Portside peril (cruise ship christian cozy mysteries series book 2)

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Portside PerilCruise Ship ChroniclesCozy Mystery Series Book 2

Hope Callaghan

***http://hopecallaghan.comCopyright © 2015All rights reserved.

 

This book is a work of fiction.  Although places mentioned may be real, the characters, names and incidents and all other details are products of the author’s imagination and are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual events or actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.

No part of this publication may be copied, reproduced in any format, by any means, electronic or otherwise, without prior consent from the copyright owner and publisher of this book.  The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.______________________________

 

AVAILABLE NOW!  The Cruise Ship Christian Cozy Mysteries Box Set (Books 1-3).

Get Three Full Length Cruise Ship Cozy Mysteries - One Great Price and One Easy Download!

Click Here To Download It Now!

 

Visit my website for new releases and special offers: http://hopecallaghan.com

 

A specialthank youtoWanda DownsandPeggy Hyndmanfor taking the time to read and review the second book in my new series,Portside Peril,and offering all of the helpful advice! 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

About The Author

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

AVAILABLE NOW!  The Cruise Ship Christian Cozy Mysteries Box Set (Books 1-3).

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About The Author

Hope Callaghan is an author who loves to write Christian books, especially Christian Mystery and Cozy Mystery books. Born and raised in a small town in West Michigan, she now lives in Florida with her husband.

She is the proud mother of one daughter and a stepdaughter and stepson.  When she's not doing the thing she loves best - writing books - she enjoys cooking, traveling and reading books.

Hope loves to connect with her readers!

Visithopecallaghan.comfor information on special offers and soon-to-be-released books!

Email: [email protected]

Facebook page:http://www.facebook.com/hopecallaghanauthor

 

Other Books by Author, Hope Callaghan:

DECEPTION CHRISTIAN MYSTERY SERIES:

Waves of Deception: Samantha Rite Series Book 1Winds of Deception: Samantha Rite Series Book 2Tides of Deception: Samantha Rite Series Book 3

 

GARDEN GIRLS CHRISTIAN COZY MYSTERIES SERIES:

Who Murdered Mr. Malone?  Garden Girls Mystery Series Book 1Grandkids Gone Wild: Garden Girls Mystery Series Book 2Smoky Mountain Mystery: Garden Girls Mystery Series Book 3Death by Dumplings: Garden Girls Mystery Series Book 4

Eye Spy: Garden Girls Mystery Series Book 5

Magnolia Mansion Mysteries: Garden Girls Mystery Series Book 6Missing Milt: Garden Girls Mystery Series Book 7Bully in the ‘Burbs: Garden Girls Mystery Series Book 8

Garden Girls Christian Cozy Mysteries Boxed Set Books 1-4

 

 

CRUISE SHIP CHRISTIAN COZY MYSTERIES SERIES: 

Starboard Secrets Cruise Ship Cozy Mysteries Book 1Portside Peril: Cruise Ship Cozy Mysteries Book 2

Lethal Lobster: Cruise Ship Cozy Mysteries Book 3

 

 

Chapter 1

 

“Cat is madder than a wet hornet!”

Millie Sanders, Assistant Cruise Director, had just stuck her key card in the cabin door slot and reached for the handle when her friend, Annette Delacroix, came up behind her.

Millie turned around.  “Really?”  Shehadbeen having a good day.  Actually, she’d been having a great day but things were suddenly taking a turn for the worse.

“Let me guess.  She’s mad at me?” Millie held out a little hope that maybe Cat wasn’t angry with her for throwing her under the bus, so to speak. 

Annette clucked her tongue.  “You should see her!  She’s up in the gift shop, tearing the place apart, hair flying everywhere.”

Millie pressed her hands to her cheeks.  This was bad. It was worse than she had expected. Catherine Wellington’s signature beehive hairdo was always perfectly coiffed with nary a hair out of place. 

“W-what’s she saying?” Millie squeezed her eyes shut and offered up a quick prayer.

“Something about a traitorous, two-timing, double-dealing, skunk-smelling.”

Millie cut her off. “I get the idea.” Her shoulders sagged.  There was no way Millie could live onboard the cruise ship with an archenemy – namely Cat - who had a tendency to gossip.  If Cat set her mind to it, Millie was 100% certain she could make Millie’s life miserable.

“I guess I better go try to make amends.” Millie pulled her key from the slot and shoved it into her pocket.  She followed Annette down the corridor. 

Millie eyed her friend.  “What about you?  You’re just as guilty as I am,” she pointed out.

Annette nodded.  “True, but for some reason, you’re the target.” Annette shrugged her shoulders.  “Better you than me!”

Annette and Millie had set up a sting to catch a potential killer. Cat had walked right into their trap. In the end, police cleared Cat, but not before she spent some time behind bars, which was the reason for her fit of rage, directed at Millie.

Millie opened the door that separated the crew quarters from the guest area.  She held the door and waited for Annette to step through. 

Annette shoved her hands in her pockets. “I’d love to go with you.  You know, help smooth things out but I’ve gotta get up to the kitchen.  Something about a fish fiasco.”

Millie stopped in the hall.  She crossed her arms and pursed her lips as she glared at Annette. 

“If it doesn’t work out, let me know and I’ll try to talk to her,” Annette offered.

Millie watched her friend’s hasty retreat as she hustled to the kitchen.  “Scaredy cat,” Millie muttered under her breath.

Millie headed in the opposite direction, towards Ocean Treasures, the gift shop where Catherine or “Cat” as her friends called her, worked.  Of course, there was a good chance Millie was on the “persona non grata” list now, so it might be “Catherine” from here on out.

She smiled and nodded to a few of the crew as she passed them in the hall.  Although Millie had only been working on the ship for a short time, the faces were beginning to look familiar.

Millie liked to pride herself on being able to remember details.  Like so-and-so loved chocolate ice cream or that someone’s mother was a school teacher in Little Rock or her ex-husband, Roger, refused to eat the food on his plate if his meat and vegetable touched each other. 

Millie scowled at the thought of her cheating ex-husband.  He picked the most inopportune times to invade her brain!

No, it was peoples’ names that Millie had a hard time remembering. 

