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Matt was holed up in his cabin, diligently looking through the passenger records on his laptop using the credentials Misha had left for him earlier that morning. Hopefully, this would prove to be more fruitful than his investigations had so far. He’d been so excited when he spotted Jensen’s name on the crew list the captain had provided, but so far, his interactions with the man had left him feeling confused. At first glance, the similarity between his name and the name of Matt’s quarry had to be more than coincidence, didn’t it? But Matt couldn’t seem to square that seemingly obvious possibility with the reality of Jensen. Every time he tried to consider whether Jensen might be his assassin, his thoughts refused to focus. Usually he trusted his instincts, but this time, he wasn’t sure if it was his instincts or his libido talking.

Shaking his head, Matt did his best to derail that train of thought. It’s not like even without his suspicions about Jensen that he would have any chance with him, not with Jared around. And Jared’s story wasn’t any more convincing than Jensen’s and just as light on actual verifiable details. The only thing missing was the suspicious resemblance of his name to the assassin’s moniker. But surely all of the evidence against both men was circumstantial and likely coincidental. He really didn’t have any more reason to suspect either of them than to suspect, say, Dr. Collins. Not that he did, but … essentially his investigation was nowhere.

Abruptly, he closed the laptop and set it aside. He wasn’t getting anywhere with that tack either. He needed a drink, and the only thing anywhere remotely resembling a lead was in that piano bar, so he might as well go there. And if that involved flirting with one or both of the extremely attractive men that were consuming his thoughts, even better.

Now, where did that thought come from? He’d never been the sort to be distracted by a pretty face before. Well, nothing for it but to have that drink and hopefully learn more about the men — and the case — before he went completely mad.

The Sound Garden was quiet this early in the evening. Jensen was at his piano singing ‘Wagon Wheel,’ and Matt was barely able to resist picking up the harmony line. Jared was seated at a nearby table, watching with rapt attention and barely noticed when Matt asked if he minded the company.

‘Wagon Wheel’ gave way to ‘Friends in Low Places’ which in turn led to ‘Shake it Off’, which surely must be a request, because Matt could see Jensen visibly wincing, presumably at having to play the ridiculous pop song. His range was impressive, both in pitch and variety. Matt and Jared flirted half-heartedly and watched him play. Matt wondered if perhaps Jared also had an ulterior motive behind his interest but quickly dismissed it. Jensen was a very attractive man, and Jared was obviously just responding to that.

Jensen’s set was over before Matt was ready for it to be. The bartender dropped off another round of beers and a shot of Jack Daniels for Jensen just as he reached their table.

“Thanks, Sam,” Jensen said, smiling warmly at her.

“The shot’s from the girl over there,” Sam replied, indicating a slight blonde sitting at a table in the corner.

Jensen looked uncomfortable for a moment before mumbling, “Thank her for me,” raising the glass toward the girl in the corner and then knocking it back.

Sam just snorted and headed back to the bar. Jensen shook his head and took a long pull on his beer. “Girl just won’t take a hint,” he grumbled.

“Maybe you need to be more direct,” Jared smirked. “Or just stop accepting the shots.”

“And turn down good alcohol?” Jensen exclaimed, apparently shocked. “Bite your tongue!”

“Suit yourself,” Jared returned. “Just don’t whine at me about all the pretty girls following you home.”

“Whatever,” Jensen said, flushing slightly before changing the subject. “You guys going ashore tomorrow?”

“Yeah, I thought I’d check out Nassau,” Matt answered. “You heard of any good places to eat?”

“Ooh, yeah!” Jared said excitedly. “There’s this great little restaurant and bar, and they have the most amazing Bahamian food.”

“That sounds perfect.” Matt was surprised to learn that apparently Jared had been to the port city before. He tucked that piece of information away, but didn’t remark on it. It seemed as though Jensen was a bit surprised too, if the slight widening of his eyes was any indication. Without his training, Matt would probably never have noticed it. He quashed the twinge of curiosity, shoving it aside to consider later. Neither of the two men had been exactly forthcoming with details about their past, but then neither had he. He had a cover all worked out, of course, but was happy that the friendship they’d struck up didn’t include much talk about anything very specific. It’s easy not to get tripped up on your backstory if you didn’t provide any. “You want to go together?”

“Umm,” Jared dissembled. “I don’t know what’s going on tomorrow. Can I get back to you?”

