The woman sat on the hard bench looking up at the can of energy drink, beckoning her to take it. She reached up and not caring that it wasn't hers, popped the pull-tab and took a hearty swallow of the liquid, ready to savor the taste. After she had swallowed, her taste buds started to burn, then her stomach started to turn on her, she felt a nauseous dizziness and a foam rose from her throat to her lips. She looked to her friend standing close and tried to talk but couldn't because she was now convulsing. She knew she was dying.
I sat back in my aging desk chair studying the last line I had typed into my laptop remembering how Penny threatened me with divorce if I finished this book about the Vegas showgirl murders, but it had to be told. Okay, it did not have to be told, but I was really enjoying writing. Penny was kidding me about the fact that my first book brought out murders at the movie studio where the thing was being filmed. She wanted to be sure that no more murders occurred because of my books. My first book, Classmate Murders, had done well in sales, enough to be on the bestseller book list and the TV movie made from the book had helped those sales.
Two weeks ago all our friends and family had sat in our living room as we watched the first episode of the two-part miniseries, it was still good even though we had already seen it at the premiere showing at the Fox Theatre in Detroit last Month. We gathered again the next night and finished the show. It did well in the ratings for a cable show, and probably would be going to DVD in a month or so, if it didn't warrant a rerun. I had heard some rumors about it being picked up by one of the networks for prime time viewing. More book sales I thought.
I looked out my office window, it was snowing now, I hated winters. I have absolutely no use for snow or cold and this made me want to move back to Vegas even more. When the snow first started early this year, Penny and I talked more about moving, it was still on the table, but we just couldn't take that first step to do so. Don't know why, maybe it's because our friends were here and my family, so we had to consider that. Being two thousand miles away from everyone was something to think about and not everyone would move with us.
I turned back to the laptop and thought about my next line in the story, being amazed that writers do this without a real life crime to fall back on. I didn't have to make this up, it actually happened, I just had to do it justice with my words. My book was a true crime story with a touch of fictional account, but there were authors out there that had to depend on their imagination to create a story that they could put down on paper. I could write, but could I make it up? I'd have to try a fictional book next. I spent the next half hour working on the book until my office door opened, startling me from my concentration. It was Buck.
"Hey Jimmy, what's happening?" He said with a big smile that always brightened my day.
"Just working on my next book." I replied.
"I thought Penny was going to dump you if you finished that book?"
"I'm not telling her."
"She'll know; you know she'll know."
"You're not helping. Did you stop in to tell me something or just to annoy?"
"I just came by to tell you that I talked to Maria last night and she's coming out to stay with me for a month."
"She's leaving Las Vegas to come to this miserable weather?" I said pointing to the snow now hitting my window.
"She used to live here, so she wants to play in the snow for a while and spend some time with me." He grinned again. "She said she hasn't been around snow in years and got some vacation time from the Tropicana, so she'll be here in two days."
"Is Deacon coming too?"
"No, he's not. Maria warned him not to follow her. He's just a bit overly protective of his sister." Buck laughed.
"And he lets her be with you? I'm astonished."
"So, have you gotten any money from your book sales?" Buck asked ignoring my comment.
"They send me a check every so often, I'm not getting rich, the publishers, bookstores and distributors take their cuts. Amazing how everyone dips into the thing. My book is selling for $29.95 in most good bookstores; I get $3.98 from each book sold, amazing."
"Well, when your book is selling in the millions, you'll be rich." Buck smiled.
"So have you figured out what to do with Maria when she comes out, any plans yet?"
"I got all kinds of ideas and places to go. I sat down last night and wrote out some fun things to do."
"This isn't Vegas; there isn't a hell of a lot of things to do. Take her to see the closed down factories and stores, or drive up and down the freeway and watch the road rage." I laughed.
"Hey, there are things to do, museums, Henry Ford's Greenfield Village, Detroit Institute of Art, lots of good stuff and we can head north to Frankenmuth and take in the German restaurants along with Bronner's Christmas store."
"I know there are things to do and I'm sure you'll be able to entertain her for the month. If you two can get out of the bedroom."
"It's not about sex, which is good, but not the only thing... well, its most of it." He gave a sly little smile.
Just as he finished saying that my office door opened and a woman stepped in. She was in her forties I estimated, not beautiful but attractive and tall, almost as tall as Buck. She was also thin, looked like she could use a few extra pounds. She was dressed nicely in a business type outfit, she had sandy brown hair and deep brown eyes that looked to Buck and then me, she had a confused expression. I stood.
"May I help you?" I asked as I came around the desk towards her.
"I'm looking for Jim Richards." she said quietly as if she didn’t want to disturb us.
"I'm he. Can I help you?" I said again.
"May we talk?" she asked looking at Buck.
"Come in, this is Buck Carson, my associate in crime fighting." I said.
Her face brightened and she went to Buck. "Mr. Buck, yes I know of you. I read Mr. Richards’ book, Classmate Murders, and I know you." She held her hand out to shake Buck's; he stood and took her hand and did one of those European greetings of kissing her hand. He looked to her and said it was a pleasure to meet such a lovely lady. I didn't think Buck would ever do something like that, but he always surprised me. She flushed, giggled, and said, "It's an honor to meet you."
Buck offered her the client chair he was sitting in; she thanked him and sat. He pulled up one of the extra chairs from by the door and sat at the end of my desk. I was still standing; I figured I better sit.
"Now, what can I do for you and your name is?" I asked.
"I'm Elizabeth Collins and I need your help, I'm on the main committee for our writers organization and we have a problem," she started, "I'm with the International Mystery and Horror Writers Association and we have a convention coming up this month and one of our guest speakers has taken ill and can't make it. I've watched your television miniseries and have read your book, we were wondering if you would be interested in being a speaker? We had our plans all arranged last year and didn't know about you until this last month, and now everyone really wants you to fill in. I know its short notice, but things have happened so fast."
I was taken by surprise that she wanted me, I never thought about becoming a speaker. "What would this entail and where is the convention to be held."
"Well, you'd just have to talk about the classmate crime and how you came to write the book, plus we'd like to hear about your adventures in fighting crimes that have been so widely publicized since the movie. You are quite well known now in our circles. I'm sure our group would gain valuable knowledge from your work. As to where, it's being held on the Queen of the Pacific Ocean cruise lines, sailing from Los Angeles to Hawaii, then to Tahiti then back. It's a sixteen day cruise, just for the convention people."
I could see Buck's jaw drop even though he hadn't opened his mouth, my mouth did drop a bit. An ocean cruise, I had never been on one before and the closest I got to one was when I took first place in the magic competition during the magic convention in Colon. I was offered a three-month contract to perform my act on a cruise line but turned it down, too long for Penny to be away from her show. Sixteen days could be arranged if her station ran reruns, they've done it before.
"You would be paid for your time and all air travel expenses to the ship and back to here would be covered. Your cruise, stateroom and food would be covered also. I'm sure you will bring your lovely wife, Penny." She added.
"She'd murder me if I didn't. Well it sounds like an offer I really can't refuse. One condition, may I bring two friends with us, I'd pay for their air travel myself." I said thinking of Buck and Maria. I could see Buck's eyes widen.
"I'm sure it can be arranged, who might your friends be, may I ask?"
"Well, Buck and his lady friend." I told her.
Her eyes shifted to Buck and a smile crept across her mouth. "It would be an honor to have Mr. Buck along." I noticed the mention of a lady friend didn't faze her, I thought Buck might have a stalker now.
We finalized the details and she left. Buck was bouncing in his seat. "I got to call Maria, thanks for inviting us, this will be fantastic."
I laughed and said to hold on, as I picked up my cell phone and made a call. Three rings later Penny answered, I said, "Hi beautiful, pack your bikini, you'll never believe where we are going."
When I arrived at home, Penny was on the phone using her corded earpiece plugged into her cell phone. She had suitcases all over the living room; I just sighed and accepted it. I stood watching her scamper from bedroom to suitcases carrying arm loads of clothing, it looked like she was packing to leave me, and in a hurry. I heard her mention the name Gordy, so I figured she was arranging for time off from her show. She finished up and came bouncing over to me, latching on with a big kiss.
"I presume Gordy gave you the time off?" I asked when she broke away to stuff one suitcase with shoes, why I don't know, she could wander barefoot for the whole trip for all I cared.
"He was reluctant, but said they could run old shows while we're gone. I didn't even ask him for any favors to film our cruise. I don't want cameras anywhere near me for the entire trip. Does the ship have a pool?" She was happy as she held up swimsuits comparing them.
I smiled and said, "I'm sure they do, most cruise ships don't like their passengers diving off the side of the ship to swim in the ocean."
She stared at me for a moment, and then broke out laughing; I liked her laugh. She flitted off to the bedroom again as I picked up Willy and gave him a noogie. Penny came back out and asked if we were taking Willy.
"No, I think we should leave him with my Mom, I have this image of Willy chasing a seagull off the deck of the ship and ending up in the ocean all alone as shark bait. I don't want that to happen, so he will have to put up with Mom while we're away. Luckily he likes her so they should get along." I said.
"Good idea, now you have me visualizing him out all by himself treading water. Not a good image." She grinned and kissed my cheek as she passed me to pack more swimsuits.
"We're only going to be on the ship for sixteen days, do you really need all this stuff?" I said knowing what the answer would be and I mouthed the words as she said it.
"A woman needs to be prepared." She saw me mouthing her words and whacked me on the arm. "Behave, or you can sleep with the fishes."
"That's only if you bump me off. Besides the ship is going to be full of murderous writers, who will be hanging on my every word. I am the king of the crime writers now."
"How are you going to get out the door with that head?" She asked.
I ignored her and went into the kitchen to get a bite to eat, I yelled to her asking if Willy had been fed, she said to feed him. I made a tuna sandwich on toasted Kaiser roll and poured Willy a bowl of kibbles. I came back out to the living room and sat watching Penny try to organize her wardrobe.
"So why did they choose you to speak at this convention and who are these people, will I like them?" She fired the questions at me.
"I was asked because someone had taken ill and couldn't speak, they saw my movie and read my book and wanted me to fill in. These people, as you call them, are all writers of books about crime, murder and horror stories, you know the gory satanic ritual types, full of werewolves and vampires. Big business now days, anything with a vampire is a big seller. They should rewrite the classics so kids would read them. You know, turn David Copperfield into a vampire, kids would eat the book up."
"Why would you turn a magician into a vampire?" She grinned.
"Not the magician David Copperfield, the book by Dickens of the same name. You knew that, you just wanted to annoy me." I said.
"Yes, they could turn Scrooge into a vampire and he could suck the life out of Bob Cratchett and Tiny Tim." She offered.
"The dead singer with the Ukulele?" I asked.
"Now you’re mocking me, not that Tiny Tim. Wow, I almost forgot about him." she laughed.
"I'm always surprised when I hear some old celebrity has passed on, and I didn't even know they were still alive." I replied.
"Yes, they'll say the same for you some day." She went off to the bedroom again.
I yelled, "Did you leave any suitcases for me to pack?"
"Yes, there's one on the snack bar." She yelled back.
I looked over and saw one of those carry on bags, barely big enough to pack a couple shirts and pants. Penny came back out and I said I was going shopping. She asked for what, I said new luggage for me. She made a face and said we didn't need any more luggage.
I replied, "Yes, we have enough, but you're hogging it all. I have my needs too you know."
"So go and buy more, you'll have to carry them to the plane."
"Yes, and I'll have to carry yours also." I smiled and went out to the car.
I wandered around Wal-Mart for a while, studying in all the people shopping. I found a nice set of rolling luggage that nested inside each other when stored. I picked them up and put them in my cart. I wandered over to the book aisle and found my book on the shelf; it was a good feeling to see it there. I had about ten copies at home or else I would have bought it just to pump up my sales.
I put everything in the trunk of the car and drove back home. Just as I pulled in the drive, I saw Trapper's Jeep Cherokee parked and he was sitting in it. Will Trapper was Clinton Township's finest and yet laziest homicide Lieutenant and now my close friend. He loved to pull into my drive, call on his cell, and then show up at the door seconds later, I guess he thought it was funny. Well, it was actually funny. My cell phone rang and of course, it was him.
"Sorry, but I see you sitting in the drive, you can come in now." I said and hung up. I drove up past him as he got out of his vehicle and grinned at me while I parked.
"You really love calling me from the driveway, then showing up at the door don't you?" I said as we went to the door. I opened it and we went in, Penny's mess was getting bigger.