Millie paused as she reached the outside corridor and the elevator.  She could take the elevator but instead, headed for the stairs.  It was good exercise and although there was no scale on board, except for the one in the gym, her clothes felt a little looser since she’d come on board, so the extra flights of stairs had helped shed the pounds.

Bright lights lit up the inside of Ocean Treasures gift shop.  Millie grabbed the handle and twisted the knob.  The door was locked. 

Millie peeked around the edge of the doorframe and caught a glimpse of the top of Cat’s beehive hairdo as she bent over the display case near the rear of the store.  Strands of hair stuck out all over her head.  Gone was the smooth, sleek “do” that was Cat’s signature style.

Millie gave the glass door two sharp raps and waited. 

Cat’s head popped up.  Her green eyes narrowed when she saw Millie. 

Millie mouthed the words, “Let me in.”

In response, Cat shook her head. Her hand shot up and she gave Millie the middle finger.  Millie could read her lips and what came out would make a sailor blush. 

Millie was determined.  She needed to talk to Cat, to explain her side of it.  Cat needed to see that it wasn’t really Millie’s fault that Cat had been taken in for questioning in the death of Olivia LaShay, a ship employee and Cat’s co-worker.

Millie crossed her arms, planted her feet in front of the door and defiantly stared at Cat.  Cat tried her best to ignore Millie.  It worked just fine until Millie moved in front of the large, plate glass window. She dropped to her knees, clasped her hands together and begged.  “Will you puhleeze let me in?”

Cat rolled her eyes and headed to the front entrance.  Millie thought she was going to unlock the door.  Instead, she turned off the light and disappeared into the back storage room.  She shut the door behind her.   

Millie rose to her feet, wiped the dust from her knees and slowly shuffled away. 

“Millie, do you copy?”

Andy, her boss, was calling her on the radio.  She unclipped the radio and pressed the button.  “I’m here.”

“Passengers are starting to board,” he told her.

Millie glanced at the stairs and then at the elevator.  The elevator would be the quickest way down, but ever since the time Millie had been stuck in one and discovered she suffered from claustrophobia, she hated them. 

Against her better judgment, she pressed the down button and hopped into the empty elevator.  This particular elevator wasn’t as bad as the others.  The front was floor-to-ceiling glass and it faced the atrium area so Millie could see out. 

She stepped inside and pressed the button. The elevator doors closed and it began its descent.  The elevator was halfway down when it shuddered and then stopped.  Millie could see they were halfway between floors. 

Millie pressed the floor button again.  The elevator made a small whirring noise but refused to budge.  She pressed another button.  Still nothing.  Millie panicked and punched all the buttons. 

The air inside the confined space was stifling.  Millie’s heart began to beat faster.  She started to feel faint.  She leaned forward and placed both hands on the rail, staring out at the atrium below.

It was as if the elevator was invisible.  Millie waved her arms frantically.  No one seemed to notice her.  She reached back and pressed the emergency button.  Nothing happened.

Millie sunk to her knees and peered out.  Cat was walking by.  Millie pounded on the glass.  “Help!  Help! I’m stuck inside,” she yelled.

The movement caught Cat’s attention.  She stepped closer.  Her eyes met Millie’s.  For a moment, Millie thought she was going to turn and walk away. 

Cat glanced around the atrium.  Over in the corner, two workers had removed a wall panel and were poking around at some electrical wires.

Millie watched as Cat tapped one of the men’s shoulders and pointed at Millie.  The man’s eyes widened.  He shook his partner’s arm and the two of them stared at Millie, still kneeling on the floor of the elevator.

They raced across the open floor.  One of them held up a finger as if to say, “One minute.”

Millie pulled herself to her feet.  She closed her eyes and thanked the Lord that someone was going to rescue her.  Closing her eyes helped. 

Millie forced herself to breathe in, breathe out.  She continued the slow, rhythmic breathing until the elevator jolted and began to move.

The elevator reached the atrium floor and the doors sprung open.  Millie sprinted out.  Her eyes darted around the room as she searched for Cat but Cat, her rescuer, was long gone.


Page 2

Chapter 2

Andy Walker, Cruise Director, was dressed in a crisp, white uniform and standing at attention when Millie sidled up.  He glanced at his watch. “You’re right on time, Mildred.”

Millie frowned.  No one ever called her Mildred, no one except her mother when she was growing up and only when she was angry. 

“Did you see me?  I was stuck in the elevator!” She pointed to the offensive object. 

Andy shook his head.  “No, I hadn’t noticed.”  He seemed completely unconcerned that Millie could have easily been hurt.  What if the thing had plunged to the bottom of the ship and she had died?

Dave Patterson, head of security, made a pass by.  He gave Andy the thumbs up, which meant customs had cleared the ship and a fresh batch of passengers were now heading to the gangplank and would be boarding within minutes. 

Andy cupped his hands to his mouth.  “It’s show time, everyone!” he shouted.  The crew cheered – or maybe it was more like moaned.  Millie couldn’t be certain. 

One of the crew swung the entrance door open and stood watching as other workers maneuvered the ramp, attaching it to the side of the ship. 

Millie snorted.  With the door open, she had a clear view of the ramp and the passengers that were winding their way up.  It reminded Millie of a herd of cattle on stampede.

Andy raised an eyebrow.  “What’s so funny?”

Millie shrugged her shoulders.  “Oh nothing.” She wasn’t sure if Andy would think her comparison was as humorous as she.

One of the most interesting parts of passengers boarding the ship was the hierarchy: diamond passengers, the ones who had sailed the cruise line a bunch of times, boarded first. 

After diamond were platinum guests and then gold. The last to board were the newbies - what cruise ship employees called “green legs” since they didn’t have their sea legs yet. 

Green legs were more apt to become seasick during rough seas, more likely to get a serious sunburn on the first day of the cruise when they laid out around the pool too long.  Last but not least, they were more likely to throw caution to the wind, forget about their vacation budget and spend more money than they planned.  The cruise linelovedgreen legs almost as much as they loved diamond passengers.

Andy and his booming voice greeted guests.  “Welcome aboard folks!”

