Man overboard, p.24

Man Overboard, page 24


Man Overboard

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  But things weren’t fine. They were far from fine. Amelia had spent her entire adult life trying to help troubled people just like Owen Hansen. To do so, she would need to find some point of contact.

  “Why did your father commit suicide?” she asked.

  “What?” Owen demanded.

  “You heard me. I know that your father committed suicide when you were a child. There’s usually a reason—or at least something the victim perceives as a valid reason.”

  “I’m not one of your goddamned patients.”

  “No, but you’re probably responsible for the death of one of my patients and the attempted murder of a second one. So I’m asking all the same.”

  “How the hell would I know? He never said.”

  “Did your father leave a note?”


  “What did it say?”

  “ ‘Sorry,’ and that’s it. One lousy word. Like he didn’t care enough to say anything more than that.”

  “I’m sorry for your loss,” Amelia murmured.

  “No, you’re not sorry, and you don’t know the first thing about me. Now leave me the hell alone. Never mind, Frigg. I was talking to someone else.”

  But Owen’s assertion about Amelia knowing nothing about him wasn’t entirely true. She knew that she was dealing with a very smart man who was, in all likelihood, stark raving mad.

  Amelia’s phone rang then. Worried that she might go off and forget it, she had slipped it into her bra while she packed. Now her phone was ringing in her captor’s pocket. She couldn’t answer or even check the caller ID screen, but she knew who it was—who it had to be: her shuttle driver. He had probably just now shown up at her condo and discovered that no one answered the doorbell. She wished there were some way to let him know why she hadn’t answered his ring; some way to let him know what had happened so he could sound the alarm. But there wasn’t. The driver was stuck without his passenger, and Amelia was stuck without hope.

  From here on out, Owen Hansen and Frigg were running the show.


  Cami entered the dining room early enough that an army of waitstaff stood lined up on either side of the maître d’s podium. “Would you care to dine by yourself or would you like to be seated with someone?” the hostess asked.

  Cami shrugged. “I wouldn’t mind being seated with someone.” That was how Cami ended up sharing her multi-course dinner with three retired second-grade schoolteachers from Mansfield, Texas. As Xavier had warned, wine flowed steadily all through dinner. Cami had a single glass of Chardonnay and let it go at that. Her table companions, living it up, downed one glass after another, their Texas drawls becoming more pronounced with each one.

  Together the retired educators put Cami through a chorus of questions that amounted to a third degree interrogation. What was someone her age doing on a cruise all by herself? Was she really old enough to be a college graduate? They were clearly of the opinion that she looked far too young to be out of high school, much less out of college. And her degrees were in computer science and electrical engineering? Back in their day, they told her, girls didn’t become engineers.

  Because they weren’t allowed to become engineers, Cami thought.

  As their waiter came around with dessert menus, Cami’s phone buzzed with a text announcement. Rather than read it there, she excused herself. By then her dinner companions were flying so high on multiple glasses of wine that they barely noticed her departure. Just outside the dining room entrance she took a seat in a small lobby area and sat there long enough to decrypt and read Stuart’s text:

  Still working on gaining authorized access to Beth Wordon’s usage data.

  Cami understood the need for authorized access. What little they had so far wouldn’t be admissible. She looked up as two older couples emerged from the elevator laughing and talking. They headed toward the dining room entrance trailing the aroma of predinner cocktails. “Isn’t that just like a kid!” one of the women sniffed as she passed. “They can’t keep their noses out of their cell phones for more than a minute, not even on a cruise ship!”

  Unruffled by the rude comment, Cami returned to Stu’s text.

  Whoever is behind all this must have succeeded in breaking into the ship’s Wi-Fi system. I just sent you a copy of what Roger’s cell phone company sent me—a chart documenting his data usage, both his most recent totals as well as year-to-year comparisons. The chart clearly shows a huge upswing in usage that started in the weeks before he went on the cruise. With an unlimited data plan, he may not have noticed. Gotta go. I’ll get back to you on this.

  Pocketing her phone, Cami took the stairs one floor up from the dining room to the lounge. The place was deserted except for Xavier and a single white-uniformed crew member.

  The barman greeted her with a grin. “There you are,” he said. “I was hoping you’d come back. There’s someone here I’d like you to meet. This is CSO Sebastian Mordelo, the Whispering Star’s chief security officer.”

  Cami looked the man up and down. Mordelo was a handsome, clean-cut guy in his midthirties. Far taller than she, he smiled as he offered his hand.

  “Xavier tells me you’re looking into the untimely loss and presumed death of our passenger Mr. Roger McGeary.”

  Cami’s initial reaction was anger. Xavier had evidently blown the whistle on her unauthorized investigation, and Mordelo was here to call her out about it. While she didn’t exactly expect him to order her to walk the plank, she figured he would order her to abandon her investigation.

  “If you don’t mind, perhaps we could discuss this in a more private setting?” Mordelo asked.

  It was a congenial invitation, one made with no hint of antagonism. Cami glanced at Xavier, who nodded encouragingly. “Another greyhound, perhaps?” he asked.