Trapper saw the explosion of clothes and asked, "Are you having a rummage sale?"
Penny heard him and said, "No, I'm packing for our trip, thank you."
"What trip?" Trapper asked.
"I have been invited to be a guest speaker at a crime writer's convention, it's on a cruise ship sailing the Pacific all the way to Tahiti. Sixteen days of paradise." I answered his puzzled expression.
"You, a guest speaker, what could you possibly talk about?" He smirked as he sat on the one chair that wasn't cover with clothes.
"I've been asked to talk about my book, movie and my adventures fighting crime. I'm famous now."
He laughed out loud and then tried to look serious. "You, famous, may I have your autograph?"
"Excuse me sir, but why are you here?" I asked.
"Just wanted to say I got Barry Becker in the detective squad. He's now a junior investigator." He smiled.
"Fantastic, why didn't you bring him so we could celebrate?" I asked.
"He's celebrating with his family tonight. His cousin, Rick the state police cop is coming in to help him celebrate also."
I remembered Rick from the murders of the magicians when we were out at Abbott's Magic Company for the magic convention. I was happy for Becker.
"Well, we'll have to throw him a party after we get back from our trip." I said.
"When do you go and to where?"
"We leave the day after tomorrow, and the ship sails from Los Angeles to Hawaii for a day then to Tahiti for a couple days then back to LA. I speak for one day and lay around the ship for the rest of the trip. Ah, paradise."
"I've been to Tahiti, they won't let me come back to the island, something about hookers and being drunk." he smiled.
"I can believe that." Penny spoke as she tried to close one of the suitcases.
"You two going by yourselves, unprotected? You don't need a bodyguard along?" Trapper was hinting.
"Yes, I have my favorite body guard coming, Buck. He's bringing his favorite bodyguard along too, Maria." I replied.
"You'll never see the two of them for the whole trip; they won't come out of their stateroom." He laughed.
"This is a new experience for both of them; they will be taking advantage of ship board festivities." I said.
"Well, if you need experienced police protection, I know someone." He was still hinting.
"Not a bad idea, does Becker still have some time left for vacation" I dug.
"And you call yourself a detective." He grimaced. "Well, if you need someone to carry all this luggage, I'm available."
"Yes, from the car to the airport as we leave this frozen hell-hole." Penny laughed.
The morning of our plane flight to LA, I had taken Willy to my Mom's home and snuck off; feeling bad leaving the pup, but the big ship wasn't a place for such a small animal. Buck had talked to Maria and she was excited to be going. She said she would meet us in LA since it didn't make sense to fly to Michigan then to turn around and fly back to LA, not to mention the cost. She said she would have Deacon drive her to LA from Vegas and wait for us at the airport. I gave Buck the flight number and he passed it to Maria. Mrs. Collins had called me with the arrangements for the flight and where to go to get our tickets; they were flying us first class, thankfully, remembering the flight to Florida before we went to the Cayman Islands. That was hell.
I managed to talk Penny down to two suitcases, citing the weight restrictions of fifty pounds each for luggage on board a cruise ship, which were Homeland Security rules. I told her I looked it up on the internet; I hope she never challenged me on the validity of my findings. She was not happy. I don't know what it was about her and luggage; maybe she was a gypsy in a former life and had to move a lot. The luggage debacle was overshadowed by her excitement, she was really looking forward to an ocean cruise, so she yielded to the fates and compacted her clothing into the two suitcases. I managed to pack two suitcases for my things; I made sure I took my tuxedo in case we were invited to eat at the Captain's table. I could dream.
Trapper had volunteered to drive us all to the airport, so he came early and we packed his Jeep with all the luggage. I joked to Buck about him riding on top of the vehicle. We managed to all pile in and headed down I-94 freeway to Metropolitan Airport. Trapper drove up to the Southwest departing terminal and we tumbled everything out of the Jeep. We grabbed a cart and put everything on, then headed in as Trapper said bon voyage, looking like a wounded puppy being left alone. We found the people from Detroit writers group who were going to the convention and we were all escorted to the checkpoints. I hated the security of airports, but better to be safe than have someone sitting next to you with his underwear full of explosives. Damn stupid people.
We managed to get our luggage into the baggage claims and proceeded to be scanned and interrogated by uniformed Nazi's as we went one-step closer to the plane. We passed through safely and were snuggled into our seats as the plane pulled out from docking. The seats were comfortable and spacious and Penny said she was going to sleep the rest of the trip. I looked over to Buck who was given an extra check by security, he had just looked a bit too menacing, but they finally gave him his freedom. The plane was finally airborne and we relaxed the rest of the trip being served by smiling flight attendants. On the way out I had jotted down on a small pad of paper I had in my briefcase with my laptop, a few notes about what I would talk about for my speech. I outlined the thing and hoped I would have enough to keep them happy, but I could kill a lot of time with a question and answer session. I just hoped there would be questions or it would be a short session.
We arrived in LA about five hours later, the plane had to circle a bit before landing, and then we were allowed to disembark to find our luggage. Surprisingly we found all of Penny's luggage, and then mine rolled out a bit later. I was worried for my new suitcases. Buck had two beat-up ones that he pulled off the carousel and flopped on a cart he managed to find. We went out of the concourse and Buck saw Maria. She came barreling over and jumped up on Buck kissing him all over the face. Deacon and Lynn came up behind Maria and greeted us.
"Must be nice to get invited on a cruise ship to talk about something you fell into." Deacon said as he shook my hand. Lynn and Penny were hugging and bouncing around doing the women's happy ritual.
"Well, it takes talent to do what I do and they recognized that." I said with a serious look just before I started laughing. "Thanks for bringing Maria out, it made it a bit easier."
"I wish we could go, but Maria said she had to grow up and break away from her big brother." He smiled.
"Deacon, she's forty-one, let her have her space." I laughed.
The leader of the Detroit area writers group gathered all of his few people, and then calling to us, pointed to a bus that would take us to the ship docks. Deacon and Lynn followed us to the bus and we said our good-byes and made arrangements to pick up Maria on our return. We sat in the seats on the bus that must have been used in a bad part of LA; they were a bit well scarred from overuse and vandalism. We were joined by a group that came in from Cincinnati and along with them we came to fifteen passengers. The writers from Detroit and their leader had sat back in coach on the plane to LA, so we hadn't been able to talk to them much, but on the bus they started to ask me questions once they found out who I was. I was polite and told them to hold any questions till my speech.
The bus arrived at the ship docks and we had to go through the terminal for the boarding gate and we were again subjected to search by security at the customs check. Had something to do with Homeland Security, I guess they were afraid one of us would hijack the ship and attack Pearl Harbor again. We went through the bag and body checking again and then were let on the ship. Once on board, Elizabeth Collins came floating up and welcomed us to the cruise. She ignored Maria and went straight to Buck and gave him a big welcome, short of a hug and a kiss. I figured Maria would knock her block off if she did.
"I have your itinerary here for the cruise, your cabin assignments and schedules for activities and meals." She said happily as she handed Buck and I manila envelopes. "You will speak after we leave Hawaii, on our way to Tahiti. Have you been to the islands Mr. Buck?" She asked.
"No, and you can call me just Buck, I'm not formal enough for the Mr. moniker." He grinned, as Maria gave the odd woman a cold hard stare.
"Well, I'm sure you'll enjoy the voyage to the islands. If you need any questions answered, I'll be glad to be your guide; I have knowledge of the islands and its lore." She smiled and toddled off.
"I'll just bet she has knowledge." Maria snarled.
"Hey baby, she's got a crush on me, can you blame her. I'm here for you this trip, not some strange crime writing lady." Buck offered to soothe Maria.
I had to chuckle at Buck's dilemma, then I realized that Penny was gone. I looked around then finally spotted her at the gift shop buying a silly wide brimmed hat made of some kind of hemp looking fiber. She came back and smiled at me, saying she wanted to protect her face from the harsh ocean sun.
"I'm sure it's no different from the land sun we have in Michigan." I smiled.
"No, the sun in Michigan is hidden behind a haze of car exhaust." She countered. I looked out the side of the ship and had to agree, the sun here was much brighter.
We took our itineraries and found our cabins; they had placed us next to Buck and Maria. I had found a porter who agreed to bring our luggage to our cabins, I tipped him well even though it was not cruise line policy, but I wanted him on my side for any problems. I asked him his name, he said Telly, like Telly Savalas from Kojak on TV. I asked if he was Greek also and he said proudly he was. He asked me if I was the famous private investigator, Jim Richards. I was amazed he knew of me, and said I was, he smiled and said he was honored to meet me. I thanked him and he went off. Once in our room I wondered if the bulkhead was thick enough between our cabins to mask the howling Buck and Maria would be doing at night. It was a bit scary; I had heard it once before in Vegas when Buck and Maria went off to her bedroom early while we visited with Deacon and Lynn. It was something Deacon didn't like to hear but he held up well.
Once in the room, Penny started to fill the moderate sized closet with her clothes. I made a comment about our only being on board for sixteen days; she stuck her tongue out and finished putting her stuff away. I plopped down on the bed, worn out from the plane flight and the aggravation of the security checks both at the airport and the ship. Penny finished unpacking and came over to plop down on me. We wrestled a bit then lay still, taking in the room.
There was a call on the ship board speakers for all persons not traveling with the ship to disembark as the ship was ready to depart. I pulled Penny out of the cabin and found Buck and Maria in the hallway. We all went up to the decks to watch the huge ship pull out from the docks as the people on land waved and yelled to loved ones. We took a stroll to the front of the ship, which I was told, by Buck, was called the fore or stem of the ship. I asked how he knew and he said he studied a handbook of boating he had from the coast guard.
"Well then, you can guide us on this cruise and help us to find the buried treasure on the savage islands." I joked.
He smiled and said, "Aye Captain, I shall be delighted."
I took Penny up to the bow of the ship and told her I wanted to do the Titanic scene where she was flying on the front edge of the ship. She looked at me like I was crazy and said hell no. I yielded to her wishes and watched Buck and Maria acting out the scene. I was now worried that they would tumble off the ship, but they came back to us and we went off to explore.
I was noticing that Telly was always within a close distance from us. I had stopped at one point and came around a corner to meet him face to face and smiled at him.
"Telly, why are you following us?" I asked.
He gave me a very big Greek smile, all teeth and said, "Meester Richards, I admire you exploits from you book. I want to be beeg time P.I. like you."
I really had to suppress a laugh but saw that he was sincere. "Telly, I'd be happy to talk to you about being a P.I. but don't you have duties on the ship?"
"Oh, Meester Richards, I am the assistant purser, I have great responsibilities that allow me to be free to roam the sheep."
Sheep? I then realized he meant ship. I said, "it's alright to be my shadow, but don't get in trouble with your Captain."
"Oh, the Capitan, he is my cousin, he is my Mama's seester's son and we are tight."
"Good to keep it in the family." I smiled and said, "I have to go entertain my wife and friends, but please don't feel like you have to be always around."
"I will be so hidden; you won't know I'm there. Like good surveillance cop." He grinned and turned to go off. I was wondering if the young man would become a stalker now. He was definitely of Greek decent, by his looks, black hair, prominent features. I assumed he was in his late twenties and was a bit shorter than me, making him around five-eight. He seemed energetic and had a wide-eyed assurance that he could do what he said.
I came around the corner and ran into Penny leaning against the wall, close enough to hear our conversation. "You have a fan now?" She smiled.
"Yep, whether I want one or not, I have a feeling we will be seeing more of him from now on." I grinned.
"You have a way of attracting strange people, don't you?"
"Telly isn't strange, well, a little off center, but not strange, he thinks I'm a great P.I. so he isn't strange." I defended.
"You keep telling yourself that, then you and Telly will believe it." She straightened and gave me a kiss, "but you are my great P.I. so don't blow it."
We went and dragged Buck and Maria from their play acting scenes from Titanic, I told them to stop it, I didn't want to see any icebergs on this voyage.
We went to the promenade so Penny and Maria could do a little shopping before we went to register for the convention. I knew the things in the gift shops would be highly overpriced but it made Penny happy to have a little souvenir of the voyage. She bought a nice snow globe with a tiny ship floating on calm sea. I just hoped our seas would be calm.