“Yeah, sure,” Matt answered easily, determinedly not reacting to the vague character of the response after the excitement from just a moment ago. “What about you, Jensen?”

“Yeah, I don’t know.” Jensen responded, just as indefinitely as Jared had. “I don’t know the protocol for crew on days in port. Not sure if I’ll have to do anything or when I can get away.”

“Okay,” Matt shrugged, intrigued despite himself. It probably wasn’t anything more nefarious than they’d said, or maybe they even had plans together. He cursed his skeptical mind for always looking for ulterior motives. It certainly came in handy in his job, but it did hamper his social interactions.

The moment passed, and they slipped back into the flirtatious banter they’d been enjoying all evening. The night went by quickly and pleasantly, and before Matt knew it, Sam had rung the bell for last call. He tried to stay and help tidy up, but Sam shooed Jared and him away. “It’ll just take a minute — wasn’t that busy tonight. Besides, you two monopolized Jensen’s time all evening. Give me a moment or two with him.”

And so Matt and Jared found themselves heading toward their cabins, arms slung casually around each other’s shoulders. Matt wasn’t drunk exactly, just a bit buzzed, and he suspected that Jared was in the same condition. When they reached their deck, they parted cordially and each went down the passageway toward their respective cabins, calling a final ‘goodnight.’

Matt went through his nightly routine haphazardly, making sure to drink a glass of water to hopefully stave off whatever headache he might have in the morning. When he lay down, he fully expected his mind to review the odd moments in their conversations earlier as he usually would. But with his pleasant mood after the enjoyable evening, and the mellow buzz he had going, he just drifted off to sleep.

Matt woke early and went up on deck to enjoy his coffee as they pulled into the harbor. The island looked like a jewel set amid the beautiful blue-green sea in the morning light. Modern, multi-story hotels along the wharf gave way to more traditional island architecture. He didn’t see Jared or Jensen, but he hadn’t really expected to. Neither of them had seemed interested last night in an early start this morning.

Excited to experience the port city, Matt eagerly disembarked with the first wave of tourists and set off to explore the area. The open-air Straw Market appeared to have materialized organically along the wharf and was already bustling. The wares ranged from hand-made Bahamian crafts to the more kitschy items normally offered to tourists. Food carts dotted the area, and Matt rued the amount of alcohol he’d consumed last night that made it unlikely he’d enjoy what was sure to be classic local fare. He did need to eat though and deciding to chance it, approached a likely looking vendor.

The vendor took one look at him and recommended something he called Fire Engine and assured him it was a classic breakfast choice in Nassau and perfect for him and his somewhat fragile condition. Matt wasn’t sure what condition the man was talking about, but for $2.50, he could hardly go wrong, so he ordered it anyway. It turned out to be steamed corned beef with tomato sauce, corn, sweet peppers, onions and other fresh vegetables. It sounded like an odd choice to Matt, but the local was very persuasive, and Matt soon had his breakfast. It fit the bill, tasty and filling and surprisingly soothing to his stomach. He only ate a small portion though, as he wanted to be able to enjoy a late lunch at Lukka Kairi before he had to be back aboard.

He picked up souvenirs for friends and family and a straw hat to shield his face from the tropical sun. He felt a slight twinge when he saw a beautiful oil-pastel drawing by a local artist depicting the view from the market overlooking the harbor, knowing that Jeff would have loved it. He almost passed it by, but in the end, he decided to buy it anyway for his own living room. By this time, it was after one o’clock and time to check out the restaurant. He’d had enough solitude, and his thoughts about the case were still chasing themselves without any sign of resolution. Even if the other two men weren’t there, a fine meal would provide a much-needed distraction.

His destination was right on the wharf, so he’d seen it while exploring the Straw Market. Painted steps led up to the second-floor restaurant, which was dominated by a huge mural of a scene from the indigenous Arawak culture. A small stage was tucked away in a corner, where a band was playing lively Caribbean music. The seating was roomy, and the huge windows showcased the beautiful view of the harbor from the balcony. The patio doors were folded back to provide the least obstruction and most access to the seating there. Matt chose an inconspicuous interior seat, well out of the way, but still with a nice view. He didn’t think there was a seat in the house that didn’t take advantage of the beautiful vista.

