So the rat had run off again, or maybe he’d gone down the hall, or something. Still, she’d been awake for a while and only the slanting bands of afternoon sunlight from the window crept across the floor, keeping her company. Mark had disappeared like smoke on the wind.
Something told Celeste not to worry. Though Mark had abandoned her, in the past he’d proven himself responsible most of the time. All the same, she’d give anything to find out why he’d jumped ship on her when she hadn’t made any demands on him, or his time. She shrugged, and her arm came to life. She looked at it with distaste. The area around her elbow was swollen and discolored, reminding her of a jackfruit; a melon-like, malodorous fruit, which disgusted her.
The half-open door edged wider and a man entered the room, followed by another. Celeste held back a frown, and an accompanying pout. Their low-cut hair and clean-shaven faces shouted law enforcement. If they weren’t the police, she was the Queen of Sheba.
They had come to see her before, and clearly, they were not satisfied.
What had she told them the first time they came? She couldn’t remember. She had been pumped full of drugs and probably made little sense. As it was she barely recognized them.
She smiled on the inside, and reassured herself that the unease creeping over her flesh was the Jamaican’s innate distrust of the police. These men looked harmless enough, but one never knew.
Couldn’t they have waited until Monday to see her?
She squirmed. Come on, Celeste, your friend was murdered. It’s the least you can do.
She arranged her face into something she figured would come across as pleasant.
At the end of the bed, they stopped. The taller of the pair nodded at her. Their eyes met and held. “Good afternoon, I’m Detective Daniels,” he said.
He gestured to the other man. “This is Detective Allen.”
“I’d say pleased to meet you, but I’m not sure yet. What can I do for you?”
“We’re here to talk about the shooting last night. We came before, but you were groggy.” He smiled. “Then you fell asleep.”
The throbbing in her arm climbed a notch. Didn’t they give medication in this place?
Daniels eased into the lone chair and got out a pad and pen. While he uncapped the pen, she studied him. He was tall and strapping, like Mark. Just the way she liked her men. Their eyes caught again and he hesitated before he spoke. “I don’t know how close you were to Mr. James, but it had to be horrible witnessing what you did.”
She tilted her head, but didn’t say anything. She had avoided thinking about why she was in the hospital while Orette was lying in a morgue somewhere.
“So, tell us why you’re on the island.”
“I came with Orette.”
His eyebrows lifted.
“I travel with him sometimes.”
“In what capacity?”
His eyebrows climbed further up his forehead.
“He was a friend, okay? I was doing him a favor.”
Allen and Daniels exchanged a glance, which made her want to slam their heads together.
“What did James do for a living?”
“Car parts dealer.”
“You know what specific business he was here to do?”
She shook her head. “We never really discussed his business.”
Allen moved to stand by the doorway. He peered into the hall, distracting her.
“We understand you had dinner at The Hummingbird. Did you have company apart from James?”
Reluctantly, she nodded. “Ramon Evans.”
She shrugged, triggering waves of pain. “I don’t know,” she whispered.
“Know her name?”
“He called her Desiree.”
“Could you identify her if you saw her again?”
She didn’t want to get started on how the woman had irritated her all evening with her high pitched laughter, which reminded her of the hyenas from the Discovery Channel documentaries. And then there was the mole—or whatever that thing was—that hung off one side of her mouth and twitched like a living thing whenever she chewed or spoke.
“So, dinner was strictly pleasure. No business discussion.”
She made her gaze blank. Whatever had got Orette killed was none of her concern. “Yes.”
“Why were you sitting outside the restaurant?”
“She, Desiree, went back inside. Said she needed to use the bathroom.”
The men looked at each other again. Then Daniels pinned her with a sharp gaze. “Did you see the shooter?”
She opened her mouth, couldn’t get a word out, and then wet her lips. Damn. She’d hesitated too long.
“I didn’t see him.”
Daniels’s head tipped sideways. “Who said it was a man?”
“It had to be. Do you know of any woman who runs around shooting up people?”
His tiny smile said he didn’t buy that attempt at diversion. She should have known he wouldn’t be as tame as he looked. He stared at her for a few seconds, in what she read as an attempt to unnerve her. She licked her lips, letting him know she had her own ammunition.
When he swallowed and cleared his throat, she hid a smile. Clearly, she hadn’t lost her touch.
Daniels leaned toward her, pen poised. “Okay, so you didn’t see him or her. Is there any reason someone would want to kill you?”
She almost smiled again. A few years ago, Mrs. Julia Gonsalves would have said she had a good reason.
Celeste shook her head. “No, I’m totally harmless. I lead a boring life.”
He examined her visible body parts. She bit back laughter as he cased her flesh.
Really, his silence said.