We were all hungry from our long trip out to LA and I asked a steward where the food was served. He showed us a ship map posted on the wall and pointed out the dining rooms. I thanked him and slipped him a tip quietly, as he smiled and thanked me. We went to the location the steward showed us and they had a setup of everything to eat from lobster to hamburgers. I took the burgers; Penny took a hunk of lobster. Buck and Maria were pigging out on just about everything on the serving table. I was glad we weren't paying for it.
We sat at a table by the side of the room where we could look out the windows at the ocean going by. I was suddenly aware of someone standing next to me; I looked up at a huge barrel-chest man in a bright white uniform. I quickly glanced at his name tag, it read, "Captain Yurgo Stavros" and he was smiling at me.
"Mr. Richards, I am Captain Stavros, my cousin Telly has been bending my ear about you since your embarkation. I am honored to meet you as I have read your book also. Telly made me read it on another cruise; it helped me to relax at night."
I thanked him and he continued, "Would it be too imposing if I could get you to sign my copy of the book?"
"No, I'd be honored myself. Do you have it?"
"No, but if you and your guests and your lovely wife would care to join me at the Captain's table for dinner tonight I could bring it then."
I knew bringing my tux would pay off, "I would be happy to join you, as I'm sure my traveling companions will be also."
They nodded their agreements.
"Thank you so much, I will see you later then. Telly will guide you to where we will be. He seems to be following you where ever you go." He did a curt bow and said, "till later then," and turned as quietly as he came and left.
I looked to Penny and she just grinned. I said, "this is nice, we're invited to the Captain's table for dinner, I'm wearing my tux."
"Oh no you're not, I didn't bring an evening gown, you made me pack less so I sacrificed my good wardrobe for functional. So you will wear a suit and I will wear a nice dress, something hot and short." Penny said with such determination, I couldn't object.
I looked to Buck and Maria and asked if they had evening wear, they both said they did. "Okay, we're set for an evening with the Captain."
We were finished with our lunch and I looked over the envelope that Elizabeth gave us. I read the schedule of events for the convention, and told everyone that we needed to register. We exited the dining room and asked where the convention hall was, a porter took us there and pointed to the door, I thanked him and slipped him a good tip, I was going to have everyone on the ship helping me now. We went to a table set up by the hall door.
"Hi, is this where we register for the convention?" I asked.
The girl at the table, sitting next to a strange looking man, said we were there. I gave our names and the girl's eyes went wide, and said she was honored to meet me. I thought that I had to get used to all this attention, then Penny whispered that this was getting sickening. I looked at her and said, "Go with the flow, will you." The strange looking man just sat at the table and was staring at me, giving me the creeps.
The girl, who's badge said her name was Sissy, pulled out a sheet of paper and had us sign in. "I hope you found your cabins all right?" she bubbled. I said we did and were happy with the accommodations. She gave me a big smile and handed us our pre-made badges, even Buck and Maria had them. Buck's badge identified him as Buck Carson, Richards Investigations. Mine said my name and just the word Author under that. I felt a little cheated that I wasn't identified as author of Classmate Murders and head of Richards Investigations. Oh well, at least it had my name spelled correctly. We went into the convention hall and there were about two hundred people by my estimate. Elizabeth Collins spotted us and came rushing over to greet us. Maria saw her coming and stepped in between Buck and her arrival.
"I am so glad that you all could attend our convention. It is so good that you are here." She beamed and tried to move around Maria towards Buck but was blocked at every attempt. I had to say Elizabeth was determined, but so was Maria.
"Well, I'm glad you asked us to be here. Do we have a table to relax at so you can tell us more about the convention?" I asked.
"Of course, follow me and I'll take you there." She led the way, yielding to Maria.
As we walked to the back of the room, causing us to go the full length of the hall, I could tell people were staring and some pointing. I didn't know if it was for me, the famous author, or for Penny the well-known TV star. I'll just pretend it was for me. We arrived at a table with a stand bearing a card, saying 61; I hoped it wasn't about my age. I had turned 61 back a few months, but I didn't allow anyone to make a fuss about it. Penny invited about 40 people she knew to a surprise party for me, I was appreciative but hated every minute of it.
I pulled out Penny's chair, then Elizabeth's chair and they sat. Buck and Maria just sat down, Buck not paying any attention to protocol. I sat and felt like a fish in a bowl, people still watching me. I'd have to be careful not to spill food on myself when we ate.
"Mr. Richards," Elizabeth started, but I interrupted her and asked her to call me Jim, she smiled and continued, "Jim, you will be speaking the day before we arrive in Tahiti around five o'clock in the afternoon." That would be late in the voyage so I still had a good amount of time to prepare.
"How long do you want me to talk, is there any time limit?" I asked.
"Oh, goodness, no. Talk as long as you wish. Just be done my midnight." She laughed at her joke.
Penny smiled and said she hoped everyone would bring a pillow. I just gave her a nasty look and she sat back grinning.
Elizabeth talked more about the convention and how the cruise worked. She covered all the aspects of the workings of the convention and its history.
"We formed the International Mystery and Horror Writers Association about 1995 when there was a need for unity in the field. We joined the mystery writers and the horror writers because there is a bond between the two. We all had the same goal, to thrill people whether it's human or supernatural. We have had conventions every year since and our numbers have grown from the first 8 members to just over 346 today. This is the first time we have used the cruise line for a convention, it was something we had dreamed of for years but are just now getting to do it." Elizabeth took a breath and smiled at Buck who was trying to not get involved.
I asked Buck if he'd like to help me get refreshments for everyone and he jumped at the chance to get away from the two women after him now. I asked for requests from the women and Penny asked for anything with an umbrella, I smiled and told her I'd see what they had. We went to the open bar at the other end of the room and it took us a short while to get there, since we were stopped frequently to answer questions from admirers. I used my standard line about waiting till my talk and ask questions then. We made it to the bar and got the drink order, I asked for doubles of everything so we didn't have to make the trip again too soon. I borrowed a tray and we carried the drinks back to the table.
I sat as everyone was taking their drinks and Penny asked what the concoction I brought for her was.
"The bartender said it was an Island Delight. Pineapple and Rum mostly, plus a few other fruits mashed into pulp and poured in. You got your umbrella didn't you?" I smiled. She kissed me on the cheek and said I did good. "Elizabeth, who are some of these people, anyone famous?" I asked almost saying, besides me, but didn't want to be too pompous.
She looked at the tables near us and pointed to a bald-headed man with a gray goatee. "That man is the horror author Lucas Rome, from New Zealand; he just made the best seller list in the horror novel listings. He is quite a man, loves to make jokes and keeps everyone on their toes with his wit. A real ladies man, he uses his humor to win over the weaker sex, then moves in for the kill. No woman can resist him. The woman sitting across from him is from South Africa, her name is Lois Rydell, she's also a fantasy horror type writer. She was just published this year and book sales are doing well. She just about lives on FaceBook and Twitter where people follow her every word; she is popular and friendly to new authors. She also has a book review column that people trip over themselves to get mentioned. The blond on her left is Valeria Brookson, the romance-mystery writer from somewhere in Florida, who knows, and she's not talking. She is still in negotiation with her agent for a publisher. She also resides on Twitter, and her humor is worth following, she has a constant dialogue going on with a cutie from Sweden. Very funny stuff. Seated next to her is Ronald Kendell; he's a former CIA agent who writes espionage mysteries." She paused. I thought about Earl Daws, my Detroit cop friend, and wondered if he had a few good stories from his younger days as a black ops agent. Maybe I could pick his brain for a few good plots myself. "Ronald writes about his background with perps and drug users, he writes almost non-fiction but treats it with make-believe. His books are selling well, mostly on the talk circuit where he goes into schools and talks about drug abuse and crime. He's a good influence on our youth." She took another breath.
"Who's the big man standing next to Brookson?" I asked.
"That's Jon Lockley; he writes intense novels about a hit man who helps people. He's one of the few really successful writers in the convention; his books have sold in the millions. He's also speaking after you." She had a strange smile. I wondered if she stalked him also.
"Is everyone here a published writer, or struggling to get published?" I asked.
She smiled, "About twenty percent of these authors are actually published and have books in stores, the rest are new or been around a while, but still trying to get a book agent or publisher to look at their manuscripts. It's a difficult business now days to get a book out to the public, lots of politics, money and promotion. E-books are on the rise, making the traditional paper publishers scrambling to catch up. Most writers struggle for years to get that first big break. I am one of those people who have been patiently waiting for the call."
"The call?" I asked.
"Yes, when an agent or publisher's rep calls to offer you a book deal. It's the big day for most of us."
"I didn't have a lot to go through with my book, the crime was already well known, but a book on the details was something to be reckoned with. I had about three publishers interested in the book once I sent out feelers. The query process was not something I had to endure, and my research tells me it is a pain in the butt." I said.
She smiled again and said, "Yes, it is, but we authors with no big crimes behind us have to convince publishers that we have a good story, worthy of publishing. Many authors are rejected dozens, sometimes hundreds of times before someone takes a chance and publishes their book."
"Yes, I heard that Harry Potter was rejected about twelve times before one small publisher took a chance, now it's one of the best selling books in the world. I'll bet the people who turned Rowlings down are kicking themselves everyday." I laughed.
"Yes, I would be sending greeting cards out to those people every year on the anniversary of the publishing of that first Potter book." Elizabeth said.
Just as we were talking there were loud voices coming from our right, near the side door to a hallway leading to the restrooms. It was two men in a heated argument. I listened to them after every one of us turned to see what the commotion was about. There were mentions of a book deal that had gone bad and one man, the author I presumed, was yelling about his royalties being cut to next to nothing. Elizabeth turned to me and said the author was Bob Moak and he's been having problems with the other man, a book agent named Glenn Turner. It seems that Moak's recent book was doing well in sales but Moak wasn't getting his royalties. The money was tied up in publishing costs, he was told. And a new book he has wasn't being put up for contract, making Moak wonder if he is being pushed out.
"It's a cutthroat business, Jim. You were lucky with your book." She offered.
"Do you have many book agents attending the convention?" I asked.
"We send out invitations to as many as we could, it helps the writers to meet with the agents to establish a relationship, but many agents turned down our offer, a lot of agents are not well liked by these authors, due to rejections. We have about six agents attending this convention. We had invited about thirty, but not all agents want to commit to such an extended trip away from their offices. God forbid, a good book would come into their clutches and they'd miss it." Her smile turned south. Sounded like she may have had a beef with the agents also.
There was a man sitting behind us, out of the corner of my eye I could see he was listening to our conversation and cleared his throat rather loudly. "Excuse me, Mr. Richards; Elizabeth is being too polite about agents. I'm Matthew Burns," he said as he held out his hand, I shook it and he continued, "authors can grow to hate book agents; they can be asses when it comes to someone's hard work writing a novel. The query process is a joke. Too many agents insisting on how they want a submission to be written, just to their specifications or the author gets put into the slush pile without even being looked at. Too many good works are being thrown out due to an agent not taking the time to read the damn thing. Blah, blah, blah. That's why many authors are going with self-publishing; they have spent too much wasted time waiting to get picked up by an agent or publisher, so it's their way to go." He sat back and smiled, but I could see a smirk under that smile.
"Well, Matthew, you know me, I know your name, but what have you written?" I asked.
"Oh, I'm not a writer, I'm a book agent. I'm one of the hated people." His smile was now a smirk.
Elizabeth turned to him and said, "Matthew, behave, you know you aren't hated. As a matter of fact you are one of the few agents that these writers respect. At least you try to help people."
"Yes, Beth, I'm such a saint. And I've already had more drinks that I should have. So please excuse me while I go get my sea legs and throw up." He stood and wavered, I was almost ready to catch him, but he toddled away and off down the hallway to the rest rooms.
"Matthew is one of the good guys, but he takes things to heart. He is one of the few agents that gave me good advice about my story line. I did a number of revisions from what he recommended and it is much better now." Elizabeth said.
"What type of stories do you write about Elizabeth?" Penny asked.
"Please everyone, call me Beth. I write steamy sex novels that involve a private investigator who follows cheating husbands, but he also fools around with the wives of the men he follows. A double edged sword." She smiled broadly.
"Sounds delightful." Penny looked at me and whispered that she better not find me fooling with clients. I looked innocent and said I would never do that. She just poked me in the ribs.