It wasn’t that he was trying to hide; it was just habit not to call attention to himself. And he had to admit he was curious why Jared had changed his tune so quickly when Matt had commented on his enthusiasm for the place. Not that the enthusiasm was unwarranted: the food was superb. The tamarind ribs were succulent with a wonderfully sweet and tangy sauce, the crispy broccoli was the best vegetable dish he’d ever had, and the guava duff capped off the meal perfectly.

He’d nearly finished when Jared walked in. Matt instinctively kept his head down while Jared looked around suspiciously, and Matt wondered what he was looking for. Jared finally chose a seat on the balcony, in clear view of all. He hadn’t even ordered when the chef herself (who Matt had watched prepare his own excellent meal) brought Jared’s to his table. From where Matt was sitting the dish looked like a grilled steak with an egg on top and some sort of hash — possibly sweet potato — and some of the amazing broccoli that Matt had enjoyed so much.

He couldn’t help but notice when a white card — could’ve been a business card — fluttered out when Jared shook out his napkin. Jared didn’t appear surprised, just glancing at the paper and slipping it into a pocket before tucking into his meal. Matt had a feeling that was the most important thing to happen here and wished he knew what was on that card. He’d just have to come up with some way to find out.

Matt was still nursing his second sky juice and trying to decide if he should approach Jared when Jensen came in. Jared seemed surprised to see him, and Jensen joined Jared at his table. He ordered the steamed fish which Matt had considered before ordering his ribs. Matt finally gave up his self-assigned role as a wallflower and walked to their table where Jensen was teasing Jared about waiting fruitlessly for a sultry Caribbean beauty. They both encouraged Matt to join them, and he agreed happily. He wouldn’t mind another of these excellent coconut concoctions, and perhaps he could find out more about why the other two men had acted so weird about the truly amazing restaurant.

Despite many attempts on all of their parts, none of them learned anything about anyone else’s intentions at the restaurant. Nonetheless, a good time was had by all, and for his part, Matt was again rather tipsy on their way back to the ship. He briefly wondered if anyone on the ship knew how to prepare Fire Engine, the delicious breakfast and apparently effective hangover cure he’d had that morning.

The ship had embarked early that morning after spending the night in the port of Nassau, and was now heading for St. Thomas, a two-day sail away. Miss Katie Cassidy sighed happily as she sipped her champagne mojito and stretched out on the lounger that she’d had Wester position to catch the sun’s rays. The day before, she’d had Wester and one of the crew members take her to get her ankle X-rayed, and just as Dr. Collins had told her, she’d fractured the darned thing. Now, sporting a plaster that immobilized her foot and extended to her mid calf, she seemed resigned to staying out of the pool and instead was amusing herself by driving Wester insane with her demands.

Wester himself was sitting a few feet away, looking sorry for himself. To be sure, she paid him well, and she knew he was actually enjoying soaking up the sun himself, but she really enjoyed messing with him. He was such a little weasel that it never failed to afford her amusement whenever his face turned purple in fury due to something she’d told him to do.

Smiling, she waved a languid hand to beckon Wester over and handed him her glass. “Another,” she murmured. “Chop, chop!”

Wester scuttled off to do her bidding, and she lifted her foot to look at it. “Damn!” It was going to make her tan horribly uneven, but at least it wasn’t a huge thing, and with a stocking over it, you almost couldn’t tell. It hurt to walk in the thing, but pain and she were old friends. She hadn’t gotten to where she was by wimping out when she was in pain, and a little thing like a broken ankle wouldn’t stop her from doing what she came for.

She sat up as Wester returned with a delightfully adorned cocktail for her. Taking it from him, she sipped it and waved him away, curling her lip as he scurried away, sweating profusely. This was the life, she thought, but then bit her lip. She really shouldn’t allow the hedonistic existence to get in the way of doing the job she was here for. She’d done some homework but wasn’t quite sure about her best way forward yet. It would come. This was only day three. She’d have the job done before they hit Fort Lauderdale again and be away long before anyone had any idea of what she’d pulled off.

As she mused, she saw Alona approaching. The girl was barefoot and dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, yet she was sporting a very attractive pin that was shaped like a killer whale. “Interesting,” she muttered. She waggled her fingers in greeting as Alona passed and was rewarded with a tentative smile before the girl moved on to her destination.

She considered her plan of attack as she watched Alona take a seat at the bar on the other side of the pool and order a drink. Perhaps she could make friends with the girl, although that would be terribly tedious. On the other hand, the girl really could use some grooming tips and it might be fun to get her up to scratch while waiting for her opportunity to possess that pin. Smiling as she decided that she’d do just that, she finished her drink and rose to her feet.