  “Just one,” Cami told him. Then, accompanied by CSO Mordelo, she allowed herself to be led to a table near a window. Outside a tumult of whitecaps surrounded the ship, periodically crashing against the hull and sending washes of spray up and across the glass. “So,” Mordelo said, once Cami’s drink arrived, “you are an investigator?”

  Nodding, Cami pulled out a business card and passed it across the table. “High Noon Enterprises was asked to look into Roger McGeary’s situation on behalf of his aunt, Julia Miller. We’ve developed information that leads us to believe that a third party may have been involved in what happened.”

  “You think someone on board the ship attacked him?” Mordelo asked with a frown. “A fellow passenger or one of our crew members, perhaps?”

  “We have no reason to believe that anyone on board the ship was responsible nor was there a physical attack. Instead, it was a kind of psychological warfare. We suspect that a cyber bully tormented Mr. McGeary, harassing him to the point of taking his own life.”

  “This torment—as you call it. Are you saying it was delivered by way of an electronic device of some kind?”

  Cami nodded. “Most likely through Roger’s cell phone. We also suspect that whoever did it was able to remotely activate the camera capability on Mr. McGeary’s phone and was using that to spy on his activities.”

  “Do you have any proof of that?”

  “Not really, but we do have data usage records obtained from Mr. McGeary’s cell phone provider.”

  Cami retrieved her phone, located Stu’s most recent e-mail, and then opened the McGeary Data Usage attachment. Once the file was decrypted, Cami handed her phone over to Mordelo. He studied the screen for some time, saying nothing. Cami bit back the temptation to explain what was there. She managed, instead, to maintain a discreet silence and allow him to draw his own conclusions. Eventually he returned the phone.

  “Some of the suites on board the Whispering Star have unlimited Wi-Fi,” he said. “Nonetheless, Wi-Fi usage is metered in all suites, and I can tell you that the amount of data usage metered on Mr. McG
eary’s suite was inordinately high.”

  Cami could barely believe her ears. “It was?”

  Mordelo nodded. “In order to use that much data, Mr. McGeary would have had to be online and downloading files almost every moment of every day, including those times when he most likely would have been asleep.”

  “Which would be consistent with his cell phone being online and transmitting data without Roger necessarily being aware of it?”

  “Yes,” Mordelo agreed. “At the time Detective Inspector Garza was on board and conducting his investigation, I mentioned this anomaly to him. He brushed it off, saying that it was unlikely the data situation had anything to do with Mr. McGeary’s death.”

  “But it probably did,” Cami breathed.

  “So tell me about this information you said you had developed,” Mordelo continued. “What kind of information?”

  “We’ve come across a second very similar situation,” Cami said. “This is a case where a young woman attempted suicide after receiving mysterious texts on her phone that disappeared without a trace as soon as she read them. Because this young woman and Mr. McGeary had been seen by the same therapist, we’re wondering if disappearing texts were sent to him as well.”

  “This second case,” Mordelo said. “Where was it? And when?”

  “The attempted suicide occurred last night in San Jose, California. It might have succeeded if one of my coworkers, Stuart Ramey, hadn’t managed to locate the victim in a timely fashion. Obviously I wasn’t directly involved in any of that. I’m sure Stuart could tell you far more than I can. Would you mind if I put the two of you together on the phone?”

  “No, not at all,” Mordelo replied. “I’ll be happy to speak to him.” He pulled a business card out of his pocket and passed it to her. “You can have him call me on the ship’s phone. Perhaps we could set up an appointment.”

  Cami could text faster than Stuart could type. She keyed in Mordelo’s information and sent it along. She had just been texting Stu. Since he and his phone were usually in the same place, she was surprised when he didn’t reply immediately.

  “Sorry,” she said. “He must be busy with someone else.”

  “No matter,” said Mordelo. “I’ll be glad to speak to him at his convenience. In the meantime, I should be able to locate a copy of the metering on Mr. McGeary’s suite. It will be interesting to see if our records turn out to be similar to the ones sent by his phone provider prior to his boarding the ship. If you would care to accompany me, we could perhaps examine those records together.”

  In the course of their conversation, Xavier had delivered Cami’s new greyhound. Before Mordelo finished speaking, however, Cami was on her feet. Leaving the untouched drink on the table, she headed for the door. She caught Xavier’s eye as she went past and mouthed a silent “Thank you” in his direction.

  He smiled. “Happy to be of service,” he said.


  Headed home to Sedona for her appointment with the last of the potential butlers, Ali tackled the assignment Stu had given her. Calls to what was evidently Del Wordon’s home number went unanswered. The one labeled “Work” was answered by a businesslike receptionist or secretary who was beyond firm in stating that Mr. Wordon was out of the office due to a family emergency and that there was no set time when he was expected to return. That left only one more number to try—the man’s cell phone.

  He won’t be happy to have a stranger calling him on that, Ali told herself as she dialed, and she was absolutely right.

  When Del Wordon answered the phone, he didn’t bother with any niceties. “I don’t know who you are or who gave you this number,” he said brusquely. “We’re currently dealing with a family emergency, and I need this line available for urgent calls.”