As we sat talking, there came an announcement from the stage at the head of the room. The creepy man from the sign-in table was speaking into a microphone on a podium.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, we the committee of the I.M.H.W.A. would like to welcome everyone to our first ocean cruise convention. We hope you all will enjoy yourselves and take advantage of the functions we have planned." He spoke a bit more about the line-up of guest speakers, mentioning me, which got a smattering of applause, and then talked about the ship board activities. He also explained that they were informed that there would be a practice fire drill and evacuation drill. We would be notified as to when this would happen. Creepy man tried to smile but it looked more like a grimace, like he had indigestion. "Dinner will be served in the dining hall for our group at six o'clock and we will be joined by the Captain, Yurgo Stavros. Thank you and enjoy your trip." He wandered off of the stage and out a door on the side of the room.
"That was Hector Welch, he was one of the founding members of our group," Beth said, "He writes creepy horror novels that I can swear he must live through. He has such clarity in his writings, but he can't seem to find a publisher who feels his work is what they want."
"I noticed that he looked a little spooky, where is his coffin located?" I asked.
Beth said, "I think he has a berth in the engine room." She laughed at her joke and took a big drink from her glass after removing the umbrella. Matthew returned and asked Beth to join him to talk. She looked to Buck, and me, then said she would. She and Matthew went off to another table and they sat talking.
Penny looked to me and asked, "Is she a nut case or just a misguided woman?"
"I haven't figured her out quite yet, but my first impression is that she's a lonely woman. She's single and alone, writing romantic mysteries about private investigators romancing clients. And she has a crush on Buck." I laughed; Buck heard me and said he was worth a crush. Maria agreed but said he'd better not crush back.
We left the convention hall and wandered the ship for a while taking in all the features the boat offered. It wasn't the biggest ship that I had seen on those commercials for cruises, but it was comfy. I noticed Telly come around the corner of a row of deck chairs and he came up to us. He gave us his big Greek smile, saluted and asked if there was anything he could do for us.
"Well, you can tell us a little about this ship." I asked.
"Oh it is famous, it was one of the original Princess ships they had used on the American TV show "Love Boat" from the 70's. It was bought by my company, Athena Ship Lines in 1988 and has been overhauled and recommissioned to sail the Pacific. There is one other original Princess ship that is now in the Mediterranean, also owned by my company. The ships are mid-sized, carrying about 600 passengers each. The ships have a draught of less than 20 feet, allowing them to anchor in shallower harbors than larger ships. The ships are not as huge as the newer ships sailing today, but they are still great ladies of the ocean." He replied.
I smiled at his reference of the ship being a lady; men love to refer to their boats in feminine terms.
"Meester Richards, my cousin, the Capitan, will expect you for dinner at his table promptly at 6:00. I shall come for you at your cabin to escort you there." He smiled, saluted, and then went off. I looked at my watch and it was just now 2:30, so I said to Penny that I'd like to get a little rest from the long morning. She agreed, Buck and Maria said they wanted to go play around the ship some more, I said to please not sink the thing. They laughed and went off.
Penny and I got back to our cabin and I asked if she wanted to play the sailor and the cabin maid. She gave me a long stare and then her mouth cracked a smile. I hoped the bulkheads were thick enough so we didn't scare anyone.
We were about half into having our fantasy when there was a call from the shipboard speakers announcing that all passengers were requested to go to the main deck for emergency evacuation drill. I groaned and we got up and went out. Buck and Maria were on the deck and we were all run though the procedure for manning the lifeboats and how to use our floatation devices. After about a half hour of instructions we were turned loose. Penny and I went back to play sailor and cabin maid.
We were dressed and ready by 5:45. Buck had stopped by earlier and said they were ready to go. We just had to wait for Telly, who did show up by 5:50 and escorted us to the dining hall and up to the Captain's table. I was feeling important and remembering all those ship board movies of the Captain's table. Then I thought about the movie "Poseidon Adventure" and would be sure to ask the Captain if the waves got big out this way.
The Captain greeted us and helped the women to sit, a gallant gesture for the man in charge.
"When we arrive at the Hawaiian Islands, and I would be honored if you would accept my offer of an escort on the island. I unfortunately can't come, duties on the ship, but I have a crew member who knows the island well." He said.
We all agreed that would be very nice of him. He brought out his copy of my book and said he'd be honored if I would sign his book, I did. A few minutes later, a few more people were arriving at the table, Lucas Rome with Lois Rydell sat and the man I remembered from Beth's description, Jon Lockley. He sat next to me acknowledging the Captain and introduced himself to me and Penny.
"Yes, Elizabeth Collins pointed you out as another speaker for this convention. I'm speaking just before we get to Tahiti. When do they have you scheduled?" I asked.
He smiled and said, "I speak just after we leave Hawaii. I get to lounge around then talk for a couple hours then lounge again. This business has its perks."
I agreed. He asked if I found it hard to write about the crime we actually lived. I told him it wasn't hard to put it to words, but the memory of some of the circumstances were hard to re-live. Penny said she still had occasional nightmares of the crime. Jon told us that his days with Special Forces in Viet Nam was where he got most of his nightmares from, also a lot of his story lines.
Across from us sat Valeria Brookson from somewhere in Florida, she was an attractive blond with strikingly blue eyes. She smiled at me then looked to Jon and gave him a big smile and a tilt of the head; I wondered what was going on there. Jon cleared his throat softly like a man being asked if he cheated on his wife.
We suddenly heard a louder clearing of the throat, and we saw that Creepy man had a microphone and was announcing that dinner was now being served, so if people wanted to eat, they could go to the buffet as there wasn't any table service. He thanked the Captain for joining us and making us feel welcome and announced that the Captain and his guests would be going first to the buffet. The Captain waved to the room and asked us to join him at the buffet. We all went there and got our foods, about the same as we had for lunch, but the buffet was a bit fancier. There was a giant ice sculpture on the main buffet table of what I presumed was some goddess of the ocean. The Captain explained to us that it was the Greek goddess Athena, the goddess of wisdom, useful arts and prudent warfare. I heard Jon quietly say how can warfare be prudent. The Captain also explained that the ship owners were the Athena Cruise Lines, so both ships, this one and the other in the Mediterranean always had the sculpture for dinners. I wondered if they had a mold to make the ice or some really tired sculptor locked in the back carving the things.
We sat eating and making small talk. Valeria was knocking back her drinks and chewing the ear of a man seated next to her. He had finally introduced himself to us; he was Chester Martin, representative of Rickert Publishing Company. He was here to meet with a few authors about their books, and hopefully find a few new ones. My book was being published by Alta Book Publishers, I wondered if they had a rep here.
Penny was picking french fries off of my plate since she had finished hers, I started to gently smack her hand as she reached over again, but she pulled back just in time to allow me to drop my hand into the ketchup on the plate. She giggled and grabbed another fry.
The Captain was standing now and took the microphone from the stand where creepy man had left it. He announced that when we were finished with our meal there was a band now playing in the convention hall where we were earlier. I loved the sound of that, and Penny groaned. She knew I loved to dance and I was good; light on my feet, even for my advanced age I was a dancing fool. She looked to me and said, "This is going to be a long night right?"
I smiled and said, "Dancing with the Stars will be calling." As we finished our dinner, the Captain was asking questions of each of his guests. He definitely was a murder novel reader. We chatted for a bit more before the Captain was called away to do his duties, he apologized and went off. We all stood to go back to the convention center and enjoy ourselves. I noticed Valeria was going after Jon but he was quicker and disappeared in the crowd, leaving her standing, looking around. She finally saw Matthew Burns, still chatting with Beth Collins at another table from us; she made a beeline for him and interrupted their talk. He smiled and stood, saying something to Beth and then went off with Valeria leaving Beth alone and looking lonely. I walked over to Beth.
"Beth, would you care to join us for a bit of dancing the night away." I asked.
She smiled and said she'd love it. I helped her up and back to where Penny was waiting for us. Buck and Maria told Penny that they had other things to do and left the room. Penny informed me of their departure and I smiled, knowing what they had in mind. That was good, maybe they would wear each other out so Penny and I could get some sleep tonight.
The three of us went back to the convention hall and found a table that was small so we would not be joined by people asking questions. The band was good, they played a mix of 80's and 90's, my favorite next to classic rock from the sixties. I dragged Penny out on the dance floor and then she came alive and just about showed me up. We did our thing for a couple of dances then Penny looked to Beth, sitting by herself and pushed me back to her, saying to get her up to dance. I told Beth that Penny couldn't keep up with me and I'd be honored if she would dance. We did a couple of numbers and I said I was wearing down, which was a half-truth. We went back to the table and found Jon Lockley sitting talking to Penny.
"Hey, no one sweeps my wife off her feet. Now back off." I smiled and he grinned.
"Your wife is delightful. I was saying how much I loved her show. Being a writer I have plenty of time to watch daytime TV." He laughed. Beth and I sat; Jon was now turning his attentions to her and telling her that he read her manuscript and how much he enjoyed it. They were busy talking as I looked to Penny who was watching the crowd.
"So what's on your mind?" I asked.
"I'm just studying the people here, they all live in their own little worlds, yet can exist on this plane of life. Amazing they can separate the fact from the fiction." She smiled and kissed my nose.
We were suddenly joined by two people, a man and woman who knew Jon. They asked if they could join us, we agreed and they pulled two chairs to our table. Jon introduced them, Ken Berkley and Marsha Brown, both authors of crime fiction and engaged to each other.
I held my hand out to them and we shook. Ken asked if I was the same author who wrote the Classmate Murders, I said I was.
"Very good book, I also saw the TV movie, it was exciting. I hear you had murders on the film shoot also." Ken said looking like he wanted more details. I told him about the incidents of the murders and how we tracked down the killers.
Ken asked, "Do you think they will do a movie about that crime?"
Penny cut in, "I certainly hope not, every time Jim is involved with something, someone gets murdered." Everyone at the table laughed. "No, really I'm serious, he attracts killers."
"Well, I'm in a business that involves crimes. Being a private investigator I mean. Like a cop we end up near the crimes and they tend to follow each other." I said. The four of them started to talk about their book releases and publishers, I leaned to Penny and blew in her ear, she jumped and gave me a stare.
"How about you and I going to explore our own little plane of existence and go fool around?" I asked. She grinned and looked back to Jon, Beth and their friends.
"They look involved in each other, they won't miss us. Our first night on board ship, yes, it's sexy and exciting. Let's do it. We got lots of nights to play famous writer and his TV star wife. Let's beat feet." She was so exciting.
We stood and expressed our apologies to Beth and Jon and we headed out. As we got to the door, Telly popped up and asked if we needed anything. I said we would like a little privacy and he gave me a wink, saying he would make sure no one interrupted our evening. He followed us back to our cabin, I kept looking back to see if he was still there, he never left us. I had to laugh, it was cute. We got to our cabin and he stood just down the hallway from us and held his finger to his lips, giving us a silence sign. We went in and I hoped he couldn't hear us.
The next morning we barely got out of bed, the motion of the ocean as they say, made our love making very interesting and passionate. Having sex at about 40 miles an hour was also something different. Penny went into the bathroom to shower as I ordered room service for breakfast and about 20 minutes later, Telly showed up at our door with the food cart. I grinned and asked if he stood out in the hall all night, he said he had to go do his duties, so he had assigned a number of porters to watch the room. I stifled a laugh, and thanked him with a generous tip. He saluted and bowed, then zipped off.
I pulled the food cart into the room and checked the treats. The food looked and smelled great; Penny came out of the bathroom and was sniffing the air. She came over and looked under the covers that protected our meal and said let's eat. We sat on the edge of the bed and ate our meal. A bit later, just as we finished our breakfast, there was a knock at the door, it was Buck.
"Hey, how'd you get food in your room?" He asked.
"We're special passengers, besides I have a Telly on my side." I grinned.
"Telly? Oh, that strange little guy who was hanging around the hallway this morning. The one who has been following us on the trip so far." He laughed.
"Yep, that Telly. He thinks us P.I.'s are the greatest and I'm not discouraging him."
"How did you and Maria sleep last night?" Penny asked Buck.
"We would have slept better if you two hadn't been making all the animal noise over here." He grinned.
"Bull rippy, you can't hear anything through these walls. I know because I stood at that wall yelling to you and you didn't answer." I retorted.
He laughed and said, "Yep, nice thick walls. Maria and I are going for a swim this morning. Care to join us?"
"Hell no, I hate water, well I hate being in it, so I hope the ship doesn't sink." I grinned.
"Your choice, we'll see you two later." He said and went off.
Penny had finished getting dressed and said, "I'd like to go visit the Promenade again, do a little shopping."
"Shopping? We'll be in Hawaii soon, why don't you do some shopping there and buy all the nice little authentic made-in-China Hawaiian souvenirs."