Wester was beside her at once, big frightened eyes transmitting, ‘Kick me, I’m a victim,’ to anyone who could read them. “Oh, do go away, Wester. I don’t need you right now. Perhaps you can go do whatever it is you folk like to do when you have time off.”

With that, she picked up her stick, flung on a gauzy swim wrap, and sauntered off without glancing back to see what Wester had decided to do. Whatever it was, she hoped it would be somewhere she didn’t have to see it.

Hitching herself up onto the stool at the bar next to where Alona was sitting, sipping on what looked to be a Shirley Temple, Katie flashed her a smile. “How are you enjoying the cruise so far?” she asked. “I’ve had my fun curtailed a little. I broke my ankle,” she continued, not waiting for Alona to answer. “So there won’t be any dancing for me.”

Alona shrugged. “I don’t dance,” she said. “I like being out here away from all the pollution though. The air is so clean and fresh. I can feel myself breathing properly again.” She turned towards Katie. “Did you know that around 40% of the ocean’s surface is covered by plastic? We’re killing our planet, one plastic bottle at a time.”

Blinking at the sudden intensity, Katie thought for a moment. Mentally writing Alona off as a tree hugger, she suppressed whatever sarcastic answer was forming in her head and bent herself to the task of cultivating the girl, tree hugger or not. “That’s horrible,” she managed. “All those delightful little fish, smothered.”

“Yes,” said Alona, warming to her topic. “You’ve no idea what terrible things it does to sea life. They get tangled up in plastic and die. We’re killing them. Plastic just doesn’t go away. It hangs around forever.”

“What a shame there isn’t something that will destroy all the plastic and clean up the mess. Although I suppose that would be detrimental to marine life too, so it won’t help.” That seemed like a safe thing to say, and Katie mentally congratulated herself as Alona nodded enthusiastically.

“But there is something!” Alona looked around herself suspiciously and then leaned in closer to Katie. “I know that there’s a way. I’ve seen the plans, but they are trying to suppress it.” As she spoke, she fingered the pin on her shoulder.


“Big business. They are trying their best to suppress the formula before it’s employed.”

“Formula?” Katie raised one eyebrow delicately. “Do tell.”

“I can’t,” said Alona, already backtracking. Katie saw the change and knew she had to think quickly or she’d lose the girl. Hopefully a change of topic would allay her fears, so Katie shrugged and indicated the orca brooch Alona was wearing.

“That’s a really pretty pin.”

“Thank you.” Alona smiled again, and Katie breathed an inward sigh of relief. “I always wear it. It reminds me of what we’re fighting for.”

Oh, God, here we go again, thought Katie. Aloud, she said, “What are we fighting for?”

“The planet.” Alona sounded very stern as she spoke, and Katie sighed. It was going to be a long afternoon, but hopefully, she would get what she needed out of it. “Do you know how many toxins are in our drinking water?”

Grimly, Katie formed her features into an attentive gaze and prepared to be lectured.

Osric was frustrated. He’d spent his time off loitering, waiting to get an opportunity to speak with Alona, but the blonde bitch who was causing all of Travis’s heartbreak was monopolizing her and didn’t seem to be planning to leave any time soon. He was going to have to be back on duty again in around thirty minutes, and so far, the day was a wash. It was enough to make him want to kill something — or someone. Yes, definitely someone. Someone blonde, perhaps.

He was about to give up hope and go back to his post, when he saw Alona suddenly rise to her feet and take her leave of the bitch, who, frankly, looked a little relieved. As she stepped towards the stairs, he took a deep breath. “In the name of the great World Turtle,” he said, softly.

To give Alona her due, she didn’t pause in her walk and merely murmured, “And the four elephants that ride on his back,” as she continued down the stairs. Neither of them noticed Travis Wester following. “You’re the one that’s going to get the formula to head office?” Alona sounded relieved. “I hid the paperwork in that piano guy’s cabin, just in case my dad’s goons were on to me and decided to search mine.”

“You did?” Osric frowned. “When?”

“Remember when I came looking for him that first morning?” Alona smirked. “I really hoped I could hook up with him, but sadly, I think he bats for the other side. What a waste!”

