The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

I lay on my back staring at the ceiling in the dark. The euphoric glow
of the previous evening had worn off as the events settled into my
mind; replaced by a lingering and unrelenting sense of unease. I
couldn’t get the growing feeling of wrongness to go away. I’d gone too
far. We’d gone too far.

Glancing at the clock, I saw that it was almost 5 am. I sighed and
shook Gretchen gently. She half-way woke up and I whispered to her that
I needed to use the bathroom. She sleepily let me out of bed and was
asleep again before I had the covers settled back over her gorgeous

After I’d finished my business, I made my way quietly out onto the
balcony. The sky was dark and the moon was nowhere in sight, but the
ship churned the sea behind us into a glowing green arrow pointing back
in the direction we’d come. Leaning against the rail, I mutely watched,
closed my eyes, and let the smell of the sea fill my senses.

I didn’t fall asleep, but I did zone out. A gentle touch on my
shoulders brought me back to the here and now. Even before I opened my
eyes I knew it was Gretchen. Her scent mingled with the ocean and her
hands moved in a familiar, welcome pattern on my shoulders, half
caressing, half massaging me. Her breath tickled the small hairs on the
back of my neck as she kissed me there.

“Trouble sleeping?” she asked quietly as I turned in her arms and
leaned against the rail.

I nodded. “Yeah.”

We held each other silently for a few minutes before she stepped back.
I followed her to the table and we sat next to each other. She didn’t
prompt me any further, letting me get my thoughts together. I was
grateful for that. I already knew what I was going to say, but the
delivery was just as important as the message. At least, that’s what
she was always telling me.

“Last night was a mistake,” I said at last. “It might work for some
people, but it’s not right for me. For us.”

She nodded slowly and took my hands in hers. “I suppose my views on
sex, as opposed to love, colors my opinion, but if it made you
uncomfortable we’ll never do it again. I love you and I only want you
to be happy. ”

I shook my head. “It’s not that simple. Let me talk it out and see if
what I’m feeling makes any sense to you.” I took a deep breath and
pushed on. “I like our new friends well enough, but we crossed the line
when we had sex with them. I had a good time, I admit, but it was still
wrong. The more I’ve thought about it tonight, the clearer it became.
I wish I had seen it as clearly beforehand.”

I watched her closely, worried about how she’d react to that. I needn’t
have worried. “That does make sense,” she said seriously. “I never want
to hurt you. We’ll talk with them at breakfast and politely put the
brakes on.” She smiled wryly. “I’ll want to talk with Trish before
that, though.”

I shook my head again. “No, I told you she was fine, and I won’t go
back on that.”

“I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable…”

“No,” I said again, cutting her off softly. “This is complicated. What
I’m going to say may sound hypocritical but I want you to hear me out.
You, or even me, having sex with Trish doesn’t bother me. The idea of
both of us having sex occasionally with Ted and Lisa doesn’t bother me.
Our having casual sex with people we like as friends bothers me.”

I rubbed my eyes with the palms of my hands. “Don’t get me wrong. I
think we’ll end up being good friends with Keven, Sandy and the
Bellers, if last night didn’t screw things up. I’m just not comfortable
with casual sex and orgies. For me, sex and love are tied together. I
love you with every fiber of my being, with a totality I never thought
I’d find, and that sometimes scares me. I love Ted and Lisa, too but in
a different way. It’s completely hypocritical, but I don’t want to cut
them out of our bed completely. I just can’t do anything like last
night again.”

“I don’t think you’re being hypocritical,” she said, pulling my hand to
her lips. “I made a mistake and I’m sorry. I don’t understand about
Trish, though. Shouldn’t I step back from her along with the others?”

“No. You asked me ahead of time, I gave you my blessing, and you gave
Trish your word. I won’t have either one of us go back on a promise.
This isn’t a matter of jealousy. Trish doesn’t make me feel
uncomfortable. At least not now,” I amended. “Besides, I owe her big
time. She saved the most important person in my world.”