The cattle gate was wide open and the guests began pouring in the atrium area.  Millie spent the next several hours answering questions and directing guests to different areas of the ship. 

She noticed that this week’s cruise was full of large groups that boarded in clusters.  Some of them looked to be college-age students. 

Millie made a mental note to keep an eye on them.  One group in particular started horsing around as soon as they boarded.  Security had to step in and make their presence known, which seemed to settle the rowdy crowd down a bit.

By the time all the guests had boarded and security gave the all-clear to close the door and pull the ramp, Millie’s feet were aching and her stomach grumbling.  All she had time to eat was a quick breakfast of cold, rubbery eggs and dry toast.

She glanced at the ship’s clock on the wall.  It was already 4:30.  Andy read her mind.  “I’m sure you’re starving.  Go take a break, grab a bite to eat and head out to the lido deck to check on the guests while you’re up there.”

Millie nodded.  She had stopped by the kitchen to see her friend, Annette, when she had taken a brief break and Annette had told her that one of her favorite dishes, meatloaf, was on the menu.  Millie was craving comfort food, good old-fashioned meatloaf!

There was no line at the buffet.  The eatery was getting ready to close in preparation for the dinner hour.  Most of the guests had already eaten and were up on lido getting ready sail away. 

Millie’s roommate, Sarah, was behind the counter, packing things up.  She glanced up when she spied Millie.  “Where’ve you been all day?”

“Greeting guests.” She grabbed a dinner plate and tray and hurried down the line.

Sarah followed along on the other side.  “I heard you and Cat had a falling out.”

Millie flinched. “Yeah, she’s mad at me.” It never ceased to amaze her how fast news traveled on the ship.  She finished loading her plate and headed to the table. 

Millie ate her food alone and watched the passengers wander through the dining room as they explored the other side of the ship.  She loved to watch the excited faces and the couples who seemed so happy together. 

Her smile disappeared as she thought about her ex-husband, Roger, and how much fun they had had on their one and only cruise.  Of course, that was before he ran off with one of his clients, Delilah Osborne, Millie’s former friend and hairdresser.

Millie pushed the half-eaten plate of food away.  She had lost her appetite, even though the meatloaf was delicious.  For some reason, she decided now was a good time to have a pity party for herself. 

She stacked her dishes on the tray and slid out of the seat. Millie dumped the uneaten food in the trash and wandered through the sliding glass doors and onto the lido deck.  The deck party was in full swing.

Millie circled the lower level, gauging the burn level on several of the guests sprawled out in the lounge chairs that surrounded the pool. 

Zack, one of the dancers on board and one of Millie’s favorite staff, was leading a group of passengers in a lively rendition of the Electric Slide. 

The ship had departed a bit behind schedule and the sun was already setting.  Millie slid her sunglasses on and gazed out at the sea.  The sunset was spectacular.  The clouds floated along, high above, laced in shades of pink and blue, as they dotted the sky.  

The ship had already passed South Beach and the shoreline was a speck in the distance.

Satisfied the party was going off without a hitch, Millie shuffled to the side stairs.  It was time to head to the theater to check on the progress of the “Welcome Aboard” show, scheduled for later that evening.

She made it as far as the rear of the upper deck when three ear-piercing blasts sounded.  Millie nearly jumped out of her skin!  Seconds later, a nearby speaker came to life. “M-O-B portside.  I repeat M-O-B portside!” The voice sounded a bit panicked and Millie could have sworn the voice belonged to Andy!

The radio attached to her hip crackled as a sea of voices shouted across the airwaves.  From what she could make out – which wasn’t much since half of what was being said was in English and the other in foreign languages - it sounded as if they were saying someone had gone overboard.

The ship slowed, it shuddered slightly, stopped and then started to turn. 

Not far from where Millie was standing, a crowd began to gather one floor up and over to the portside. At least Millie assumed it was the portside.  She hadn’t quite gotten the ship lingo and her sense of direction wasn’t that great.

She raced across the deck and darted up the steps, taking them two at a time. Millie rounded the corner of the spa deck.  A group of people stood off in the corner near the VIP section, which was a section reserved for the diamond and platinum members.  An area that was only accessible via a special room key.

The access door was wide open as throngs of people lined the rail and peered down at the deep, blue ocean.  Millie joined them as she stood near the rail and looked over the side.  Her detective radar went up as she tried to hear what the guests around her were saying. 

The woman to the left of Millie lowered her voice and turned her head toward the man on the other side.  “I hope they find Kyle.” 

The man next to her nodded. “Yeah, this is crazy.  One minute Kyle is partying down and the next, he’s gone overboard.”

The woman lowered her voice.  “You don’t think…”

Dave Patterson, the ship’s head of security, appeared on the scene.  His eyes met Millie’s as he walked past her and over to a woman who was wailing loudly.

A movement in the water caught Millie’s eye.  One of the lifeboats was circling the water.  Millie pulled her cell phone from her pocket. She turned the phone on and switched it to camera-mode.  As inconspicuously as possible, she began to take several photos of the crowd - the witnesses.

Millie snapped a picture of the young couple that had been talking.  She hurried up and snapped a few more quick photos before sliding the phone back into her pocket.

Millie spied a small opening next to another couple on the scene. She squeezed in. “I heard a bloodcurdling scream. Next thing I know, the woman was trying to climb over the railing.  Thank goodness a man a few feet away realized what she was about to do so he darted over, grabbed her and pulled her off the railing.  I think she was going to jump!”

Millie’s eyes widened.  This sounded like a double suicide attempt – or maybe a murder / suicide! 

Millie peered over the edge.  The lifeboat had come to a stop.  One of the crew, wearing a fluorescent yellow life jacket, dove into the water.  He swam out a short distance and grabbed something.  Someone was in the water!

The rescuer wrapped his arm around the person who was floating face down.  Using his free arm, he swam back to the rescue boat where two men pulled them from the water.  They disappeared below deck and out of sight.

A loud cheer went up from the spectators as the small rescue boat sped back to the ship.  Millie was torn. Should she run down to watch the crew bring the passenger back on board or stay put to see if she could glean any more information out of the people still hanging around? She opted to hang tight.  She was glad she did. 