“Yeah. I’ve got a bet on with Steve, the daytime bartender, as to which of the two guys sniffing around him is going to land him.” Osric chuckled. “In the red corner, you’ve got Mr. Tall and Brooding, and in the blue corner there’s Blue-eyed and Stylish! They’re both doing their best to reel him in. I’ve got money on the blue-eyed guy. He’s obviously used to the finer things in life.”

Alona giggled. “Yeah. I know the guy you mean. Frankly, I think it’s a crying shame that all three of them won’t be contributing to the gene pool. They’re all gorgeous.” She paused. “Do you want to come to Deck 6 so I can hand over the chip without prying eyes? The paperwork for the delivery mechanism is down in his cabin, but I’ve got the chip with the formula on it. It’s hidden where nobody will ever guess.”

“I can’t.” Osric sounded really regretful. “I’ve got to go take fresh towels around my cabins and make sure it’s all nice and clean for the punters now. In fact, I’m five minutes late. Can I find you after I’m done?”

“Yeah.” Alona smiled. “I believe I’m going to go up to the bar and watch the competition. I think I might buy into your bet. I’m betting on Mr. Long, Lean and Lovely. I suspect he has what it takes.”

As they reached Deck 6, Alona paused. “See you later, Mr. Cabin Attendant. This is my floor.”

“Call me Osric,” smiled her companion. “I’ll come up to the bar once I get all my cabins seen to.” Whistling, he continued descending the stairs and made his way along Deck 2, to his store cupboard, where earlier in the day he’d collected all the fresh towels ready for distribution while the passengers were having their dinner.

Skulking in the shadows, Travis was using all of his considerable talent at remaining invisible. It had served him well in the past, and it was serving him well now. He’d seen Osric and headed towards him, wanting to see if his new friend would like to go for a drink later, but as he crept down the stairs behind the others, he realized just how amazingly lucky he was. He smiled as the two subjects of his attention parted, then proceeded on his own way, much closer to his goals.

Osric had completed service for 19 of his 20 cabins, and he’d saved the best one ‘til last. Pulling out his passkey, he unlocked the door to Jensen’s cabin and made for the bath to grab all the used towels so he could replace them with the fresh ones he’d brought. It was evident that Jensen had used the shower, and Osric wiped down the mirror, capped his shaving foam and cleaned the basin, then turned to go back into the stateroom.

He began to search, cursing himself that he hadn’t asked Alona exactly where she’d hidden the plans. Seriously, it wasn’t as if there were many places to search. The cabin was small. He checked all the drawers and the hanging space. He’d looked behind the mirrors and nightstands in case there was paperwork of some kind hidden there. He even looked under the bed, to no avail, knowing before he even crouched to do so that there would be nothing there. Finally, he turned his attention to the only other item of furniture in the room — the bed itself. It was still neatly made from his visit that morning, and he’d already checked under it. There seemed little point in stripping it down, since Jensen had already slept in it and would have undoubtedly noticed a sheaf of papers, even if they weren’t very bulky.

He stood for a few minutes, trying to decide if there was somewhere he hadn’t checked, and then it came to him. Dropping to his knees. He began to feel under the mattress.

His fingers touched what he was looking for, but he had no chance to extract it from its hiding place. The faintest of sounds alerted him but too late to do anything before the thin wire was wrapped around his neck and he was fighting for his life, knowing that it was the end for him. As the wire cut into his flesh, he lashed out with his foot, hoping that he could cause his assailant an injury that would be noticeable.

Osric Chau had been a martial artist of great skill, and as he kicked backwards, he heard a muffled curse that told him he’d hit home. As he died, his last thought was one of astonishment. He never would have guessed at the person who had killed him, but in hindsight he really should have known.

Up in The Sound Garden, Jensen’s reputation had begun to spread, and it was tough to find an empty seat as the pianist sang his way through classics, rockabilly and even, once, a song from Les Miserables, ‘Let Him Live,’ that caused one elderly lady to stuff several hundred dollar bills into his tip jar and rush away, weeping.

As Matt entered the bar, it seemed to be packed, but after peering around for a moment, he spotted Jared sitting in a corner over behind the main attraction, and glory be, there was an unoccupied seat beside him.

Swiftly procuring his glass of wine, a whisky and ginger for Jared, and a shot for Jensen, he wove his way through the crowd to deposit the shot on the piano. Jensen winked at him in acknowledgement as he sang his way through ‘Heroes’. Grinning at him, Matt returned the wink and blew a kiss before making his way back to where Jared sat watching.