  “My name is Ali Reynolds,” she said. “And that family emergency happens to be the reason I’m calling.”

  “A reporter, then, I suppose?”

  Used to be, Ali thought.

  “My husband and I own a company called High Noon Enterprises. Stuart Ramey, the man who guided the Suicide Prevention Initiative people to your daughter’s side last night, is one of our employees.”

  The change in Del Wordon’s attitude was night to day. “Stuart Ramey works for you?”

  “Yes, he does.”

  “Why didn’t you say so? Without his help, it’s likely my daughter wouldn’t be alive right now. What can I do for you?”

  The ice was officially broken. As clearly as she could, and without spending a lot of time on the exact mechanics of how Stuart had managed to locate Beth and her phone, Ali laid out the story, saying that High Noon’s investigation into the situation had concluded that two vulnerable people, Roger McGeary and Beth Wordon—both of them former patients of Dr. Amelia Cannon—had attempted suicide under suspicious circumstances that were eerily similar.

  “So you believe this unidentified person was somehow using Beth’s phone to spy on her and to send those disappearing texts that sent her into an emotional tailspin?”

  “We do.”

  “That doesn’t seem possible or legal,” Wordon said

  “I don’t know exactly how it’s being done, and it’s definitely not legal,” Ali told him. “But to find out for sure, we’re going to need your help.”

  “What kind of help?”

  “Who is the account holder for Beth’s phone?” Ali already knew the answer to that, but she needed to hear it from him.

  “I am, I suppose,” Del answered. “We have a family plan with three phones and unlimited data. It’s one of those grandfathered plans from years ago, and I wouldn’t let loose of it on a bet. Why?”

  “If things played out the way we believe they did, a huge spike in data usage will show up on Beth’s phone in the past month or so and maybe even longer. We need to compare her current usage records with past usage records. That information should be readily available either online or in paper form from the cell phone’s billing department. However, only the person named on the account can request that information.”

  There was a pause on the phone. For a moment, Ali thought the call had been dropped or else he’d hung up.

  “Did you say data usage?” he asked at last. “Now that you mention it, a few days ago I noticed that my Internet connection had slowed way down. I was too caught up with the wedding situation to call in and complain about it at the time, but if there was a big spike in usage, the phone company might have done something to slow it down. I believe there’s a name for that, but I can’t think of it right now.”

  Years of keeping company with B. Simpson had taught Ali a whole lot about electronic communication that she’d never known before. “You mean bandwidth throttling?”

  “Yes, of course,” Del said. “That’s it. Do you need me to call them?”

  “Yes,” Ali breathed. She wasn’t aware she’d been holding her breath until she let it out.

  “Will they give me a written report of some kind? I think that information usually shows up on the billing statement, but since it’s paid automatically through the bank, I hardly ever look at the details.”

  “They should be happy to give you some kind of documentation. They may also provide graphs that will compare current usage to historical usage.”

  “Once I have the information,” Del said, “what would you like me to do with it?”

  “Ask them to e-mail the records to you. You can forward it on to Stuart or else you can request that the phone company be in touch with him directly. I’ll send you a text with his contact information.”

  “Okay, Ms. Reynolds. I’ll get right on this. In the meantime, would you give Mr. Ramey a message for me?”


  “Please tell him we said thank you. My wife is profoundly grateful to him, and so am I.”

  “So glad we could be of service, Mr. Wordon, and
I’m sure Stuart feels exactly the same way.”

  Ali felt pleased when the call ended. She had done her small PR part. The illegal wiretap issue was still out there, like a giant trap waiting to be sprung, but for right now Stuart Ramey was clearly the man of the hour, and deservedly so.


  With the CSO by her side, Cami was escorted past doors marked CREW ONLY into the behind-the-scenes part of the ship. On the passenger side of those intervening doors the floors were covered with luxurious carpets; desks and countertops were topped with polished marble or granite; and the walls and ceilings were dotted with designer light fixtures. On the crew side, things were far more utilitarian. The polished-tile floors reminded Cami of shiny hospital corridors, and the lighting fixtures were all low-wattage fluorescents.

  Mordelo’s office, located on the far end of deck three, was little more than a closet. The Formica-topped desk holding two enormous computer monitors and a single metal filing cabinet occupied most of the space. The room was so cramped that the printer for his computer sat perched on top of the filing cabinet. There was nothing personal in the room. No family photos; no personal mementos. This was a space that was all work.

  Mordelo reached behind the door and extracted a folding chair, which he set out for Cami. Though she was small, once she sat down there was barely room enough for her to fit between the wall and the front of Mordelo’s desk.

  “It will take me a few moments to locate the records,” he said.

  She sat quietly while he attacked the keyboard. The relative ease with which he located the necessary records was telling. During the official investigation, Mordelo had been put off by Detective Inspector Garza’s complete dismissal of his concerns. Now, even at risk of losing their jobs, he, along with the barman and the butler, were glad that someone else was taking a second look at what had happened to Roger McGeary.

  Less than a minute after they entered the room, the printer came to life and began spitting out paper. Mordelo stood up, retrieved two pages, and handed them to Cami.

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