Her face lit up in a smile and she pulled me against her. “I love you,

We held each other until the sun rose. Then we made our way past the
still-sleeping Trish and showered together. Now this was how it was
supposed to be.


I let Gretchen wake Trish up so they could talk privately while I went
out to see who else was up for breakfast. It turned out we were the
ones being slow this morning. Everyone else was already up. Ted and
Lisa were sitting at the table talking quietly with the Bellers.

BP, or before pregnancy, I’d have flipped a chair around and used it as
a shield. But I’d have ended up on the floor if I did, so I sat down
and quirked a smile. “I know how people hate this phrase, but we have
to talk.”

Lisa raised an eyebrow. “I was just about to say the same thing. You go
first.” The others looked at me attentively.

By the time I was done with telling them how I felt, they were nodding.
Lisa grabbed my hand when I finally ran down. “Hawk, we couldn’t agree
more. That pretty much repeats the conversation we were having just
before you came out.”

“Don’t get us wrong,” Jo said, “last night was an amazing experience,
but it was a one time thing for Earl and me.”

Keven and Sandy nodded in agreement. “Sandy and I feel the same. We
want to be friends, hopefully close friends,” he paused and gave us a
wry smile, “but maybe not that close. I’m glad we all came to our

I couldn’t have agreed more. We talked a little more and decided to
keep the sleeping arrangements as they were. The common room, however,
was off-limits for intimate relations.

Gretchen and Trish came out of the bedroom a few minutes later. I
smiled broadly at Trish and held my arms up for a hug. She came to me
uncertainly and I smothered her with a hug and a kiss on the lips.
“It’s okay. We’re all okay. Park it.”

She smiled shyly and sat down on Gretchen’s other side. Ted and Lisa’s
smiles made her relax even more. “Good. I was worried. I don’t want to
be any trouble.”

Changing the subject, I filled them in on the investigation so far.
Skip’s room had been tossed thoroughly. Everything had been dumped on
the floor, probably while looking for something under the drawers. My
bet was whoever did it was looking for the disk that Skip had waved
around. I personally thought there was something more important on it
than a dirty story. And judging from the disaster in Skip’s room they
hadn’t found it. De Luca and his people were starting to look for
prints and other forensic clues when I left for dinner. Hopefully the
ship’s search would wrap up this morning.

Once everyone had been updated, I made shooing motions. “Now you know
everything. Go get breakfast and keep your eyes open.”

Everyone but Gretchen left for the dining room. She motioned for me to
stay and waited for everyone to leave before speaking. “I’m proud of

I raised an eyebrow. “For what?”

“For telling them all how you felt and not letting it get you worked

I grinned. “Yeah, I guess I do get on a roll when I’m upset. Usually.
It must be a drop in my hormones or something.” I took her hand in
mine. “I want to eat somewhere alone, just the two of us. You want to
try the sixties diner upstairs?”

“That sounds perfect.”

We rose and walked to the door, hand in hand. Before we got close I saw
a tan postal envelope on the floor just inside the door. The envelope
was large enough for a sheet of paper to fit inside without folding it.
I stopped Gretchen.

“That wasn’t there when everyone left or someone would’ve said
something. Someone just slipped it under the door. Go get me a towel.”

Gretchen gripped my arm. “It might be a bomb or something.”

I shook my head and slowly knelt in front of it. “I doubt that after
the scanning they gave us and our luggage when we boarded. It’s
probably a death threat.”

Her eyes grew huge and I grinned. “That would actually be a good thing.
It’d mean I’m making someone nervous.”

“You’re making me nervous. Whoever this is isn’t afraid to carry out
that kind of threat.” Without waiting for a response, she ran and
grabbed a towel from the bathroom.

I used it to gently pick up the envelope and hefted it. It was light. I
handed it to Gretchen and stood up. “Put it on the table.”

I grabbed a pen and used the tip to open the folding metal clasp and
peer inside. A piece of paper folded around something thin. Holding the
envelope with the towel, I slid the contents on the table. A jewel case
with an unlabeled DVD inside fell out of the single sheet of paper. I
opened the paper carefully with the pen and read the single line.

Give me what I want or I’ll ruin you.