“How about this crowd?” Matt wondered as Jared gratefully accepted the drink.

“Isn’t it something?” Jared replied.

“Remember that first night?” Matt reminisced. “I think we were the only ones in here other than Sam. Now I can hardly find a seat.”

“You’re always welcome to share my table,” Jared kindly offered. “As long as you return the favor if you get here first.”

“Sure thing,” Matt returned. “I’m glad to see Jensen getting the attention he deserves.”

“They seem to like him.”

“So do you,” Matt teased, hopefully keeping the slight tinge of jealousy he felt out of his voice.

“What’s not to like?” answered Jared. “Besides, you don’t seem to be completely immune to his charm.”

“Hell, nobody in this room is immune to his charm. Look at that guy over there. He’s practically salivating.” Matt sipped his wine, reflecting that he wouldn’t do anything with Jensen even if he could. Probably. Why did things have to be so complicated? Why couldn’t he just meet a nice guy without a manhunt for an assassin in the way?

“I don’t know,” Jared shrugged. “It’s complicated.” Matt’s thoughts being echoed back at him like that piqued his interest again. What could Jared have going on to complicate his love life? He’d very nearly convinced himself that last night’s suspicions had been in his imagination, but this brought it all back. He’d just have to stay alert and find a way to get a look at that card.

Suddenly, a nearby commotion broke him out of his reverie. He watched with idle curiosity as a fight broke out at a nearby table until one of the combatants broke a beer bottle and approached the other, brandishing his ad-hoc weapon menacingly. Matt reacted instinctively, moving to subdue the attacker before anyone got hurt, but was completely shocked when he found Jared there ahead of him. With the assailant safely disarmed, Matt turned to ensure the drunk’s adversary was contained.

With the disturbance resolved almost before it started, security, swiftly summoned by Sam, escorted the two drunk gentlemen out, and bar stewards quickly set the table to rights. Jensen started playing again and conversation around them went back to normal. Matt returned to their table while Jared went to the bar for another round. Matt thought that he had now got some idea what Jared’s complications might be; surprisingly, it didn’t appear they were much different from his own. Funny how life worked sometimes.

Jared dropped the shot off at Jensen’s piano, receiving a similar acknowledgement to the one Matt had gotten for his gift, and returned to their table with the other two drinks. Matt was just about to bring up Jared’s remarkable reaction to the bar fight when Jared beat him to it.

“So, which agency?”

Startled, Matt glanced around quickly before leaning closer to Jared and answering softly, so as not to be overheard. “INTERPOL. You?”

“FBI,” Jared answered just as quietly.

“I thought you couldn’t operate outside the States?” Matt asked in surprise.

“Oh, I’m not on a case,” Jared replied.

“Maybe not officially,” Matt insisted. “But you are looking into something.”

“Maybe,” Jared shrugged. “Maybe I’m just trying to clear my head.”

“Maybe we should get together and compare notes sometime soon,” Matt suggested. “Somewhere more private. We might be able to help each other out.”

“Okay,” Jared agreed. “Maybe breakfast or something.” Matt wondered if he had specifically suggested a time when Jensen wouldn’t normally be up and about. It would make sense for Jensen to be a suspect in whatever Jared was investigating, for many of the same reasons Matt suspected him. Except probably not the name similarity.

Jensen was just wrapping up when a wild-eyed steward that Matt didn’t recognize burst into the bar. He made straight for the piano and insisted that Jensen accompany him back to Jensen’s cabin. Matt and Jared approached to try to see what the fuss was about, and the steward turned to Matt. “Oh, there you are. Capt. Stuart said you should come as well. He has people looking all over the ship for you.”

“What’s this about?” Matt asked curiously.

“There’s …” the young man trailed off and then changed gears pleadingly. “Just come with me, please?”

Jensen made his apologies to Sam about not staying to clean up and she just waved them away. Then the three of them followed the young steward to Jensen’s cabin, with Jared tagging along uninvited.

“Has anyone found Mish—” Capt. James Stuart’s voice echoed down the corridor, and he corrected himself almost angrily. “Doc Collins yet? I sent for him ages ago!”

“We’ve looked in his office and everywhere else he might be,” a quieter, more timid voice answered.

“Clearly not everywhere, as you haven’t found him yet!”

“He’s not in his cabin. He hasn’t been in his cabin for at least two nights, Captain,” was the defensive reply. “It’s like he isn’t even on the ship.”