Dave Patterson led the hysterical young woman away.  There was another man with Patterson.  He looked vaguely familiar.  He nodded at Millie as he passed by.  She glanced at his nametag:Juan Carlos. 

There was an empty spot where the woman and Juan Carlos had stood.  Millie shuffled over to the open spot and leaned against the rail.  The crew had secured the smaller boat and a large pulley began to lift the small boat back up to an empty spot between other emergency lifeboats.

The area was clearing out.  Only a handful of passengers lingered near the edge of the railing.  Millie scooted closer to a man who was waving his arms in the air. 

She leaned in for a listen.  “…and then I saw the woman shove something inside her beach bag.  What was odd about it was she seemed downright calm.  Seconds later, she began to scream and wail, as if…well, as if someone she loved had just gone overboard.”

Millie raised her eyebrows. What could be more important than getting help for your loved one or for anyone for that matter - who had just fallen more than 14 stories off the side of a cruise ship? 

She reached in her pocket and plucked out her cell phone.  Millie snapped several more pictures of the area – including the man who had been talking.

Millie glanced down at her watch.  With all the excitement, she had lost track of time.  She was late for work! 

Millie picked up the pace as she scrambled down several flights of stairs and bolted across the Atlantic deck to the theater. 

The theater was dark except for a dim light that beamed out from under the red velvet curtain.  Millie almost tripped over herself as she hurried around the seating and up the steps. 

The performers were in the back make-up area, preparing for the show.  Her eyes scanned the crowded room as she searched for Andy.  He was nowhere in sight.

One of the dancers, Alison, caught her eye.  She sauntered over.  “Looking for Andy?”

Millie nodded. 

Alison tugged on the edge of her sequined skirt. “He’s down handling the man overboard crisis,” she explained.

Millie let out the breath she’d been holding.  Of course Andy would be there – which would give her the perfect excuse to check it out herself!

“Where are they?”

Alison looked around. “Down in medical.” she leaned in.  “I heard the guy was DOA.”

“You mean the passenger is dead?” This was not good.  Not good at all.  The ship hadn’t left port more than a couple hours ago and they already had a fatality.  “Are we turning back?”

Alison shook her head.  “You would think so but the suits said no.  We continue on.”

Millie thanked her and made her way back out of the theater.  It was time to head to medical.

Chapter 3

 

Security was tight outside the medical center and Doctor Gundervan’s office.  Two guards nodded to Millie as she squeezed past the growing crowd and made her way inside.

The front waiting room was empty.  Millie could hear voices coming from the back. The sound of a woman’s sobs filled the air. 

Millie stepped around the corner and her heart sank.  The poor young woman she had seen up on deck was in a chair, hunched over, her face buried in her hands. 

Andy stood nearby.  He patted her shoulder soothingly.  He gave Millie a quick look before leaning close to the woman. He whispered in her ear.

Captain Niccolo Armati was there, too.  He was off in the corner speaking to Dave Patterson, the head of security on board the ship.  Captain Armati glanced in Millie’s direction.  His look was unreadable, his eyes dark. 

Millie shivered.  For some reason, she got the distinct impression that he did not care for her.  She wasn’t sure why, though.  She’d only met him once and seen him around ship here and there.  It wasn’t like she had done anything wrong.  At least not that she could think of.

She eased over to Andy’s side.  “You might have to do introductions for the Welcome Aboard show tonight,” he muttered from the corner of his mouth. He gave her a hard stare.  “You can do it, Millie.”

A lump lodged in Millie’s throat.  She had only been on stage – in front of thousands of people – once, and Andy had been up there with her.  Now he was telling her she had to take over and open the show. 

What if she choked?  Or worse yet – fainted?  How embarrassing would that be?

The distraught woman began to cry again.  A wave of guilt washed over Millie.  Her biggest worry was stage fright.  This poor woman had just lost a loved one!  She stiffened her back and gave Andy a small salute.  “Yes, sir.  I’ll get the job done,” she assured him.  If only she felt as confident!

Millie wandered out of the room and wound her way through the growing crowd.  She wondered where they kept the bodies on board a ship.

She didn’t have to wonder long as she watched two men, dressed in black, push a gurney through an open door. On top of the gurney was a white sheet that covered what Millie could only guess was a body.

Standing near the outer fringes of the crowd were Cat and Annette.  They motioned her over to the other side of the corridor, out of earshot of the passengers. 

Millie cautiously approached.  She eyed Cat warily.  “Thanks for rescuing me when I was trapped in the elevator,” she said.

Cat gave a half shrug.  “I can’t stay mad.  Annette explained your side of it and it wasn’t really your fault I ended up in jail,” she admitted.

Millie took a step closer.  “Well, I want you to know that I’m really, really sorry,” she said sincerely.  “Truce?”  She extended her hand.

Cat put her hand in Millie’s hand.  “Truce.”

“Kiss and make up later,” Annette interrupted.  “So what happened?”

Millie told them everything she knew, including what she’d overheard from the witnesses. She patted her pocket.  “I took pictures.”

Cat’s green eyes gleamed with interest.  “Sounds like a new mystery to me!”

Annette faced Millie.  “Cat would make a nice addition to our team.”

Millie nodded.  Cat would make a good addition.  She had access to most of the passengers.  A lot more than Annette, who was stuck in the kitchen most of the time.

Annette lowered her voice. “We need to have a little pow-wow after we’re off duty.  You know, go over everything and take a look at Millie’s pictures.” 

The girls agreed to rendezvous at midnight in the library.  Because Millie was assistant cruise director, she had access to areas of the ship that other staff and crew did not, including the library after hours.

Millie’s heart was racing as she headed up the stairs and to the theater.  She wasn’t sure if it was the new mystery that was causing it – or the fact that soon she’d have to face thousands of guests on stage!

 

Zack waved his hand in the air, dismissing Millie’s rapidly growing fears.  “Millie, you’ll be fine.  You’re a born natural,” he told her. 

Millie frowned. She was a born natural, all right, but at what? That was the real question.

Millie chewed her bottom lip. “What if I pass out on stage?”