It wasn’t signed.

I frowned. “That isn’t quite what I expected. Let’s see what’s on the

Using the towel and one finger I popped the DVD out and into the
player. The DVD was already playing when I turned the TV on and the
room was filled with the sound of heavy breathing and moaning. My mouth
dropped open. “Holy shit! That’s us from last night!”

There we were in living color. All of us were easily identifiable. I
sure as hell hadn’t seen anyone taking video so… I spun and looked at
the cabinet by the door. It was about the right place. I opened it and
looked inside but didn’t see anything. Behind me I could hear Gretchen

“That won’t help us,” I said. “Grab a chair and look on top of this

She was furious. Hell, I was furious, too. When she gasped, I knew
she’d found something. I handed the towel to her and followed her back
to the table where she set it next to the envelope – a camera the size
of a matchbox with a little antenna.

“Sonuvabitch!” Gretchen ground out. “First he tries to kill me and now
he’s blackmailing my friends?”

I shook my head and slipped the camera into the envelope. “We need to
go find everyone else. Come on.” I pulled the DVD out of the player and
slipped it back into the case. I stuffed it and the note into my jacket
pocket. Then, leaving the envelope on the table, I led the way out of
the suite and into the elevator.

Gretchen started to punch the button for the dining room deck but I
stopped her. “We’re not going to tell them.” I punched the button for
the deck the security offices were on. “The killer didn’t leave this.
It has to be that asshole, Price. Somehow he’s connected to the guy
with the trick glasses. Maybe he hired the guy to spy on Ted and Lisa.
You can’t imagine how much he hates them.”

“So we’re going to tell security?”

I shook my head and smiled humorlessly. “Hell no. First I get an update
from De Luca. Then we find out where Price’s room is. We’ll get the
original and any copies.”


De Luca spotted me as soon as we walked through the door to the
security section. He looked just as irked as yesterday as he motioned
us into his office.

I sat down in one of the visitor chairs while Gretchen leaned against
the wall. De Luca sat behind his desk and arched his fingers in a
steeple in front of himself. I briefly eyed the red security passkey on
his desk. That would be very nice to have but I couldn’t see how I
could get my hands on it. I put it out of my mind. I’d have to use
what I had.

“The public areas of the ship have been searched,” he said in a voice
that still hinted of lemons. “The cabin search will be complete in
another hour. There’s still no sign of Mister Niccio.”

That was about what I expected. “Anything from his room yet?”

De Luca shook his head. “We’ve collected a number of finger prints but
the task of eliminating the staff is taking longer than I’d like. His
laptop computer and computer storage material seem to have been
removed.” He shrugged. “It appears that someone wanted information from
him. It seems you might be right. He had something that someone may
have wanted badly enough to kill for.”

I firmly repressed the urge to say ‘I told you so.’ “That just leaves a
day to narrow down the killer. Do you have a list of the people who’re
here for the convention he was with?”

He passed over a printout of names, room numbers, and phone extensions.
“This is only the people that signed up for the conference. If someone
walked in they wouldn’t be on this list. The convention organizer
wasn’t much help, I’m afraid. It seems secrecy is normal for this
group. I’d imagine more than half the participants never signed up.”

I spotted a few names I recognized but most meant nothing to me. With
only a day to get to the answers, I wasn’t feeling very confident. Luck
was going to play a much larger role than I preferred.

“What about that guy Skip tore apart at the convention?” Gretchen
asked. “What was his name?”

De Luca unpaused his computer and peered at his monitor. “James Carter,
AKA Southland38. I’ve spoken with him this morning and he denies being

I didn’t even try to suppress the smirk from coming out. “I’ve never
heard that one before. He certainly has the best motive. Does he have
an alibi?”

“No. He claims to have been alone in his room.”

I nodded. “How hard did you lean on him?”

“I didn’t bring out the rubber hoses, if that’s what you’re asking. He
can’t prove he was there, but I can’t prove otherwise, either.”

“Then I better talk with him today. Skip met with a man in the casino
before we set sail. I’d like to look at any video footage that might
show us who that man was.”