Just then, they reached Jensen’s cabin. Matt wasn’t sure what he had expected to find there, but it wasn’t a dead body. Maybe he should have, given his quarry, but he was as shocked as anyone. Jensen’s cabin was, if anything, even smaller than Matt’s, although that might have just been the lack of a window or even a porthole. Matt found himself appreciating his tiny window more than he thought he could. The space was completely packed with the three of them, James, and the several stewards apparently trying to remain inconspicuous. Their own escort had retreated quicker than Matt would’ve thought possible after successfully delivering them to their destination.

Matt took in the situation quickly and expertly. Jensen appeared to be even more shocked than he himself was, but that was no indication. His quarry was a good enough assassin that they wouldn’t react when faced with the evidence of their crime. Jared was apparently horrified, and maybe a little green, so clearly, homicide was not his area of expertise. The ship’s captain was losing his mind, and the stewards were hovering as unobtrusively as possible. Matt put a hand on James’s arm in an attempt to calm him.

“We should try not to create a panic,” he said quietly, but firmly. “Who all knows about this? Can we keep a lid on it for a little while? At least until we can tell people we’ve caught the perpetrator?”

“Just my people,” James answered, more calmly this time. Matt thought he might appreciate having someone else control this particular situation. Not that Matt could blame him. “And they know how to be discreet.”

Somehow, Matt doubted it would be that simple, but there was no putting the toothpaste back in the tube. Hopefully, anyone who’d heard the captain’s shouting wouldn’t have heard enough to realize that there had been a murder. And while he was sure the news would spread like wildfire among the crew, he had confidence in James’s ability to control that part of the situation and keep it below decks, as it were.

“Okay,” Matt asked, running through the standard fact-finding. “Do we know when he was last seen? Or who saw him last?”

The captain glanced at Jared curiously, probably wondering what he was doing here and if it was okay to talk in front of him. Matt glanced at Jared briefly, and when Jared shook his head minutely, Matt reassured James without blowing his friend’s cover.

“He’s fine.” They hadn’t had a chance to talk yet, but Matt didn’t want to interfere with the other agent’s investigation. Fortunately, Jensen didn’t seem to even notice the exchange and was hyperventilating in the corner of his cabin.

“Osric picked up the supplies for his cabin service about 8 p.m. He’d done all of his assigned cabins except this one. Not sure what was special about it; he’d skipped over it while doing the others,” one of the cabin attendants told the Captain.

“Maybe he knew I’d be gone until late,” Jensen woke from his apparently shocked daze enough to cut in. “Wanted to make sure to finish before the others needed their cabins.”

“Is that likely?” the captain asked the cowering steward.

“I don’t think so,” one of them responded. “It doesn’t take that long to turn down a cabin, and it usually takes longer to skip one and come back. We usually only do that if someone’s in their cabin.”

“That’s what I thought,” James nodded. “Do you see anything out of place, Jensen?”

Jensen started to answer, but Matt would rather rule him out as a suspect before he had any more input into the processing of the crime scene. He interrupted Jensen, “Let’s establish a timeline first. How long would it take him to service the other cabins on his schedule?”

James turned to the cabin attendant who had spoken up before. He looked like he was sorry he had done so. But he answered again anyway, “At least half an hour, probably more like 45 minutes. No more than an hour.”

“Jensen, what time did you get to The Sound Garden?” Matt asked.

“What?” sputtered Jensen. “Why?”

“It’s your room,” Matt explained reasonably. “We need to rule you out as a potential person of interest.”

“You think I did this?” Jensen’s voice was incredulous, and from the look on his face, he felt betrayed. There went whatever chance he might have had romantically with the other man. He hoped they could salvage their friendship, if not more. But he had to rule him out, and even if he’d much rather have gotten him to the pool so he could examine his feet, this was the opportunity that had presented itself.

“You could have seen something,” Matt soothed. “We need to establish timelines for everyone who might’ve been in the area.”

Jensen nodded, seemingly mollified. “My shift started at nine. I was probably there about five or ten minutes before that.”

Matt glanced at Jared, who nodded to confirm Jensen’s claim. So, the timing was extremely tight, but not totally impossible. Without an exact time of death, it was hard to be certain. In any case, he needed to see the man’s toes. If his questioning of Jensen’s whereabouts earlier hadn’t spoiled his chances, this awkward request surely would. Oh well, nothing for it but to see it through.