"I saw a couple things I wanted to buy yesterday but we had just got on the ship and I couldn't take my time. Three hours will do nicely today, then two hours to get ready to shop on the island." She gave me a sinister little grin and I yielded.
We went to the promenade and Penny hit every little shop they had. I was getting tired of carrying the packages, so I walked back to Telly and plopped the packages on him. He grinned widely and followed us. I thought about hiring a personal assistant when we get back to Michigan, I kind of liked having someone at my beck and call. I didn't want to overtax Telly, but if he was going to tail us he may as well be useful.
We finished and went back to the cabin and Telly dropped everything on the bed. I gave him a generous tip and he smiled and said it will be an honor to escort us on the island.
"Well, Telly, the Captain has already offered us an escort." I answered.
"Yes, Meester Richards, my cousin asked me for the privilege; it is I who will be honored to escort you and your Meeses Richards on the island." He replied.
"Oh I see, that will be real nice. We'll meet you at the gangplank when we arrive then."
"Yes, I will be waiting." he saluted and went out.
Penny laughed and said, "We'll probably end up having to adopt him before the voyage is over."
I laughed and agreed.
Penny spent the next hour trying on the clothes she had purchased that probably could have been purchased at K-Marts for less. I didn't care, Penny had enough money in her bank account to buy half the ship, so if it made her happy, I was too. I said I was going to stroll around the ship as she played with her new bounty. She mumbled to be careful and not fall off the ship. I laughed to myself and left the cabin. I made it up to the main deck and stood looking at the ocean flowing by. I felt someone come up by me and looked over to see the Captain.
"Good morning Captain Stavros, beautiful day so far." I offered.
He smiled and said, "Yes, the weather services say it will be smooth sailing to Hawaii. How has your stay with us been so far?"
"Very enjoyable. I have a question." He nodded, I continued, "I'm not getting Telly in any kind of trouble for his following me around am I."
The Captain was quiet for a moment but had a big smile on his face. "Mr. Richards, Telly is my cousin, as you already know, and he is a good kid. But he is not actually a member of the crew; he is here because I take care of him. He is only seventeen years old and my responsibility."
I must have look very surprised, "I thought he was older, in his twenties at least."
"It's the Greek in him; we look older than our age. Telly is what I call a cabin boy, for a better explanation of his being here. My Aunt died last year and being the only family left, I was asked to take care of him till he was old enough to be on his own. He is studying for his pilot's license to pilot the big ships, but I think since you have been here, he wants to be a private Investigator. He isn't bothering you is he?"
"Oh, gosh, no. I've enjoyed his company and happy that he is taking care of myself and my wife. He seems to be a very smart young man."
"Yes, I'm proud of him and his accomplishments onboard. He has become a great help to the crew who all adore him, and they would do anything for him. The crew is all Greek sailors and officers; we are like a family, tight and faithful."
"So the owners of the ship lines don't mind Telly being here?" I asked.
"They better not, I'm one of them. Myself and three other Captains were a bit fed up with our former bosses and we managed to buy the old Princess ships at a real good price and had them fixed up to sail again. We went through the fire of Hades to get all the permits and licenses but we prevailed. We do mostly smaller excursion cruises for groups like this one. The money is there, and we have survived for all these years." He looked out to the sea like it was a lover, then looked to me and said, "I have taken up too much of your time, I hope you enjoy the rest of the voyage into Hawaii. When we arrive there you will be in good hands. Telly knows the island well; he lived here with his mother for a couple of years. He will keep you away from the tourist traps." He touched his cap in salute and said he had duties to attend to and was gone.
I stood thinking about what he had said; I had a bit more respect for Telly. I turned to go back to the cabin when I saw Penny coming down the deck towards me. She had on a beach robe and a smile, then she flashed me showing me her skimpiest bikini. I had to adjust my pants.
"What have you been up to?" She asked as she came up and gave me a big juicy kiss.
"Oh, I had a nice talk with the Captain." I then related the conversation to her about Telly. She was also surprised by his age and said that Telly was following her now. I looked over her shoulder and saw Telly standing behind a beam of the ship deck and laughed. He peeked around and I wave to him to come over. He looked surprised that I had caught him, and he came to us.
"Meester Richards, I was protecting your lovely wife for you." He grinned.
"Thank you Telly, I feel safer with you doing that." I shook his hand.
Penny said she wanted to go take a dive in the pool for about an hour. I asked Telly to escort "Meeses" Richards to the pool and to be sure she is not attacked by any of the ruthless men on board. He grinned and said it would be his pleasure. He held out his arm and Penny took it as they walked off. She looked back to me and mouthed "I love you." I blew her a kiss and turned back to the water.
The next two days went by fast; we explored the ship, with Telly guiding us. We sat in on a few of the lectures by authors who had experience in getting their books published. I wanted to watch the lectures to get some idea as to what I would be up against. At night we danced or went to the small casino where Penny won a few extra dollars to spend on shopping. Buck and Maria swam most the time and then would disappear into their cabin to towel off as they would say. We slept well and in the morning we would be in Hawaii.
The ship had arrived at the harbor of Honolulu and docked with such grace as to not feel a bump. Penny, Buck, Maria and I all were ready to disembark and went to the gangplank as soon as it was set up. I waved to the Captain on the deck above us and then we signed the log with our names and times that said we had gone ashore, it was a good idea to keep track of who was leaving the ship. Telly came running up.
He was dressed in a bright white ship's uniform and saluted me, "First mate Telly reporting for shore duty, sir."
I saluted him back and said to make it so. He led us off the ship and down to the dock where we found a strange beat-up limo waiting for us. Telly grabbed onto the young man waiting at the car and they bounced around. Telly introduced him as Kenji, an old friend from when he lived here. Kenji looked to be about nineteen or twenty, tall and dark skinned from tan or his heritage of being Hawaiian. We all greeted him and he opened the doors to his car, we all piled in and Telly sat up front with his friend. Telly told Kenji that Buck and I were two big P.I.'s from the mainland and he was helping us with our case on the ship. Kenji was taking it all in and Buck and I just looked at each other and laughed quietly.
Telly had told us on the ship to wear our swim suits under our clothing because he was taking us to a lagoon that only a few native islanders knew about. First we were given a tour of the island going through the city then out around the highway by the ocean side. We were shown the area where many TV shows had been filmed, like Magnum P.I. and Lost. We caught sight of Diamondhead and then Kenji drove out a long road through what looked like jungle. We came out onto a small lagoon that reminded me of the movie Blue Lagoon.
We all piled out and Telly was saying the water here was not deep and it was warm from the volcanic forces. Perfect for swimming. Buck and Maria didn't have to be told; they stripped down to their suits and ran for the water. Kenji had opened the trunk of the car and took out a basket and a cooler. He then set up a small folding table and set out various foods from the small cooler. It was all great I thought and then I looked back, Penny had vanished, but then I saw her come up from underwater. I was not fond of swimming but I had to join, and I did have my suit on, so I went in. Telly and Kenji had folding chairs out now and had everything set up for a nice picnic. We all swam for a bit and played around in the water, Penny latching on to me and searching for my tonsils again and since no one could see, she slipped her hand into the front of my suit. "I beg your pardon." I said, she said that was good, beg for it. We kissed harder.
About an hour later we came out and dried off with towels provided by Kenji. This young man was prepared for everything. He invited us to eat the snacks and finger foods he provided along with soda pop and beer. Good man. We sat and enjoyed the beautiful weather and the fine company.
We decided to go sightseeing a little more so we all helped Kenji and Telly to pack the car back up. I stood looking at the car and asked where he got it from. He said there was a tourist company that was selling it cheap since it wasn't in good shape, so he bought it, but he had his eye on a nice limo bus he saw at a local car dealer. He just about had the money to buy it, hopefully before it was grabbed up by someone else. I asked how much was he short by and he said twelve hundred dollars and it would take him another couple months to get it. I picked up my jacket and took out my check book and went to the car's hood and wrote out a check for fifteen hundred and gave it to him. He was shocked, I explained that he gave us a fifteen hundred dollar tour, it was worth it. I warned him he better buy the limo now, and not to spend it on anything else. His eyes were huge and said he was going today to buy it. He gave me a big hug that surprised me and we all got back into the car and drove off from paradise.
Kenji drove us around the island for a bit more, then he wanted to drive by the car dealership to show us the van he wanted, it was a good looking van. I was glad to help. Penny kissed my cheek and said I was going to be broke one of these days. I said I'd be broke but happy. We had stopped by a few tourist traps and saw the sights and Penny wanted to see a big souvenir store to buy it out. Kenji drove us to a real Hawaiian souvenir store that didn't have any items made anywhere but by native hands. Penny spent about as much as I gave Kenji, but she was happy. I was wondering how we were going to get all this stuff home. I guess I could have Deacon and Lynn ship it to us, I'd ask when we got back to LA.
We headed back to the ship and pulled all our stuff out as Kenji was thanking me again and saying good-bye to Telly. Telly helped us carry everything up the gangplank and after signing back in we went to our cabins. The Captain stopped by just as we got to our door and asked how everything went. I said that Telly and Kenji should start their own island tourist service, it was great.
He smiled and said that would be good for Telly, sea life would just stifle him. He nodded to us and went off again. After we got everything into the cabin I gave Telly a generous tip for the afternoon he provided us, and a swim in paradise. He beamed it was his pleasure and scampered off. Buck and Maria said they were going to their cabin to rest.
I closed the door and turned to Penny and said, "Now, there's the matter of you slipping your hand into my swimsuit, I need to finish that."
Later in the evening there was an announcement that there was a Luau being held just north of the ship docks, within walking distance. The Luau was being put on by the cruise lines in cooperation with local businesses. Everyone was invited to join.
Penny and I had dressed causally, along with Buck and Maria; we walked down to the site of the Luau and were shown to our seats. I noticed Telly was helping to pull the roast pig from the pit it cooked over, and they proceeded to carve it. There was a Hawaiian dance group that entertained the crowd and then the food was being served. We all had a great time and had our fill. I tried the dish call poi but it wasn't something I'd want to snack on. Penny turned all shades of grey after she took a big bite and swallowed hard so not to spit it out. We lounged around while the festivities went on for a couple more hours and then we tiredly walked back to the ship. Telly was bouncing around us feeling happy, when we heard a honking noise and looked to the parking area for the docks and saw Kenji waving to us, standing in the open door of his new limo bus.
We walked over and inspected the vehicle; it was actually very nice and roomy. Kenji was excited and said he had enough money left over to start advertising his tour business. Kenji asked Telly if he wanted to take a ride in the bus and they went off. We climbed the gangplank again and went to our cabins. Buck and Maria went off to theirs and we to ours. It was a long day but a good one. It was now about nine o'clock and they had dance music again in the convention center, but Penny said if I took one step that way, she'd cut me off at the knees. I lay back on the bed and asked her to do a Hawaiian hula strip for me. She grinned and accommodated me.
Next morning there came a knock at the door, I crawled out of bed and I answered it. Telly was standing with a food cart and I smiled. He pushed it in and said good morning to Penny who was still under covers of the bed. I looked at my watch, it was just now eight and we had slept later than we planned. Telly announced that the ship was leaving Honolulu in about two hours if we wanted to see it leave port. He left after I slipped him a tip, and I went to the food. I was hungry.
We had eaten and were dressed and went out to the deck to watch the ship pull out, Buck and Maria were already at the rail to watch and the ship blew its horn for departure. The huge beast pulled away with help from a couple of small tug boats and we were off on the way to Tahiti. This trip would take a day longer than the trip to Hawaii, so we had to enjoy ourselves on the voyage.
"So what is on the agenda today?" Buck asked as the ship put out to sea. I looked at the paper from my jacket pocket that had the schedule for the convention.
I read today's functions and said, "They have an expert on how to get published. Then a speaker on writing a query letter to send to an agent later in the day."
"No basket weaving advice or how to make money at home?" Buck asked.
"Nope sorry, you'll just have to entertain yourselves. There's always the movie theatre on Board." I turned and yelled Telly. He came running.
"Yes, Meester Richards?" He stood at attention, I said to relax.
"What movie is showing in the theatre and when?"
"Oh, good movie, it is Alien, the first one and it's starts in about an hour. Shall I go reserve you some good seats?"
"No, not for me, but for Meester Buck and his lady friend." I grinned and looked to Buck who smiled.
"Hey that's a good movie, I can watch it again." Buck said and Maria agreed.