She shifted her gaze when Allen straightened up from the wall. “Perhaps this might be connected to Mr. Weekes,” he said.
He had to be joking.
She made a disbelieving sound in her throat. “Why do you assume this has anything to do with Mark?”
“We have to explore all avenues.” Daniels continued staring at her, as though willing her to spill some deep, dark secret. “So, you don’t think Mr. Weekes is involved then.”
“Mark didn’t even know I was here, okay? If you need anything else, you better find him and ask him yourself.”
Now her arm spat heat as if a welder was moving a blowtorch back and forth over it. Daniels’s gaze intensified and she couldn’t look away from him.
“Whoever did this is still out there, and he might come back if he thinks you saw him.”
He let her digest that before he continued. “Tell us what you know and we’ll protect you.”
She came close to snorting. Her nostrils flared before she composed herself. She’d be dead if that man wanted her dead. Of course, she had done her version of a possum to get the shooter to leave. “I didn’t see who killed Orette and as soon as they release me, I’m going home where I’ll be safe.”
She stared at the door, willing them to leave. She needed something to cool the lava flowing through her arm.
The notepad crackled, and seconds later, Daniels stood. “Have it your way, Ms. Davies, but if you remember anything, give me a call.”
He placed a card on the bedside table. At the door, he spoke softly. “Take care of yourself.”
She let out her breath and told herself to relax. He was just trying to scare her; she’d be fine. Mark had once told her that Xantrope was among the safest places in the Caribbean. He knew what he was talking about, so she would trust him and set her mind at ease.
But things were never that easy. Despite the fire licking up her arm, a shiver rippled through her body. She was losing it, she told herself. Maybe she needed another nap.
The door squeaked, and her eyes opened. Mark stood in the doorway, watching her. She lifted her arm to rub her eyes and winced at the tug of the IV line. She used her other hand, and smiled before she could stop herself. In jeans and a gold polo shirt, Mark brought sunshine and blue skies into the room.
On the bedside table, he placed a ceramic pot, painted in hues of blue and green. In it, a crown of thorns bloomed flat, peach petals. If she didn’t know better, he was trying to get back in her good books by giving her the plant she liked most.
“They remind me of you,” he’d said once. “Pretty, but prickly. Dangerous, if you’re not careful.”
“Better put it on the window ledge,” she said. “It loves the sun.”
He walked across the room, hands wrapped around the pottery. Tenderly, he placed it where she instructed and came to sit by the bed. “You look better. Can I take it you feel better?”
She nodded. “Yeah, but I wish the pain in my arm would stop.”
“Another couple of days and it won’t be so bad.”
“You ever been shot?”
“No, but I know people who have been.”
She shifted, frowning. “Really?”
His face grew impassive, his eyes the color of the sea on a bleak day. “That’s what I said.”
His gaze slid toward the monitoring equipment, and she got the impression he did not plan to satisfy her curiosity. Not that she would ask any more questions; Mark made evasiveness an art form and he could be as stubborn as a mule.
“You talk to the police yet?” he asked.
“They left a while ago.” An imp prompted her to say more than she first intended. “Interesting guys, ’specially the one who looks a bit like you.”
Despite the curiosity she saw when his forehead creased, he refrained from questioning her. He leaned sideways and pulled a cell phone out of his jeans. While he looked at the display, she studied him. He had let his bristly hair grow past the point when he usually insisted he needed a haircut. His jaw line was dark with stubbly growth. His lips curled, and before he raised his head, she focused on the doorway.
“Sorry. I got a text.”
He rested the phone between his thighs and folded his hands together. “Have the doctors told you anything yet about your condition?”
“I’m supposed to be out of here in another three to four days.”
“You know you have to do some physiotherapy, right?”
“So the doctor said.”
“And the police will want to speak with you again.”
Discontentment settled on her. “I need to go home. I only planned to be away for a week.”
“You can’t travel with a useless arm. Besides, the police won’t let you leave until they have some answers.”
“I didn’t do anything, and anyway, Cayman’s just a stone’s throw away.”
“A stone’s throw that will cost the government money if you leave before the police say you can go.” He leaned forward. “When you leave the hospital, you’re coming home with me.”
“I have a hotel room.”
“Which you’ll have to vacate by the time you get out of here.”
She decided not to argue with him. He could plan what he liked, but she knew what she was going to do. He peered at her as though he suspected she was plotting something. In turn, she stared at him wide-eyed. Before long, he got busy putting up his defenses. Let him. She didn’t want him feeling responsible for her. Satisfied, she lowered her lids.
When she first met him, she found his eyes disturbing and now knew what ‘piercing gaze’ meant. Mark sometimes stared at her as if he saw right into her innermost being, where nobody was allowed to trespass. Yet, those same eyes hid his thoughts and feelings from her, at will.