“So, it’s unlikely you could have seen anything, but not entirely impossible.” Matt said aloud. “Could you take your shoes and socks off for me please?”

“What? Why?” Jensen just looked confused again. Then Matt saw the comprehension dawn on his face. “Who are you?”

“INTERPOL,” Matt answered simply. No point in hiding it now. And maybe it would get Jensen’s cooperation without having to further explain himself. “I have a lead that I’d rather not share. Can I look at your feet?”

“What about Jared? Why is he in here? Is he a cop too?” Jensen asked as he sat on the edge of the bed to remove his shoes and socks, then looked up at Matt, lifting his eyebrow and holding his toes out toward Matt.

Jensen had nice, well-proportioned feet with toes just as pretty as the rest of him — what he’d been able to see of him anyway. Matt dragged his thoughts back to the matter at hand and sighed as his only lead evaporated. Two nice, ordinary feet with ten ordinary — pretty, his mind supplied — toes, and he was back to square one. Matt picked up the earlier thread of questions, as much to distract from Jensen’s question about Jared as to continue investigating. “Okay, thank you, Jensen. So, did you see anything odd? Can you think of any reason why this might have happened here?”

“Does this mean I’m no longer a person of interest?” Jensen asked somewhat snarkily.

Matt smiled. He couldn’t blame Jensen for the sarcasm. He’d probably react the same way in his position. Anyway, he was glad Jensen was not a killer, even if it did leave him without a suspect. “No more than anyone else. Now can you please answer the questions?”

“No idea. I didn’t see anything, and I can’t imagine why someone would…” Jensen shook his head, and his voice cracked as he trailed off, apparently realizing the violence that had happened in his room and not sure how to process it. Even if Matt hadn’t already been fairly sure he had nothing to do with it, his reaction would’ve been convincing.

“I wonder why they were here,” Jared mused. “Surely Osric wouldn’t have been a deliberate target. Maybe he interrupted someone in here or something.”

“Does anything look out of place?” Matt repeated the captain’s earlier question.

“Not that I can tell,” Jensen answered, still looking rather shaken.

“The bed,” the steward who hadn’t yet spoken started and then stumbled when all eyes turned to him. “Umm … the bed’s not right. Either he hadn’t done it yet which seems unlikely as it should have been done during morning service, or someone has messed with it.”

“Were you in here today?” the captain asked Jensen.

“No, I don’t think so,” Jensen answered. “Not that I remember.”

“We should—” the captain started, but was interrupted by another steward knocking at the door. Matt answered the door to find another frantic looking steward, who burst into speech as soon as he saw the captain.

“Capt. Stuart, sir,” he said breathlessly. “A passenger, he has sabotaged all of the communications gear! And the backup is missing and no-one knows how to fix it!”

“God dammit!” James exclaimed. “Of all the fucki—”

Matt interrupted him with a hand on his arm again. He understood the captain’s frustration but this could turn out to be a break in the case. “There’s little more we can do here, anyway. Can you get someone to secure the room, until I can have a look at that bunk? Also, we need to find out if any of the staff have seen anyone on this deck that didn’t belong.”

“Do as he said,” Capt. Stuart nodded and backed up Matt’s requests to his staff. Indicating the body, he continued, “What about him? Should we take him to sick bay? Misha has storage facilities there in case of emergency.”

“That’s a good idea,” Matt agreed, happy for a solution to that problem, at least. “Just try to do it discreetly. And we need to find the doctor. It looks clear that Osric was strangled, but I’d like to get the doctor to confirm cause of death, as well as the time.”

“My staff is looking for him,” James assured him. “I’m sure he’ll turn up. Although it’s very unlike him to go missing like this.”

Matt accompanied the captain to find out what was going on with the communications. He caught Jared’s eye and received a discreet nod, confirmation that Jared would make sure the crime scene was secured and keep an eye on Jensen. He hated to leave matters in the hands of civilians, but without any of his usual support staff here, he had no choice. At least he had Jared to help. And thank goodness the captain was helpful and cooperative. Matt admired James’s ability to handle the ship and his crew, but the other man was clearly out of his depth with murder and sabotage afoot. Matt would have to help him get his ship under control again, and that wasn’t exactly going to be a hardship for him.

Master Post | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 |Artwork | PDF | AO3 | Author's Notes and Acknowledgements


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