“Just pretend that all of the passengers are naked,” Zack suggested.

Millie sucked in a huge breath and pulled back the velvet curtain. She took a small step and then she froze in her tracks, unable to move forward.  Suddenly, she felt a hard shove in the middle of her back. 

Zack was pushing her!  Millie half-stumbled, half-stepped out onto the stage.  The lights were bright, almost blinding and it made it hard to see how many people were in the audience, which was probably a good thing.  She couldn’t see the crowd but she could sure hear them.  Like the sound of a roaring sea.  A sea of people.  The place was packed!

Millie had heard Andy’s Welcome Aboard presentation exactly one other time.  Millie turned the microphone on and lifted it to her mouth.  She pasted a smile across her face and started to talk about whatever came to mind, making it up as she went along. 

Millie had always been fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kinda gal and tonight it worked for her.

By the time her bit was over and she had introduced the singers and dancers, she walked across the stage: floated, really.  She was smiling and this time it was genuine. 

Zack winked at Millie as he passed her on his way out.  She gave him a grateful grin.  If not for his encouragement, she might not have done it.  Of course, the shove probably hadn’t hurt, either. 

When she hit the edge of the curtains, she ran smack dab into Andy, who was still applauding.  “Bravo, my dear! That was fabulous!”

Millie handed him the mike as she stepped off the stage.  The bright lights!  The adoring crowds!  Millie was on Cloud 9. 

Andy studied her glow. “Uh-oh.  I better watch out for Millie, the next cruise director of Siren of the Seas,” he teased.

Andy was a great boss and a great guy. He was from across the pond and she loved his British accent and his polite manners, something that was greatly lacking in today’s world.  The fact that he had given her the opportunity to work side-by-side and learn from him made her appreciate her boss even more.

Andy lowered his voice. “The passenger that went overboard.  He died.” Millie nodded.  She knew she needed to start her investigation promptly.  The more time that passed, the less the witnesses would remember. 

Andy went on to say that the girlfriend, Courtney Earhart, would disembark and return home tomorrow during the ship’s first stop in Nassau in the morning.

Millie patted her pocket and her cell phone.  She and the girls would study the pictures later, try to get near the passengers who had witnessed the horrific fall – or happened to be at the scene of the accident. 

First on her list was to get as close as possible to Courtney Earhart, or her friends, to see what she could find out. 

Andy set his mouth in a grim line as he watched the dancers shimmy and shake on stage.  Overboards were the worst, in his opinion.  An expert in cruise ship mishaps had come aboard for a talk with the entire crew and staff not long ago.  He described all the various scenarios for accidents on board a cruise ship. He also gave them the warning signs to watch for. 

The expert described what falling off the side of a cruise ship would feel like and it wasn’t pretty.  Depending on how the person hit the water, it would feel something akin to crashing onto a cement sidewalk at a horrific speed.  “The young woman that was with him.  His girlfriend is already talking about suing,” Andy told her.

Andy turned his attention from the stage to Millie.  His eyes narrowed.  “I don’t suppose you happened to…”

Millie finished his sentence.  “…be up on deck right after it happened?”  She patted her phone inside her pocket.  “As a matter of fact, I was up on the lido, checking on the sail away party, which you told me to do,” she reminded him.

Andy grinned.  “Good girl.  And?”

“Well.   When I heard the horn blast and the ‘MOB’ crackle over the speaker, I knew something had happened.  I saw a crowd gathering up in the VIP area so I headed that way.”

Andy crossed his arms.  He rocked back on his heels.  “Go on.”

“So I weaseled my way into the thick of things.  You know, it’s easier to put your ear to the ground so-to-speak if you’re close by. I overheard a couple talking about a young woman and the man that went overboard.”

Andy stopped her.  “You don’t happen to remember what they looked like?”

Millie reached into her pocket and pulled her cellphone out.  “It’s all right here.  In case they needed to be questioned or what-not.”

She handed the phone to Andy.  He studied the first photo and swiped the screen to the next. There were several different shots.  Millie had been thorough.  She had snapped photos of the witnesses, the young woman.  She even had a clear picture of the rescue boat in the water. 

He stopped on the last frame.  He frowned at the screen.  His head shot up.  “What was Zack Smythe doing up on deck?  He was supposed to be back here practicing for tonight’s show!”


Page 3

Chapter 4

Millie grabbed the phone from Andy. She slipped her reading glasses on and stared down at the screen.  Sure enough, right there, front and center, was Zack!  What in the world was he doing up there?  Andy was right.  He should’ve been back stage practicing!  Why hadn’t Millie noticed him when she was up there?  Here she thought she was honing her sleuthing skills and now this!

Millie scrolled through the rest of the pictures, looking for other familiar faces.  There were two other staff and crew but she didn’t recognize them right off the bat. 

“I never noticed Zack up on the deck.  Of course, there was a lot going on.”

She could tell by the look on Andy’s face he was going to have a chat with Zack.  She touched his arm.  “Maybe you should wait until the show is over.  It might throw him off during the performance,” she pointed out. 

The singers and dancers were gearing up for the grand finale, which was right after the comedian finished his routine.  If Andy and Zack got into it – it might throw not only Zack off, but anyone else within earshot.  “You’re right,” Andy agreed.  “I’ll wait until it’s over.”

Millie watched as Andy headed to the dressing room to wait for the end of the show.  She wanted to be anywhere but here. She wished the floor would open up and swallow her!  Zack was her friend, and now he would think she had set him up.  But she hadn’t meant to!  She hadn’t even known he was up there!

This sleuthing thing was a tough business.  First Cat and now Zack!  By the time she was done, she wouldn’t have any friends left!  She would be public enemy #1!

Her shoulders drooped. She picked up her radio, trudged down the stairs and out of the theater.  There was nothing left to do but wait for the chips to fall as they may – right on top of Millie’s head!

Back in the lobby, Millie glanced down at her watch.  She really needed one with glow in the dark hands so she could read it. In dark theaters, during stakeouts and hunting down criminals. 

Andy had mentioned that the man overboard was a 25-year old American by the name of Kyle Zondervan.  He was on the cruise with his 24-year old fiancé, Courtney.  The couple had boarded with friends.