"Okay, Telly take them to the theatre and get them candy, popcorn and drinks on me, include yourself if you want to watch." I took out some money and gave it to Telly and told him to enjoy. The three of them went off and Penny went to the railing.
I suddenly realized I was alone, it felt good. I was pounced upon by Beth Collins, as she surprised me from behind.
"Good morning, Jim, how are you this morning." She was too cheerful. I told her I was fine, then she asked, "Where might Buck be this fine morning?"
"Oh, he and his girlfriend went to the movies." I made sure I emphasized the girlfriend word.
She looked a little disappointed. "Well, I'm sure he'll enjoy the movie. Now is there anything I can do for you?"
Penny popped back up and said, "I'm sure we will be able to find things to do, Beth, thank you for your kind offer."
I figured Penny was getting a little weary of Beth; I was too for that matter. After three and a half days of her popping up unexpectedly, we really need to hide from her. "Beth isn't there a lecture from one of the experts on publishing going on?"
"Oh, yes, Matthew Burns is giving that lecture. He is so good, maybe you'd like to sit in?"
"No thank you, I think we will just entertain ourselves today, explore the ship. But thanks for the offer." I said.
She smiled and said, "Well, I'd better get to the convention room, I'd really like to listen to Matt. Oh... have you seen Valeria Brookson, she has a manuscript she wanted me to look at?"
"Not since the other night when she was with Matthew. Why don't you ask him, he may know."
"Yes, he probably would, I hear they may be romantically involved, but I don't like to start rumors." She smiled.
"I think you just did." I smiled back.
"Oh… oh, yes I guess that would be a rumor wouldn't it." She giggled and said to enjoy our day and went off.
"Stranger and stranger these people are, and that woman is the gang leader." Penny said.
"You're being too hard, we just got to meet them, give them a chance." I said.
"I'll give them to six tonight but if they don't start acting normal I'm walking home." She kissed me and giggled, then walked away. I followed, then caught up asking where we were going. "I think I need to shop a bit more." She smiled and I cringed.
About three hours later we had carried everything to our cabin and were coming up to the main deck when we saw a bit of confusion from people. I asked Jon Lockely, who was standing with Ron Kendell, what was going on. He gave me a disturbed look and said, "Matthew Burns and Valeria Brookson are missing. We've looked everywhere and they aren't to be found. We knocked on their cabin doors, but no answer."
Penny gave me a dirty look and mumbled, "Stranger and stranger."
I asked, "Did they call for them over the ship board speakers?"
"Yes, they did and still no word from them." Kendell replied.
"Matt was scheduled to talk about dealing with agents, but he never showed so we all started looking for him, then Beth said she couldn't find Valeria, we started worrying." Jon said.
"Maybe they're having sex in one of the life boats." Penny whispered in my ear. I gave her a dirty look and said to be more sympathetic.
As we were talking Telly came up and whispered in my ear, "Meester Richards, my cousin the Capitan would like to see you." He stood still and I turned and asked what it was about. He whispered in my ear again, "They found a dead man and lady in the laundry room, they look to be murdered."
I thought about that for a second, Penny would be pissed if she found there was a murder anywhere within my vicinity. Should I ignore it and disregard the Captain, or should I go and risk my neck with Penny. I looked at her, I'm sure she was wondering what Telly was telling me, I smiled grimly.
"Oh, god, you aren't going to tell me there was a murder." She said. How did she know, I swear the woman is telepathic.
"Calm down, it may be nothing." I replied.
"Oh, no, Miss Penny, it was murder." Telly offered. I was scrunching my face up as Penny whacked my arm.
"Please Meester Richards, come quickly, my cousin the Capitan wants you." Telly begged.
I apologized to her and said to come along, we are being summoned. Penny was standing with her arms across her chest; a pose I knew wasn't good. I kissed her and she mumbled this is the last murder. I just smiled and we followed Telly.
We went all the way down to the bowels of the ship to where the laundry room was. It was hot down there, I presumed from the huge engines nearby. We got to a door and I saw the Captain at the entrance with his back to us. Telly announced that we were here and the Captain turned to me with a very grim face, he stepped aside and I saw two bodies on the floor next to an overturned laundry cart. It was Matt and Valeria, they had blood all over them, they were definitely dead.
I stood at the door looking over the scene, Penny said she was going back up topside; it was too much for her. I nodded and asked Telly to escort her back up, then whispered to him that there is a killer on board so stay with her, he said he would. After they left I turned to the Captain, "What is it you want from me?" I didn't want to presume to take charge knowing the Captain was the supreme rule out at sea.
"Mister Richards, allow me to introduce you to my security officers, Bello and Nicco." Two men in ship's uniforms stepped forward and saluted me. "We are a small operation and we don't have the security like some of the big cruise lines, my men are here just to break up fights and restrain drunken passengers. But murder is not something we are equipped to handle. You are the closest to law enforcement we have on board, being a licensed private investigator, and I feel you can be trusted, so I am asking for your expert opinion and your help with this unfortunate incident."
"Captain, I would be more than honored to help. Are we too far out to bring in civil law enforcement?" I asked.
He looked at his watch and said, "In another hour we will be past the point of no return, we don't carry a great deal of fuel, meaning we would not have enough fuel to return to the U.S. so we will have to go on to Tahiti. But if we turn back now we should make it back to LA. We have to make decisions."
"If you go back now, then the trip is shortened and you could lose money from an incomplete voyage, correct?"
He grimaced and said yes. I looked back in the room and then asked, "How much longer before we reach Tahiti?"
"In three days, we will be docking."
"So we have three days to solve this, before Tahitian police will have to be alerted. If you need my help, I'm offering." I said.
"Good, because the Tahitian police are not the most trusting in the world, I'd rather we handled it here." He replied.
"Well, we may have to bring in the FBI on it, since these were Americans involved, but I can look it over first. I'm at your service to help."
"As Captain of the ship and in full command, I appoint you as head of our security team." He turned to the two officers and they nodded in agreement. One of the men looked like the grisly murders were getting to him; I said to go get some fresh air while I looked the scene over.
"Captain, you have a ship's photographer, correct?" He said they did, "Please call that person and have them bring plenty of film or digital cards, whatever they use."
He pulled his walkie-talkie and called someone to have the photographer sent down. I carefully went to the bodies and looked around the area.
"Who found them?" I asked. The Captain called a man into the room and he said he came in and found them. "Were they on the floor like this or did you dump the cart?"
"I was going to take the bed sheets out and found the man first and it startled me. I stood looking and then grabbed the cart to turn it away from the washing machines, but the cart tipped and then both bodies fell out. I didn't touch anything else; I went to call the Captain."
"Good, I see the cart is covered around the lip in cloth so fingerprints would be hard to lift. After pictures are taken, we will need to move the bodies to somewhere very cold. You have a large freezer for food storage I presume?" The Captain nodded. "I'll need some large plastic bags to put the bodies in." The Captain turned to the laundry man and told him to get some of the jumbo garbage bags from the dumpster. He went off to fetch the bags.
I got close to the bodies and saw that both of their throats had been slit, must have happened in their sleep, plus they were both clothed in their underwear. The bodies were already starting to decompose due to the heat in the room; the smell was starting to get to me. I saw a bottle of laundry liquid and opened it, the smell was pine scent, so I dabbed a little under each nostril to block the decaying smell. The Captain saw this and I offered the bottle to him, he followed my lead.
A man with a nice camera outfit came in and gasped when he saw the bodies, then crossed himself. I told the Captain to have him use the pine scent and he did. I asked what medium he photographed in, he said digital. That was good in case we need to transmit photos to the FBI. I asked him if he ever watched CSI on TV, he nodded and I said he was to do what they do and photograph every little detail. He went to work taking pictures of the entire room and the bodies. I said to try and get extreme close-ups of the neck wounds and blood splatter on the bodies.
"Captain, these people weren't murdered here. There's not enough blood and the cart suggests they were brought here. Can we go to the man's cabin first; I think they may have been killed there. Oh, and we have to assemble everyone in the convention hall, everyone, and start to eliminate suspects."
The other security officer came back looking a bit better and the Captain gave him and his partner the pine scent to use. The laundry man came back with four huge dumpster bags and I took them, spreading them out on the floor. I asked for the security men to help carefully put the bodies on the plastic, each to their own bag and we wrapped them. I asked for some tape and I was handed some packing tape to seal the plastic.
One of the security men was already getting a flatbed cart and we lifted the bodies on and I told them to take the bodies to the freezer, keeping them away from any foods, even if they had to move things. I didn't want anyone complaining about contaminating the food.
They went off and I asked the photographer if he could print out the pictures on proof sheets and he said he could. I turned to the Captain and said, "I hate to ask this, but this area needs to be closed off till we gather more information." He agreed and instructed the laundry man to keep people out of the room. The Captain said we could go to the cabin now, and I asked him to have the security men watch the passengers in the convention room after they gathered everyone. He got on his radio again and told them.
We came up to the main deck and there were people still standing around. The Captain had called his crew officers to help herd everyone into the convention hall, but we were deluged with questions from the passengers. The Captain said everything would be explained if they could all go to the hall and be seated.
The Captain had called for the cabin number of Matthew Burns and we reached the room being met by one of the cabin maids. She unlocked the door and we went in. It was definitely the crime scene. I turned to the photographer who I had follow us and said to do his thing, covering every angle and especially the blood splatter. He went to work; I thought he was enjoying himself, better than snapping pictures of boring passengers.
I asked everyone to stay out of the room other than myself, the photographer and the Captain. I said to watch where we walked so not to disturb any evidence. I carefully looked around the floor and saw nothing out of the ordinary except impressions in the carpet from what I figured where the tracks from the cart. I had the photographer snap the tracks and then I went into the bathroom. I snooped around there for a bit and came back out. I looked under the bed and saw nothing; I figured the killer must have taken the weapon with them. I nosed around the bed and came up with nothing.
I did notice that the table next to the bed had a lot of blood splatter, but there was a void in the center, as if someone had picked up something after the blood reached the table. I had the photographer take pictures of the now empty area. I could almost see that it was about the size of a sheet of paper, so it may have been a letter or stack of papers. Matthew was an agent, he may have had a manuscript there and it was taken by the killer. A good motive for murder, someone didn't want their book query to be found.
I couldn't see anything further we could do there, so told the photographer to go print the pictures and bring them to me. He left and I said to the Captain that this room had to be closed off also, no one allowed in. He had the maid lock the room back up and we went to the convention hall.
Now it was time to narrow down a murderer.
Penny, Buck and Maria were seated by the hall door with Telly standing guard next to them. Penny had already quietly explained to Buck and Maria what was happening, but kept it to themselves. Everyone was calling out questions to the Captain, but he asked for silence. He went to the microphone from where creepy man had used it last and made the announcement.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we have had an unfortunate incident. It seems that two people were murdered sometime this morning, or possibly yesterday, and we have found the bodies. As Captain and being the person in command I have appointed Jim Richards to head the investigation along with my own security men. Everyone here is to give Mr. Richards and my men full cooperation or you will be placed into our brig until we reach Tahiti where you may be turned over to their authorities for their questioning. You may not enjoy that. I hope this is understood by all. I want this cruise to be as pleasant as possible and hopefully this won't ruin your trip. If we all cooperate then we can get on with the convention. Thank you."
The Captain nodded to me and I came to the microphone. "Okay everyone, we need to establish alibis and I have a few questions to ask first. Did anyone here see anyone else pushing a laundry cart early this morning from the passenger decks?" I waited for any reply, but got none. "Okay, did anyone here see any other persons with Matthew Burns and Valeria Brookson from the time they left the hall Monday night, anyone in the hallways with them or did you see them at the Luau last night?" Again no reply. "Not going to be easy is it? All right, everyone is going to have to be patient while we talk to each of you to find out where you were during the night. If you were with more than one other person the entire night, please stand." About half the room stood. "Good we can hopefully narrow you people out, please go with Bello here, he is security and armed, so don't pull anything." I told Bello to take them to the dining hall and get as much information about who was with whom. Write it all down, names and cabin numbers. He saluted and yelled for all those standing to follow him. He had a few other crew officers watch the crowd as they left for the dining hall.
"The rest of you who have no backup for where you were, please remain seated and I'll get to each of you shortly." I waved to Buck and he came over. "Have you watched enough of all this interrogation crap since we started our business to handle a few people?" He grinned and said it would be his pleasure. "We need to get back to the convention festivities, so let's start grilling."