She was still dying to know what prompted him to leave Cayman, but refused to ask. He also knew she wouldn’t. She had too much pride for that, but somehow, she would find out. She cocked one brow. “Who was that woman? Does she know you’re the next Usain Bolt, bolt being the important word here?”
Seconds passed before understanding dawned. He winced, and she held back a grin. Strike one.
“A close friend of the family.”
“So you’re dating semi-relatives now?”
He sat up, eyes darkening. “You know—”
“Never mind.” She shrugged her left shoulder. “Idle curiosity, you know?”
But the stinging behind her eyes said otherwise. She swallowed, willed her throat to open up, and drawled, “I’m sleepy. You should go.”
Now she had struck out, and could barely keep her emotions in check.
He got up, and before he touched her, she felt the warmth of his breath on her forehead. She sucked in the light musk he favored, longing for contact with him, despite the need to hurt him.
He kissed her, before murmuring in her ear. “One day, you must tell me why you always need to punish me.”
Air snagged in her throat, but she refused to look at him. What did he mean? He made it sound as if that’s all she ever did. If she was honest with herself, his desertion still pained her, and she’d continue to make him pay for that transgression. But would it matter in the end?
She would leave for Cayman possibly in another week, and he’d stay behind on Xantrope. End of probable happy ending. She squirmed at that bit of wishful thinking. She had long outgrown fairy tales. Better to forget about Mark Weekes and concentrate on rebuilding the business she was losing while she lay in hospital. She made a note to call her clients and apologize when she landed in Cayman.
She sighed, stared up at the ceiling, and caught Mark on the edge of her vision. What was he still doing there? Hadn’t she dismissed him? Hands in the pockets of his jeans, he studied her, revealing nothing of his thoughts.
The pain in her arm spiked, reminding her of the misery of being unable to move around as she liked. The stomach-heaving scent, which lingered in her hair, sickened her. On top of that, she was still seeing Orette whenever she closed her eyes.
Worse than everything, was this man, who made her want things she couldn’t have. Fed up, she closed herself off from him. “Maybe it would be a good thing if you forgot your concern and didn’t come back.”
“Maybe it would,” he said, “but I don’t have the luxury of doing that right now. I need the key to your room.”
“To get your things. The police are already in the room James rented. Yours will be next. I’ll get your things once they’re done.”
“I’m sure Orette paid for the week.”
“That may be, but you’re not going back to that hotel.”
“Who appointed you my guardian?”
“It’s a little late to ask me that. I want you where I can see you. Now where’s that key?”
She cast a swift glance around the room, brows knitted. “In my handbag.”
“Don’t worry, I have it.”
Puzzled expression in place, she asked, “Why?”
“It was in the ambulance. When I caught up with the paramedics, I explained who I was, and I ended up with it. It’s in the truck.” His eyes accused her. “I don’t know what you told them, but I had to do a detailed song and dance and produce identification before they handed over the ice cube you’re calling a handbag.
Against her will, she smiled. She liked unusual things, which Mark always found creative ways of describing. It was more pay envelope size than ice cube, but since he wasn’t the slightest bit amused, she withheld that comment.
She had forgotten the bag and didn’t recall seeing it after the shooting. Good thing medicine man was a quick thinker. “Just make sure you don’t search through it.”
He shook his head. “Really, Celeste.”
So, he wouldn’t search her handbag, but that was no reason not to take a dig out of him, and she certainly wouldn’t tell him there was nothing important inside.
She took another stab at him to satisfy her curiosity. “How did you find out I was in hospital, since you didn’t know me an hour before, when you passed me in the restaurant?”
He pressed his lips together before he answered. “On my way home, I heard a news clip on the radio, and since you can’t seem to stay out of trouble, I knew you’d be involved. I was right.”
She shot him a glare, meant to wither him on the spot.
It didn’t work.
“Just so you know,” he said. “The police plan to keep an eye on you.”
“How d’you know that?”
“I have my sources. That’s why I want you with me.”
Though she didn’t react to his words, icicles skated over her skin. What was it with these men trying to scare her out of her wits? If she listened to them, she’d turn into a bundle of frayed nerves. Deliberately, she slowed her breathing. She had never been one to worry about things she had no control over and she didn’t plan to start now.
Still, she couldn’t ignore the chill prickling her skin.
It had to mean something.
J.L. Campbell is a proud Jamaican and the author of A Baker’s Dozen:13 Steps to Distraction, Contraband, Distraction, Dissolution, Don’t Get Mad…Get Even, Giving up the Dream and Hardware (pen name Jayda McTyson). Campbell is always on the lookout for story making material, loves company and can usually be found lollygagging on her blog at http://www.joylcampbell.com Link with her on Facebook or through her Twitter handle @JL_Campbell.