Millie reached for her cell phone and studied the pictures.  She was certain the one set of witnesses were friends, the ones who mentioned Kyle by name. 

Maybe they could shed some light on what might have been going on in the mind of young Kyle. Millie had heard the stories of folks who drank a bit too much on board and either jumped from the ship or pushed overboard by someone else in the heat of an argument. 

She shuddered as she thought about what must have gone through the young man’s mind on his way down, before he hit the water. Her stomach churned as she wondered if he felt anything. 

She thought about her own children, just a few years older than Kyle and her heart went out to the family.  Did they even know?  Millie sent up a small prayer for his parents and family – and his fiancé.

She closed her eyes as she tried to memorize some of the faces.  She still had an hour before she met Cat and Annette in front of the library.

She wandered past the shops and casino toward the other end of the ship.  She passed the piano bar.  The sound of music drifted from the open door.  Guests were inside the bar singing:  loud and off-key. Millie stepped inside the open door.  The bar was packed. Judging from the looks on the faces, the crowd was having fun. 

She scanned the room.  None of the faces looked familiar.  She slowly backed out of the room. 

Her next stop was the Tahitian Nights Dance Club.  She could feel the music as it shook the floor beneath her.  Millie opened the door and stepped inside.  She spied the bartender, Robert, in the back of the bar. He gave Millie a quick nod as he poured a drink for one of the passengers. 

Millie studied the crowd as she wandered over to a nearby stool and hopped up.  He grabbed a towel, wiped his hands and stepped over.  “Hey Millie…what’ll you have? The usual?”

Millie raised a brow.  She was impressed that she’d only been in the bar once or twice and he remembered her name.  Did he actually remember what she drank?  There was only one way to find out.  “Sure.  Thanks, Robert.”

Robert grabbed a clean glass from under the counter and filled it with ice. He reached inside the cooler and pulled out a can of Diet Coke.  He popped the top and poured the glass full before sliding it in front of her.

She plucked a straw from a nearby container and tore the wrapper off.  “How do you do that?”

“What?  Remember names or remember drinks?”

“Both.” Maybe he could give her a few pointers.

He tapped the side of his forehead and smiled.  “Sharp as a tack.  I have a photographic memory. Mind like a steel trap.” He rubbed an imaginary mark off the counter with the towel.  “That and you’re wearing a nametagandI can count on one hand how many people come into this bar and order a Diet Coke.”

He wiped away a small puddle of water.  “You hear about the MO?”

“You mean man overboard?  The young man that went over?”

Robert tipped his head and nodded toward a dark corner.  “Yeah. The girlfriend and some of her friends are over there.”

Millie followed his gaze.  A cluster of people huddled around a table near the back of the nightclub.  She watched one of the girls in the middle of the fray down a shot.  “Is that her?”

Robert nodded his head.  “Yep.  She’s had…” He looked up for a magical number written on the ceiling. “Oh, at least four of those.”

“What are they?” Millie was curious.  She knew nothing about shots.  Only that they were popular with the younger crowd.  At least, that’s what her children told her.

“Fireballs.  They taste like cinnamon candy,” he explained.

The small group began laughing loudly.  The laughter echoed above the pulsing beat of the music. “I hope they don’t get out of hand.”

Robert smiled.  “That’s what old Brody is for.”

“Who is Brody?”

“My unofficial bouncer.” Robert pointed. “There he is now.”

A burly man sporting a crew cut lumbered through the double doors.  He reminded Millie of a wrestler.  Or a marine.  Either way, he was a big dude.  One that Millie wouldn’t want to mess with.

He stepped over to the counter and grunted at Millie.  He glanced at her tag.  “Who are you?” Apparently, pleasantries were not his strong suit.  Millie scrunched up her nose.  “Millie Sanders.”

He nodded.  “Huh.” Then the light bulb went off in his head.  “Hey, you’re that nosy new assistant CD.”

Millie sipped her Diet Coke.  “That’s me.” Her reputation preceded her. 

Robert poured a Sprite and set the glass in front of Brutus…err…Brody.  He sucked the drink down in one long gulp and slammed the empty glass on the counter. 

Robert poured another.  This time, Brody took his time and downed only half the glass.  “Always loved me a good mystery.”

This was taking an interesting turn.  Bouncer turned detective.  Maybe he was an ex-cop. Brody leaned his elbow on the bar top and studied Millie.  “What do you think of the guy who went over?”

Millie twisted her drink straw. “Not sure yet.  I need to talk to a few witnesses.  Talk to the deceased’s family.  You know, kind of see what was going on.”

“Huh.”  Apparently, that was one of Brody’s favorite words:huh.

He finished the rest of his drink and took a step back.  “Let me know if you need any help on this one.  Heard you’re pretty good at figuring stuff out.”

Millie thanked him and filed his name in the “he might be useful” category.  One could never have too many people on your side, especially one Brody’s size. 

Millie slid off the barstool.  “I better head out.” Her eyes wandered to the corner crowd.  The pitch was rising, just a bit higher.  “Brody may want to stick around.”

Robert nodded.  “That’s why he’s here.  He usually rolls in around 11:30 – 11:45 when the drinks start kickin’ in.”

Millie glanced down at her watch.  It was time to meet the girls. 

By the time Millie made it to the library, Cat and Annette were already waiting outside. 

Millie had passed by the library a bunch of times but had never gone inside.  It was cozy and inviting. 

Millie loved libraries – and books.  They took her to so many places.  Places she’d never been.  Of course, now she was actually going to some of the places she had only read about in her books!

Millie used her keycard to unlock the door.  She pushed it open and stepped inside. Cat and Annette trailed behind.

The girls headed to a section behind the center bookshelf, out of sight of people passing by. 

Annette grabbed a pad of paper and small pencil from a basket nearby.  She rolled up her sleeves and plopped down.  “Well, what’ve you got?”

Millie turned her phone on.  She scrolled to the pictures and handed the phone to Annette.  “I took these earlier when I was up on deck; right after the poor young man went over.”

Annette grabbed the phone and stared down at the screen. “Heard his fiancé is getting off in Nassau in the morning.” She passed the phone to Cat.