I set up a table for me and another for Buck, I asked the Captain to sit in with Buck to observe. He said he'd like that. There were about forty people in the room, and I noticed that Beth was one also. I had another thought and went to the Captain and said we needed to search the cabins of everyone to see if we can find any bloody evidence from the crime. He said he would help conduct the search himself and excused himself from Buck and said he would get his maids all prepared to search. He smiled at me and said if anyone could search a room it would be his maids. Sometimes he wasn't sure if they were snooping in places they shouldn't be. He went off and Buck asked if we needed a search warrant, I said I doubted it, we were in international waters and the Captain makes the rules, so it's his call. I was going to call the first person after explaining to Buck what information we needed from these people.
I went to my table and called the first person nearest. It was Beth. She came over and I could see she was upset and had been crying. "Beth, I know you were a good friend of the deceased. But I really need to ask a few questions." She nodded her head and blew her nose, I waited.
"After Valeria pulled Matt away from you the night we danced, did you see or hear anything they may have said about what they were going to do?"
"Well, I knew they were secretly involved, so I figured that they were going off to screw each other." she said angrily.
"Beth, you're not helping the cause if jealousy can be interpreted as a motive for murder."
She went slightly pale, and said, "I had no problem with them doing it; I had no sexual interest in Matt, or Valeria for that matter. Yes, I'm lesbian, but I have no reason to kill either one of them."
Lesbian? I wondered why she took such an interest in Buck then, was she lying? "Beth, when exactly did you last see the two of them?"
"The first time I saw them together was just before you asked me to the dance. Then you and your wife had left and I sat with Jon and his friends most the night. Yes, that's right I was with them till almost 4 A.M. talking. We went our separate ways, but Jon did walk me back to my room, he's such a gallant man. I hadn't seen either of them for the next few days and I went to the Luau last night but I didn't see them at all, strange, Matt had talked about how he looked forward to the luau."
"Beth, you say you're lesbian but you seemed to take a shine to Buck, why?"
She smiled, "Well, maybe I should say I'm more Bi, I like good strapping handsome men and Buck is one of them, but I also like women."
"Okay, thanks for your honesty."
"Please don't mention this to Buck, I'd appreciate it." I said I wouldn't.
"Okay, Beth, go back to your seat and I may need more information from you later." She smiled and left the table. I really didn't think she could do it, she was frail enough, but if they were asleep, she could have cut their throats. But would she be able to put the bodies in a cart and haul it down to the lower decks and would she even know how to do it?
I called over Jon Lockley, and he sat. "Jon, this is not the way to start friendships, is it." I smiled.
"Not the best way, no. But you have a job to do. I hope you catch the bastard who did it. Valeria was one hell of a lady; she didn't need to die this way. How are you going to handle it?"
"Well, you write crime fiction with a touch of fact, I'm sure you know the procedures of investigation." I smiled.
"Yes, we all here do, except the horror writers, they just fly in through a window and bite necks, not slash them." He smiled back.
"Yep, so where did you go after you left the Luau last night?"
"I went back to my room to write a bit, I do better late in the night. I'm writing a new book, this one has a touch of romance along with murder."
"Yes, what a coincidental place to have an actual murder, at a convention of murderous people." I grinned.
He laughed, "Yes, your work is cut out for you."
"Okay, Jon, you can go but I may have a few questions for you later." He stood and shook my hand and went back to this table. I had to go ask Penny a question before I wrote Jon off. I went to where Penny and Maria were entertaining Telly. I sat and quietly asked Penny if after she came up from the laundry, did she tell anyone about what happened. She said she hadn't, I asked if she knew how the people were murdered, she said no, she hadn't gotten that good of a look. I was happy with that and gave her a kiss.
"Telly, you have one of those radios that you can call the Captain on?" I asked. He said he did. I took him out to the hallway and asked him to call his cousin so I could ask him something. He called and the Captain came on.
"Captain, Jim here, could you search the cabin of a Jon Lockley next, I have a hunch." He said he would and I hoped we could wrap this up soon.
I went back into the room after reminding Telly to be careful and watch the women, he said he would. I kissed Penny on my way back to my interrogating, but I had a feeling that I may have the killer, but I couldn't get too cocky. I called the next person, and asked my questions.
About twenty minutes later, as I sat talking to another passenger, the Captain came in and called me aside. He had a plastic bag and we went to the hallway. He opened the bag and I looked in to see bloodied clothes. I asked if it was from Lockley's room he nodded. I asked him to gather his security men, he did and the four of us went into the room and approached Jon.
"Jon, I'm really sorry to say this but you need to come with us, according to maritime security laws established since 9/11, the Captain has the authority to detain you for the murder of Matthew Burns and Valeria Brookson."
The Captain's security men were big and armed, Jon was also big, but he came quietly. On the way to the brig, he asked me why we suspected him.
"Jon, you said the horror authors would just fly in through a window and bite necks, not slash them. It was never mentioned that the victims had their necks slashed. Only the killer would know and during a search of the cabins they found bloodied clothing in your room. Is that enough for you?"
"Well, if I were writing this that would be, but I didn't do it. I heard someone on deck mention about the throat slitting and as to the clothes, well, I can't explain that, other than someone is diverting attention from themselves." He said quietly.
We put him in the cell that probably hasn't seen too many hard core criminals, just drunken sailors and passengers. He was strangely calm; I hoped he was right about being framed. I remembered a few cases in my past where it had happened, like the Dominatrix murders.
I leaned close to the cell, "Jon, I want to believe you, so I'm not done investigating. If you are telling the truth I will exonerate you." He thanked me and I turned away. I looked to the Captain and said, "I'm not finished."
I asked where the photographer was at and we went there. I took the clothes from the plastic bag and had the photographer take pictures of the shirt and pants close up and full shots of the blood splatter. I said to put them with the other pictures on a digital card and get them to me when I call for them. He said he would.
We went back up and I went on with the interrogations. After an hour of asking questions I gathered all the paperwork I had written from the people I talked to, then Buck came over and gave me his notes. We sat with the Captain and went over the notes and the timeline of the crime. We didn't know when the murders had exactly occurred, just a theory from the witnesses who saw the victims. I looked to the Captain and asked if they had a secure ship to shore phone, he said they did and asked if I needed it, I said I did. He took Buck and me up to the communications room and told the radio man to let me use the phone.
I called the one person I knew could get us some official federal help, Earl Daws. We were about five hours behind Detroit so I dialed his cell phone number. He came on and yelled at me saying I was interrupting his private time with a young lady.
"Screw you Daws, or should I say screw her Daws. But then you couldn't talk to me could you." I grinned. He asked what I wanted and I told him I was about a thousand miles out in the Pacific Ocean heading toward Tahiti and needed some big time help. He went silent and then asked what did I want. I filled him in on the whole trip and ended up with the arrest of Jon Lackey. He swore softly.
"Well, it's a big kettle of fish, the Captain is in his rights to do what he feels is prudent, he's in complete charge out there. Sounds like you did well on handling the forensics; I hope you got some good evidence, what do you want from me?"
"I may need some federal help to look at the evidence, I got everything on digital and can send it, but we got about two and a half days to handle it before we come under Tahitian jurisdiction."
"Okay, I got a number you can call, friend in Washington, he can help if you move quickly, he can get Intel back to you fast. Ready to take this down?" I grabbed a paper from the desk and pulled my pen. I said I was ready and he gave me the number of a friend named Harold Kettering. I asked if he was FBI, Earl laughed and said, yes but he was little higher up in the FBI chain of intrigue and a little more secretive, then he said, "Be sure to remind Harold that Earl is collecting on the Brazil caper, that should speed him up."
I thanked him and hung up. I dialed the number he gave me and after two rings a man answered. I introduced myself and said that Earl Daws was calling in a favor. He was quiet for too long, I thought he might hang up but I heard him cuss out Earl and asked what I wanted. I told him about the cruise and the murders and that I had photos that I'd like analyzed to help us find the killer, because the man we were holding didn't feel right to me. He asked if we could send the pictures in an email, I said we could. He said he would have his people examine the photos and get back to us. I signaled the radio man, he had the images now that the photographer brought them in. Harold gave me his email address and I relayed it to the man at the computer. He sent the files and I said they were on the way. He said to give him a little time and I gave him the email and phone number of the ship to reply. We hung up.
I sat for a minute gathering my thoughts, turned to the Captain and asked, "What if we needed more time, could there be a problem with the ship's engines that would cause us to have to stop out here for repairs? Give us a little more time?"
"There would be a bit of paperwork to explain the delay and we'd have to inform the port in Tahiti, but I think we could pull it off." the Captain said.
"It's just if we need it. I don't even know if Earl's friend can help us but they know things from experience that may give us ammo to help. I just don't feel right for Jon Lockley doing it, just a gut feeling, but I could be wrong."
Buck smiled and said, "It wouldn't be the first time." I gave him a dirty look, but he was right.
I realized that we hadn't eaten all day and I was sure the passengers were also hungry. "Captain, while we wait, we should let everyone get some food in their stomachs before we have a mutiny." He agreed.
We went back down to the hall and now everyone was back in their seats together again. The Captain announced that we had someone in custody and we are following up on the evidence. But he wanted everyone to be fed so all persons were allowed to go to the dining room to eat. He thanked everyone for their cooperation and said to please enjoy the cruise despite the incident. He signaled to his men to help take the people to the dining hall and have the buffet ready.
He asked me, Penny, Buck and Maria to follow him. We went through a door into a back hallway and into a small room that had a smaller buffet set up. "This is the officer's mess; we can eat in privacy here." They had a great layout, mostly Greek food, so we took to the food with much anticipation as we were hungry. We finished and were sitting talking about the murders when Telly came in and said there was communications for me. The Captain said the ladies could go through a door to the left, it was a lounge and they could rest there. The Captain, Buck and I followed Telly back to the communications room and the radio man was holding the phone out to me. I sat and noticed there were the proof photos of the crime scene on the table. I put the phone to my ear and said hello.
"Jim, I have some results from the images you sent. Oh, and tell your photographer he did outstanding work. I had my people look over the images and we conferred and came up with a few conclusions. Ready?" Harold asked.
"Hold on a minute." I asked the radio man if he had a speaker that the phone could be put on, he flipped a switch and said to go ahead. "You still there?" I asked. He acknowledged and I said go for it.
"Okay, first after examining the neck wounds, the killer was standing on the right side of the bed when he or she slashed the throats. From the angle and impact the victims were cut by someone who was most likely left handed. Just by what we see from the wounds, it was caused by a larger blade, like a big hunting knife or meat carving knife. It had to be very sharp to cut so quick and clean. The victims bled out quickly and death would have been fast since their right side carotid artery was slashed on both victims. If they were asleep they may not even had known it. On to the laundry cart, from our photo measurements the cart was bed height, so the bodies could have been rolled into the cart, and from blood splatter we say they were rolled, so a woman could have placed then in the cart without having to lift the bodies. We did an enhancement on the bloodied shirt and the label tells us the person wearing the shirt was of medium build, about five-eight to five-ten and liked to buy them from an online sports clothing stores."
"How do you know that?" I asked.
"The shirt label is from an online sports clothing store. I know them as they have good prices." I could tell he was grinning. "So we have a sports enthusiast who is medium height and build and is left handed. Does that help?"
"It's better than what we had earlier. Thanks so much Harold."
"Tell that son of a bitch Earl Daws that we are even now." He said with a laugh. I said I would and we cut communication.
I looked at the Captain and Buck and said we need to go apologize to Jon Lockely. We went down to the brig and had the man guarding to unlock the door. I saw an orange on a desk in the room and picked it up. Jon came to the open door and I tossed the orange to him. He grabbed it with his right hand, I was satisfied.
"Jon, I said I'd exonerate you, we have new info on the killer from my sources in the FBI, they examined the photos we sent and now have a better profile on him." I took the orange from him and gave it back to the guard.
"What helped me?" he asked.
"You're too big to wear the clothes we found, sorry I didn't look closer when we found them, chalk that up to me."
"I'll forgive you; just get me out of here."
We all went back up to the dining hall and I told Jon to get some food in him. Everyone who was there was surprised to see Jon was out. I went to the microphone and announced that our investigations had proven that Jon Lockley had nothing to do with the murders, but we had to be sure, I added we are still investigating, so to please be patient.
The Captain had called Telly to bring Penny and Maria to us and he did. Penny came to me and said, "Why is it all our great vacations and get-aways are marred by murder?"
