the bed.
"Are you OK?" she asked, covering her embarrassment as well as she could.
"Groggy," I answered. "Everything's a little hazy and red tinted."
Browne picked up the champagne flute and sniffed it and made a face. "Bet you were drugged. Someone wanted you out last night. What did the ship do out on the water yesterday, and how did it get back here today? And where's this float plane you were talking about?"
I raised my hand. "Whoa. I'll take the first part, but, if you are right about the champagne, I was zonked for anything that happened between late last night and when you and your buddies burst in here and disturbed my beauty sleep."
Sylvia took a handkerchief out of her pocket and wrapped it around the champagne flout, backed up to a lounge chair, and sat down, waiting for me to talk to her.
"We went out to sea so they could shoot a scene for their movie. We had to go where no land was in sight and the water was calm enough to film the float plane coming down. Nothing sinister; just filming a movie."
"What did the plane do when it came down?" Sylvia asked.
And I told her how the pilot came out onto the wing and a motor launch went out to the plane and they exchanged packages.
"Did they tell you what the movie was about?" Sylvia asked. She had that "wait for the punch line" look on her face.
"Oh," I answered when the light switched on. "Theo told me the movie was about running drugs from Colombia into the United States. Yes, yes, I see. The perfect cover for running drugs from Colombia into the States."
"Precisely," Sylvia answered, very satisfied with showing a New York cop just how dumb he was.
"The plane was flown by Eddie Lund, the actor. I suppose he needn't have known he was transporting real drugs. But we were still out there, having a buffet . . . and stuff . . . when I blacked out. So I don't know when we got back to Key West or what happened to the float plane. You might ask Eddie."
"I'm asking you," Sylvia said, "because thus far you are the only one we've found on this tub. Were you alone when you blacked out? There are two champagne glasses here."
I started to answer when one of the squared-out guys in blue reappeared and glowered at me and split up the party. "You wanna come up a deck," he said gruffly, "and tell us about the dead guy in the cabin above this one, Mr. NYPD homicide detective?"
* * * *
I knew Theo's stateroom was the one above my head, and I prayed it wasn't him who was dead all the time I was climbing the stairs. The rest of the yacht had a deserted feel to it, and I was mighty glad I'd called Sylvia Browne in for help. Otherwise I knew I'd be in a really tough spot here. Even without knowing who the dead guy was, I could smell "frame-up" from a mile away.
It wasn't Theo. Jerome was naked and lying on his back at the foot of the bed and had a ruby-red extra eye that didn't belong there.
"Where's Theo?" I asked dumbly. "This is Theo Kline's stateroom. That's his bodyguard and gofer lying on the floor there. Any sign of Theo?"
"No sign of anyone else but you," the agent who had brought me into the room said. One of the other agents had remained with the body while Sylvia and I were being fetched.
"Found the captain and crew and some guys who say they were part of the film crew," a third agent said, as he entered the cabin at that point. "They were locked in cabins below-the captain and his sailors in his cabin, the boat's service crew in another one, and the film crew in a third. They all said that the actor who flew the seaplane and the Chinese man and woman all had guns and herded them into their cabins and locked them in. Said they did it out on the high seas and someone sailed the boat back into the harbor after they heard the seaplane take off again. They said it's been quiet for hours before they heard us come aboard."
As the agent was finishing this report, another one came in to announce that the yacht was clear-no one else was here. And there was no sign of the drugs they expected to find.
"I'll send this champagne glass off for analysis," Sylvia said. "Detective Folsom apparently was drugged and is being set up for responsibility for some of this. He was spaced out when we found him, and analysis of this glass will hopefully tell us what he was drugged with."
After that, I became sort of a nonentity in the search of the boat and further interrogation of the captain and crew. When I was out of Theo's cabin again while they started dusting for prints-and mine had been taken to subtract from the others found-I pulled Sylvia aside.
"Thanks for jumping in and taking me off the suspect list," I said.
"You aren't off it yet, doll. So, you'd better stay around for a while. I don't think you can stay on the yacht. They'll be taking this tub apart. Is there someplace on Key West you can stay where we can find you?"
"Yeah, probably the Days Inn, I said. There should be a room available there. I'll call you if I settle someplace else."
Sylvia looked hard at me, but I didn't explain the ghoulishness. It was low season on Key West. I figured the Days Inn hadn't been able to fill the reservation no show of the recently departed Gary Meltzer. It was just the first possibility that entered my mind. And the Days Inn was a nice enough place to come home to down here.
While Sylvia watched me packing my things-no doubt more interested in what I was taking away than in my bikini briefs-I posed my own question. "You'll keep me in the loop on this, I hope. Theo Kline is an old family friend. I'm worried about him."
"You'll hear what I hear, doll. These DEA and FBI guys aren't all that talkative. But they know I have a chunk of this with the Meltzer murder, and they know you and I have history-and aren't at all sure that you don't have more to give than you have given. You keep me informed, and I'll pass on anything I can dig up."
"That's a deal, Sylvia. You're a good sort. Thanks for watching my back."
The look Sylvia gave me told me that she was willing to watch more than my back, and I tried to give her a warm smile in return. I didn't want to lose her good will. But that's just as far as I wanted to take that possibility.
"So, it's the Days Inn then, unless I let you know otherwise. I'll walk on up there if your buddies can give me a boat ride back to Mallory Square."
"See you," Sylvia said. I turned away quickly because I didn't want to see the expression on her face when she said that.
The G-men were escorting the ship and film crew into the yacht's lounge when I was being led to the motor launch. I looked around the Final Curtain II, happy now that the memories of what happened here in the last day weren't directly connected with the happier memories I had of the yacht's predecessor.
Only while the launch was cutting the waves en route back to the Mallory Street dock did I have time to think of the masterful black Theo's "man," Jerome, and to mourn his violent death. I hoped he had served Theo well in those last moments and that Theo hadn't met a similar fate. I would not allow myself to think that Theo would have willingly had any part in Jerome's death, let alone the drug smuggling operation. But at the moment there were just too many unknowns about Theo and his whereabouts. He was just a dot sitting out there with no connections that I could see to anything else-at least not to any dots that I wanted to see connected. Jerome, Jerome, I mused. You were one terrific fuck.
I couldn't help it, my thoughts went to how filling and masterful his cock had been. How slowly and sensuously he had taken me, how I had felt gently encased in his hard ebony arms. How searching and smooth his lips and tongue had been. I felt myself going into heat and looked over at the young G-man sitting in the launch with me. He was giving me "that" look, but this would be too much-too dangerous-for me to contemplate. No, this evening I'd go out on Duval Street and find relief-and maybe be able to forget, at least for an hour or two, the complexities of what I had fallen into.