Millie had heard the same thing.  She wished she had a chance to somehow get close to Courtney Earhart, maybe talk to her. Get a feel for what she was thinking.  Find out if she knew anyone who had motive.  Of course, it was quite possible that she herself had done him in. She certainly had the opportunity.

The girls studied the pictures while Millie told them what she had overhead. “So we need to talk to the people that saw the couple just moments before the unfortunate incident.”

Cat tapped a long, perfectly manicured red nail on the table.  “Let me see the pictures again.”

Millie turned the phone and tapped the screen.  She handed the phone to Cat.

Cat pointed to the couple Millie had overhead.  “I think I saw them in the gift shop earlier,” she told them. “They were buying – uh - .”

“Well?” Annette prompted.  “What were they buying?”

Cat averted her eyes.  “Personal protection supplies.”

Millie shook her head.  “Flashlights and nightlights?”

“No.” Cat rolled her eyes.  “C-o-n-t-r-a-c-e-p-t…”

Millie held up a hand.  “Oh! Gotcha!”

“Anyways.  We don’t sell too many of those. I mean, most people bring their own. That’s why I remember it.”

“Can’t be that unusual,” Annette chimed in.  “After all, in the rush to pack I’ve forgotten my toothbrush before.”

Cat shrugged.  “Either way, I can count on one hand how many of those personal products the ship sells. At least by me,” she added. She nodded to the phone.  “Now that I have the faces, I’ll see what I can find out next time they come into the store.”

“You mean you think they’ll come back to buy more? How much of that stuff do you need for just one week?” Annette was stunned.

Cat shook her head.  “No! No, I mean if they come in to buy souvenirs and such!”

“Good plan.” Millie could see that Cat would be a valuable member of their little detective team.  She had the most contact with passengers, other than Millie herself, of course.

“What can I do?” Annette wondered.

Millie didn’t have a good plan for her.  Not yet.  “I’ll have to get back with you.”

Although Millie didn’t have an assignment for Annette, but she did have a plan for herself.  Head back to the scene of the incident, and there was no time like the present!

Chapter 5

The spa deck was empty.  Millie took the steps two at a time, passing by the deserted VIP area on her way.  She shivered in the damp evening air.  It was a bit creepy being up there all alone, knowing that only hours earlier a young man’s last few moments on earth had been spent right here.

She wandered over to the railing and rested her elbows on the top rail.  The ocean below was dark – almost black.  Black like death.  She stared at the waves, wondering how many people were lost at sea each year.  How many dead bodies were at the bottom of the ocean.

Her mind took a dark turn.  Maybe sharks or other sea creatures ate them. Millie shook her head to clear it. 

She needed to focus.  Millie forced herself to study the area.  It wasn’t large.  Only enough room for maybe a dozen people if they were crammed in kind of tight.  No.  This area was more for intimate moments - for couples.

She studied the railing.  It was high.  Too high for someone to accidentally “fall” off.  One would either have to climb up on the rail and jump or perhaps taken off guard and pushed. 

She wandered along the sides and took one last look at the water before turning to go.  She took a step down and stopped.  Someone was coming up.  Millie backed up. Who would be coming up here this late at night?She wondered.

She melted into the shadows, listening to the light “tap, tap” as someone made their way up the stairs.  The little bit of light from the moon outlined a silhouette.  It was a woman. The figure swayed when it got to the top step, reaching out to grab the handrail as the person fought to regain their balance.

When the woman took a step closer, into the light, Millie’s eyes widened.  It was the girl – the fiancé!  She was alone.  The woman teetered back and forth, as she stumbled forward and almost fell. 

Millie caught a whiff of cinnamon.  She was certain the young woman was drunk! 

She didn’t notice Millie as she staggered toward the railing. Her back was to Millie now. 

Millie watched as the young woman leaned over the rail and heaved, which made Millie’s own stomach wrench.  Millie had a bit of a weak stomach and watching someone vomit made her want to hurl.  The sight of blood did, too. 

Millie cleared her throat.  The girl spun around.  Well, not really spun. More like drifted to the side while still gripping the handrail.  “Wh-Who’re you?”

“Millie, the assistant cruise director,” Millie replied.  “Are you alright?”  She glanced down at the young woman’s silky blue summer dress and the fresh stains now darkening the front. 

Millie swallowed hard and tried to focus on the girl – not the vomit. 

“My bo-frend.  Uh, I mean fe-ance.” Courtney hiccupped and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand.  “He drown.” She began to cry.  Huge, gulping sobs wracked her body.

Millie’s heart wrenched. She stepped closer.  She leaned forward and wrapped an arm around her shoulder, careful to steer clear of the stains.  “I’m sorry to hear that, dear.” She patted her back, not sure what else she could say that would help.

The girl dropped her head on Millie’s shoulder. Tears soaked Millie’s shirt, dampening her skin.  She wished she had a Kleenex, something she could hand the poor thing. 

Courtney hiccupped again. She raised a tear stained face and looked into Millie’s eyes.  “He dint kill himself.” She swayed ever-so-slightly. Millie reached out to hold her steady.  “Sum-sum body PUSHED him over.”

She stumbled back and pointed a crooked finger to the water.  “I went to the baf-room and when – when I came back, he was gone.” She stared out at the black water.  “I heard him scream just before he hit the water.”

She swayed back around to face Millie.  She leaned in so close; her forehead almost touched Millie’s.  Her big blue eyes, pupils dilated, bore holes.  “What if I’m nex?”

Millie put both hands on her shoulders to stop her from pulling both of them to the ground.  “Why would you think you’re next?”

“Cuz they tole Kyle he was gonna die.” She slapped her hand over her mouth and stumbled to the railing where she threw up again.  Millie looked away but she could still hear it.  She wasn’t sure what was worse – seeing someone toss their cookies – or hearing it. 

She clenched her own stomach and willed the churning to stop.

Courtney was done. She wiped her mouth on the top of her dress, which now had even more stains. 

“Who told Kyle he was gonna die?” Millie asked.

Courtney shook her head.  “I better not say.” Her eyes darted around the deck.  She waved her hand.  “I’m leeveng ina mor-morning. I should go pack.”