"You said it yourself, I attract killers. And that started back when I met you."
"So the two of us together are attracting killers?"
"You got it, shall we break up?"
"Not a chance, I'll just have to put up with the murders, as long as they aren't our own." She smiled and kissed me.
I turned to the Captain and said we needed to search the cabins again for the killer's sports wear. I had the envelope with the photos and looked through them and found the shot with the shirt label, it said "Great Times Outfitters, Ltd.". I said the name and we would need to see if the killer had any more like it. I also checked the buttons on the shirt; they were on the side that men's shirts had the buttons on. I mentioned that, but Buck said lots of women wore men's shirts. I agreed, but we would focus on the men for now. The Captain said he would start the search again and went off. I asked Telly if he could get a ream of paper and bring it to me. Buck asked what I had in mind; I said we were going to find our lefty people.
About five minutes later Telly came back with a ream of paper which I opened. I set it on a table and went to the microphone.
"Attention everyone, I need all persons to form two lines and take a sheet of paper and write your name and cabin number then wait for further instructions. We will be asking you to sit in certain areas of the room so when you take the paper wait for us to tell you where to sit. Thank you."
I went back to Buck and gave him half the pile of paper, I explained what to do, "just hold out a sheet and let the person take it. Then have them write their name and cabin number and watch to see who writes with their left hand and have them sit over there," pointing to our left, "and if they write it with their right hand send them to our right." He said he could handle it, and went to the next table.
I yelled for people to form two lines and follow our instructions. We spent the next twenty minutes sorting people, we only had about seven left handers, but I said we weren't finished. I had asked everyone to take a pen or pencil and write out where they were the last twenty four hours and not to write a book please. That got a laugh from the crowd.
Buck came over and I said to watch for anyone in the right group who may be writing with their left hand, he went to watch. I was watching the crowd also, and found two people who were ambidextrous. I sent them to the left side, Buck found one. After about fifteen minutes I told the right side people that they could leave their papers and all go out and enjoy the ships festivities. I signaled to Bello to let his men allow the people to leave the room.
I went to the left sided people and asked everyone to please be patient. We still had some narrowing to do. I looked at my watch and realized it was getting late and I hoped by now to have found the killer or the Tahitian authorities may take over. The Captain came back and said they found no clothing to match the label from the bloodied clothes. I said the killer either got rid of the clothes or only had the one shirt.
I asked the Captain if there was a three mile limit to the Tahitian islands. He said there was, and I asked if could we stop outside that limit and still send people to the island. He said the craft they had available for transporting people wasn't the most dependable or large enough to go three miles in the ocean to the island, only in the harbor from ship to port. I sighed and thought some more.
The Captain's radio buzzed and he answered. He listened, then put it back in his pocket. "Jim, there is a call for you from the U.S.; I think it is your police friend." I told Buck to stay with the girls and the Captain and I went to the radio room again. I had the call put on the speaker phone.
"Hello," I said, it was Earl. "What's up?" I asked.
"I thought about your little dilemma and I remembered the time Trapper and I visited the island back when we were young and foolish," he laughed and I said I heard about the hookers and being drunk, "Well that was part of the fun. We had a little run-in with the local police, a good run-in, we helped them with a problem they had, but they tend to be a little on the shady side towards Americans, so I was worrying for you. Not being a shady character yourself, like Trapper and I, you don't know how to deal with these kinds of people. So I got on the phone and called in a few more favors, but I'm running out, so use them wisely. I got the local French consulate to run interference for you and allow you to conduct your investigation under U.S. authority, even after arriving at port. Just as long as you don't let the crime spill out to the locals, then you'll have problems. It's an American crime committed on a Greek owned ship in international waters pulling into a French port, a real United Nations affair. Did I do good?"
"I owe you one, pal." I said.
"Just bring you and my girlfriend back safely. I presume Penny is with you?"
"She'd kill me if I didn't bring her."
"Okay, I also got the FBI to get some cooperation from the local Navy stationed in the area and they said they would take your culprit back to Federal authorities since the crime was committed on a foreign owned ship in international waters. This thing is getting sticky, but I used my superpowers for good. Oh, and the bodies you have on ice, the Navy will pick them up ASAP and deliver them to the FBI in LA for autopsy. My buddy Harold will be sure they check the bodies out to be sure it was just a slash and dash."
"Great, that will really be a relief to all of us. Thanks Earl, you did good." He laughed and said to talk when we got back. We broke communications.
I looked at the Captain and said we were good to go now that the pressure is off. He smiled and said it was good to have friends in the right places. I agreed.
We went back to the dining hall and found my traveling companions. I told them what Earl had accomplished and told Penny that he still thinks of her as his girlfriend. She gave me her evil little smile and I said to stop thinking like that. She laughed and gave me a kiss saying she was my only girlfriend. Buck had gathered all the sheets of papers and was going over them. I looked to all the left handed people who were still waiting for us to do something. I was wondering what I would do.
Buck had a list of names and cabin numbers of all the left handed people and I told the Captain that we could let them join the others after we question them further. "This looks to be a crime of passion or revenge, I don't think it will spill over to anyone else, but we will need to be on our toes."
"I will assign my crew to work overtime to patrol the decks where the people sleep, just to be sure."
"Captain, I think I need to talk to your crew also, not that I suspect them of the crime but they may have seen something." He agreed and said to let him know when we would do the questioning. I said I would. The Captain got a call on his radio and said he had ship's business to attend to and went off.
I looked to Buck, "We’ll still need to talk to all of the left-handed people, so may as well get started.” I said and Buck got up to join me as we went to a table just off from where everyone was sitting. I looked over the ten people waiting, walking around them, and let three people leave since they were rather obese and couldn't possibly fit into the bloodied clothing we found. The seven left, both male and female, were all within the body description of the killer. I had a chill thinking that one of these people could be the killer.
I called for one of the men sitting closest to come over.
David Taylor was his name and he wrote gory stories about vampires and beautiful women, didn't they all? I asked him a number of questions, mostly about his whereabouts and if he knew the deceased. He knew Matthew but not Valeria. Matthew was an agent he had sent a couple of his manuscripts to.
"What was Matthew's opinion of your work?" I asked.
"He was real kind in his opinions, but felt it was not something he could handle for now, but he gave me the names of other agents that may take on my type of stories. I liked Matthew, he was honest and open." Taylor smiled.
"Did you see Matthew or Valeria in the last day or two?"
"No, I wanted to talk to Matthew but I couldn't find him. I did go to his cabin but there was no response to my knocking. I was outside the cabin while they were dead, that is so scary."
"Well, we don't know when they were murdered, but it's a good chance you missed them since they were moved from the room." I paused watching Taylor's face for any signs of emotion but he sat stone faced. "Ok, go enjoy the cruise, but I may need to talk again later."
He stood thanking me and went out the door. I looked over to Buck as he sat next to me, "We need a polygraph, it would make things easier." I smiled.
I took the next six people and questioned them and came up with not much. I was at a loss and it was starting to frustrate me. Telly came running in the room and to us.
"Meester Richards, my cousin, the Captain wishes to see you."
I said to lead the way and we went to a hold below deck to where there was a huge trash compactor. The Captain was standing next to one of the crew and was looking at a couple of items on a table off the side of the room. Buck and I came up and I could see some sports clothing and something that made my heart thump, a rather large bloodied meat knife.
"Jim, my man here was picking up trash from the trash cans that are situated around the ship. He found the clothes and the knife, it is one of our kitchen tools, we can tell by the stamp on the side with serial numbers of our inventory. Petro said he heard about the clothing we were looking for from one of the maids, his girlfriend, so he knew what we were looking for. The knife was wrapped in the clothing."
I went to the knife and looked closer at it; I took a tissue from a box on the table and picked it up. "Petro, did you touch this knife at all?"
Petro looked to the Captain who translated what I asked, the man didn't speak English. He said something back in Greek and the Captain relayed to me that he hadn't touched it directly, he knew about fingerprints.
I looked at Buck and said, "Now this doesn't make sense, the killer had a whole ocean to toss this into, why put it in a trash can?"
"Maybe he didn't have time to dump it over board with everyone watching so he puts it in the can when he could." Buck offered.
"Maybe so, but this is a good break." I asked if they had a baggie so I could put the knife in to keep it safe. The Captain asked Petro and he went to a cupboard and took out a small plastic bag and handed it to me. I put the knife in and folded it over.
"We'll need to see if we can pull prints off of this." Petro brought out a small garbage bag and said something to the Captain. He smiled and translated that the bag was for the clothing.
"How do you say thank you in Greek?" I asked and the Captain told me "Efharisto pronounced "ehf-kHA-ree-sto", I said it to Petro and then carefully gathered the clothing and we put them in the bag. I thanked Petro again and we went back up to the officers mess lounge where I asked if they could have the photographer come back to take pictures of the new find.
I spread out the clothing on the tables and took the knife, using a tissue, turned the thing around looking at it carefully. I couldn't see any visible prints, but may find some with a little help from some talc and a brush. I asked the Captain if he could stir up some talc and a brush like a woman uses to color her cheeks. He turned to Telly and told him to gather the items. Telly went off and returned a few minutes later with the items. The brush was perfect; it looked like a blush brush, soft and wide.
"Did you raid the women's purses for this?" I asked.
He grinned and said it was from his detective kit, he had started it after reading my book. I laughed to myself and thanked him in Greek.
I put the knife on the table and carefully brushed it with the talc and blew the residue. There were a couple of small prints that came up and I asked Telly for some transparent tape. He pulled a roll of tape from his pocket.
"More from your detective kit?" I asked as he handed it to me. He said it was and handed me a couple of black cards to tape the prints to. The boy was definitely prepared.
I pulled the prints from the knife and put the tape strips on the black cards and examined them. I was pleased that they came out so well. The photographer came in and I had him take shots of all the items and asked if he could do an extreme macro shot of the prints so we could send them to the FBI, he said he could do that. He pulled out a macro lens from his camera bag and set up the print cards on the table to photograph them. He finished with his photos and I asked for copies like before, he said he'd take care of it.
"Captain, do you have fingerprint files of all the crew by chance?" I asked. He said they did but were in their offices in Greece.
"If we had to could we fingerprint the crew to eliminate them from the prints on the knife, maybe at least the kitchen help who would have handled the knife?"
"They will cooperate or be fired." He grinned.
"Not something we need to do now, but something to keep in mind." I offered. "As soon as your photographer can bring us the print images, we can send them to Harold and hope he can pull something." I was beginning to miss Penny and asked Telly where she and her friend were, he said they were still in the dining hall.
"I will take you to them, if you will follow me." He smiled at his cousin and took us to where we found our girls seated at a table with Jon Lockley and Beth.
I looked to Jon and said, "I hope you are protecting the ladies."
"I am. Have you found anything yet?" He said.
I related to him and the women what had happened the last couple hours and said, "We just have to wait for the fingerprints to be checked and hopefully we have our killer." Telly came back up and said the photographer had the images ready to send to the FBI. I asked Buck to stay and protect the women from Jon, he laughed and I went with Telly back to the radio room. The radioman got Harold on the ship to shore again.
"Harold, first thanks for your help with the murders so far. I had some good luck in finding the murder weapon and I got a couple good prints off it. If I can send it to you can you do a search?"
"Sure send them to the same address and I'll have my people work on it. How's your investigation going?"
"We've narrowed it down to seven people but with the prints, hopefully we will have the killer."
"Has the Navy picked up the bodies yet?"
"Nope, haven't heard anything yet, we maybe too far out for them to come by."
"I'll get on the horn and light a fire, I'd like to get the bodies back for autopsy. I'm sure the throat slash was enough, but I want to run tox on them to be sure. Oh, and I called Earl, he is just dying to go to Tahiti."
"Well, I don't want him to go to any trouble to ruin my vacation." I laughed out loud and so did Harold. "I'll be waiting for a call as soon as you come up with something." I thanked him and we finished.
I looked to the radio man, he was smiling, I said, "Do you guys ever get this much excitement on your cruises?"
"Oh, this has been the best cruise I have been on, no murders before this one." He said in broken English.
I thanked him and went back with Telly to the dining hall. Penny stood and came to me as I entered the room. "If I don't get more attention from you on this trip I'm going to run off with Jon." She smiled.
"Well I hope he can handle you better than I can, and afford you." I said as I patted her behind. She gave me a cute smile and said to behave.
Continued in the book...