Gretchen set her purse down on the desk and helped me stand when De
Luca stood up.

“The video is accessible from the monitors in the main surveillance
room,” he said. “Since the casino wasn’t open when they met, the
interior cameras were probably off. There are some in the bar that
would’ve been on. And, of course, the cameras in the lobby next to the
casino were on. This way, please.”

He held the door open for us and we followed him to a door on the far
side of the room. When he opened it, a dim room with many monitors
greeted us. The man watching the bank of monitors from a Captain Kirk
chair only spared us a glance.

Gretchen snapped her fingers. “I left my purse in your office. Be right
back.” She bolted out the door before he could respond. Good girl.

He stepped back toward the door but I put my hand on his arm to stop

“How long do you keep the video footage?” I asked.

He cast a second longing glance at the door and turned back to face the
monitors. “The cameras are digital so there are no tapes that must be
changed or removed. The footage is saved on computer hard drives and
cleared after each cruise is finished, unless there’s a reason to
keep it. The drives are segregated from the other computers on the ship
for security purposes.” He tapped the man on the shoulder. “Let our
watchdog sit down.”

The man had the grace to grin at me briefly before he stood up. I sat
down with a sigh. The pregnancy crap was really cramping my style. The
controls didn’t mean anything to me.

“How do I select the casino bar from before we set sail?”

“Let me do that, ma’am,” the man whose seat I was in said. He reached
past me and tapped a short series of commands on the keyboard. One of
the monitors went blank and then came up with a picture of what looked
like either a bar or a restaurant. On this ship it could’ve been both.
The time-stamp on the top right corner showed it was playing before
boarding had started the day we left port.

“Can you fast forward it and pause when any customers come in?”

“You bet.” He slid a slider up and the picture began moving quickly. It
wasn’t as jumpy as fast forward on a DVD. The picture was still
relatively smooth. When someone came in the door, he froze the picture.
It was actually two people. A larger man was walking into the room with
his back to the camera, his arms raised in some type of motion as he
spoke with the now infamous Skip Niccio.

“Dammit, we can’t see his face.” I looked back at the door as Gretchen
came back in with an apologetic smile for De Luca. “Are there any other
camera angles that might show them?”

“Not inside. Let’s see if they sit in the camera’s field of view.”

They didn’t though. Almost immediately they made a left turn and were
out of the camera’s view. Fast forwarding showed them leaving one at a
time but there was no better look at the other man’s face.

“Let’s see if one of the other cameras in the area caught them,” De
Luca commanded. His man complied and put three other cameras up and
playing through the time before they entered the casino and just after.
One of them caught the pair but the angle was bad.

The unknown man was still gesticulating in a way that was starting to
tickle a faint memory. I tried to follow it and it vanished like mist
in the sunlight. I just had to let it percolate and surface on its own.

“Well, that was a dead end,” I sighed. I stood up and patted the man
who ran the cameras on the shoulder. “Good work. Thanks.”

“Shall we go back to my office?” De Luca asked.

“Actually, Hawk hasn’t had her breakfast,” Gretchen inserted. “I really
need to see that she keeps her strength up.”

De Luca looked more relieved than irked.

I let Gretchen pull me from the security center and to the elevator.
She hit the button for the deck the diner was on.

I raised an eyebrow at her and started to say something, but she just
shook her head.

“Not where we might be being watched.” Her eyes flicked to the mirrored
area below the readout. She was right. De Luca might be watching us
even now. There’d be time enough while we ate.


Gretchen made me eat before she spilled the beans. She kept blocking
the conversation from leaving the bounds of normal things. Only when we
were making our exit did she open her purse for me to see her prize.
Nestled inside was a red security passkey.

“I can’t believe you took it!” I laughed.

“He shouldn’t just leave something that important laying around.”

“It wasn’t lying around. It was in his desk in security,” I pointed

“And yet I have it now. Obviously it wasn’t secure enough. Are you

I shook my head. “He’ll know who has it as soon as he finds it

She smiled at me sweetly. “He’s a man. He’ll backtrack to every place
he’s been since he saw it last looking for it.”

“I’m not a man and that’s what I do.”

Her knowing smile was my only answer to that comment. “Let’s see if
Price is in.”

We walked up to his door as bold as brass. I pounded on the door. “Open
up, Price.” That got no answer from inside.

Gretchen pulled out the key and I stood to help block any view of it.
It was best not to take chances. The light blinked green and I pushed
into the room.

It was a standard sized room with two twin beds. I expected to find it
mussed, but it was as neat as a pin. There wasn’t any computer or video
equipment sitting out in plain sight.

“Look for any electronic equipment or computers,” I said. “Keep things
the way you see them. Let’s not make this too obvious.”

“Right.” Gretchen started going through the dresser while I opened the
entertainment center.

I hit the jackpot in the first cabinet. There was a laptop computer,
two DVDs, and a plastic case that looked like a small suitcase.
“Bingo.” I handed Gretchen the computer. “See if you can get into that
while I look at this case.”

The case was heavier than it looked. I set it on the bed and popped the
latches. Nestled inside, surrounded by foam, was a blocky piece of
equipment with several computer ports on its side. There were also half
a dozen smaller niches in the foam beside it. All but one of them was
empty. I pulled out the identical twin of the bug in our room. There
was also a coiled computer cable.

“Got you, you sonuvabitch,” I murmured. I looked up saw Gretchen had
the laptop open at the desk and was looking at the screen intently.
“Are you in?”

“That’s my line,” she said with a snort. “Yes. It wasn’t even password
protected. This Price must be an idiot.”

I set what I suspected was the bug interface on the desk next to it and
plugged it into the computer and power outlet. When I turned it on the
computer sensed it and opened some kind of program. I rolled my eyes at
the program name. Double O. Someone was a James Bond freak.

Gretchen looked at the drop down menus and found the history. It popped
open a file list that had several files. “This is on the machine
itself, not the computer.” One by one we looked through them. All but
one were Ted and Lisa, sometimes alone and sometimes with the rest of
us, out in public. The remainder was all normal stuff. Oddly enough,
the video from the glasses wasn’t there. Why remove it and leave the
rest? The last one was the orgy.

“Delete that,” I said grimly.

She tried, but a password prompt came up. “It’s protected. This might
take a while.”

“Can you tell how many times this file was burned to DVD?”

“Maybe.” She pursed her lips in concentration. “There’s probably some
kind of log here somewhere.”

While she was looking, I tried the DVDs one at a time in the room’s
player. One of them was the orgy. The other was the rest of the
surveillance. I pocketed them and returned to the desk to look over my
wife’s shoulder. She had some kind of text list up.

“I found the log. It shows the orgy file having been burned to DVD
twice. The other files were only burned once. They were also copied to
the laptop. It wasn’t emailed or uploaded anywhere.” She looked up at
me. “I can’t delete them, Hawk. What do we do?”

“I have another copy of orgy in my pocket. We’ll have to take the
equipment with us. He’ll just make more copies if we leave it here.”

Gretchen shook her head. “I have a better idea. Grab the laptop.”

I unplugged the spy gear from the laptop and watched her gather it and
stuff it into the plastic case without latching it. She opened the
sliding glass door and stepped out onto the balcony. I knew immediately
what she had in mind. I peered over the rail and saw a clear drop to
the sea, so long as we tossed it out a little.

Without ceremony, she slung the case and it flew open as it fell toward
the sea. I heaved the laptop after it and watched it all splash into
the sea and sink into the depths. Well, everything but the case. I
didn’t think that would matter though. Price was going to be severely

I dusted off my hands and went back into the room. “We need to get
going. No telling when Price might get back from breakfast.”

Before she had a chance to respond, the door knob rattled. There was no
time. I pulled her back onto the balcony. I yanked the drapes closed
and slid the door closed as well.

Temporary safety achieved, I stared at Gretchen. “We’re trapped. As
soon as he looks for that equipment the jig is up. What do we do?”

Together we turned to stare silently at the rail and the cruel sea so
far below us.