The poor girl was so drunk she could barely stand.  “Let me help you back to your cabin,” Millie offered.

Courtney nodded.  “Yur a nice lay-dee.” Her head rolled forward.  She squinted at Millie’s tag.  “Whas your name?”

“Millie.” 

Millie helped Courtney down the steps and it was a good thing.  There were a few times that Courtney almost tripped both of them. Millie nearly lost her hold and they lurched forward. 

“What’s your cabin number?”

Courtney lifted a hand. She extended her index finger and began to count. Her eyebrows furrowed as she stared at her wavering finger.  “One. Two. Three. Four.” Her knees started to give out. Millie wedged her shoulder under Courtney’s arm in an effort to keep her upright. 

“I’m in forty-two, ohhhhh. Four!”  Courtney smiled, proud that she remembered her cabin number. 

Millie headed for the nearest bank of elevators, half-dragging, half-carrying young Courtney.  They were halfway home!  Millie jabbed the down button and waited.  When the door opened, Millie sent up a small prayer, thankful that no one was inside to witness the scene.

Millie forced herself not to focus on her recent run in with the elevator in the atrium as the women stumbled inside. Millie pressed the close button. 

It took all of Millie’s strength to keep Courtney from sinking to the floor.  When the doors opened, the two of them stumbled out and into the hall. 

They wandered down the long hall to the aft of the ship. 

Courtney pulled her key card from the top pocket of her dress and dropped it into Millie’s open hand.  Millie slid the card into the slot and pushed the door open. 

The room was lit up like a Christmas tree.  Every single light in the entire place was on.

“’fraid of the dark,” Courtney mumbled.  Millie couldn’t blame her.  Especially considering her fiancé had just died and now the girl thought someone was out to get her.

The girls half-stepped, half-stumbled across the threshold.  Millie helped guide her across the short distance and over to the bed.  Courtney fell forward, face down on the bed, and then lay motionless. She was so still, Millie wondered if she was still alive. 

She leaned forward and studied the still figure.  She let out the breath she’d been holding when she saw Courtney’s chest rise, ever-so-slightly. 

Millie gently shook her shoulder.  “Courtney.” No response.  She leaned closer.  “Courtney!” Still nothing.  The girl was out cold. 

Millie grasped her shoulder and gently rolled her to the side.  At least if she was on her side and she threw up again, she wouldn’t suffocate, Millie reasoned. 

Millie grabbed the pillows from the bed and propped them up and around her to keep her in place.

Millie straightened.  She stuck a hand on her hip and studied the young woman’s still form.  Satisfied Courtney wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon, she offered up a quick prayer.

Millie placed the young woman’s key card on the dresser and slipped out the door, tugging on it to make sure it locked behind her.

It was late.  Millie was exhausted.  Turnover day had taken a turn for the worse.  As she crawled into bed, she had a bad feeling that tomorrow wasn’t going to be much better. 

Millie prayed for Kyle, the young man who had lost his life, and his family.  It was hard to imagine the heartbreak his family was going through right now.  She also prayed for young Courtney.  The poor thing had some rough days ahead of her. 

As soon as Millie unclasped her hands, they fell to her side and she was out, not unlike poor Courtney.


Page 4

Chapter6

Millie was dreaming.  In her dream, she was running across the lido deck.  Someone was chasing her.  She picked up the pace and began to run.

Millie cast a furtive glance over her shoulder.  The person chasing her was dark and menacing. 

Millie was certain it was a man and he was closing in on her!  Millie tried to run faster, but the faster she ran, the closer he got.

She made it to the steps, grabbed the handrails and raced down the steps.  Her feet thumped loudly on the stair treads. 

Icy fingers touched the back of her bare neck.  Millie shivered at the touch. 

She closed her eyes and the thumping came again.  Except it was louder and this time it wasn’t a dream! 

Her eyes flew open. She wasawake now and someone was pounding on the cabin door. 

Millie flung back the covers.  Her feet dropped to the floor and she shuffled over to the door, opening it just far enough to peek out through the crack.

It was Andy.  The first thing she noticed was his typically clean-shaven face had day old stubble.  The second thing she noticed was that he was wearing the same outfit he’d had on the day before.  It was almost as if he hadn’t gone to bed yet.

Millie grabbed his hand and pulled him inside. She shut the door behind them. “Are you okay?”

Andy leaned his head back against the wall and shut his eyes. “She’s dead.”

“Who is dead?”

“The girl, Courtney Earhart. They found her body a short time ago.” Andy rubbed his temple.  “The room steward knocked on the door and when she didn’t answer, he let himself in to make up the bed and clean the cabin.”

Millie swallowed hard.  “H-how did she die?” She hoped the poor thing hadn’t somehow managed to roll over and suffocate herself.  If that were the case, Millie would never be able to forgive herself. 

She knew she should have stayed with her, waited until she was semi-sober before leaving. Millie had been 100% certain the girl was out for the night; convinced that she would probably wake up with a killer hangover but at least she would wake up.  This didn’t seem to be the case now. 

Andy rubbed the stubble on his chin.  “Overdose.  She left a suicide note.” 

“Overdose?”  Millie would have thought it would be alcohol poisoning.

Andy nodded.  “Some sort of anti-depressant.  They found the empty bottle next to her body.”

Millie furrowed her brows.  How could that be?  Courtney wasn’t even capable of walking to the bed by herself, let alone finding a bottle of prescription drugs and downing the whole thing.  On top of that, she obviously had a weak stomach.  Millie herself had been a witness to that.  It was very odd.  Something was not adding up.

“Where is she now?” 

Andy shoved his hands in his pockets.  “In the cooler, right next to her fiancé, Kyle.”

“Cooler?”

“You know…the morgue.”

If there was any comforting thought to the entire tragedy, it was that they were together now.  “Can we make a run down to her room?  You know, so I can take a peek?”

Millie held her breath.  It didn’t hurt to ask.  She wasn’t sure if Andy would agree or not.

“That’s why I’m here.  You have a nose for this stuff and now with two deaths in less than 24 hours, we’re going to need all the help we can get.”

Millie made a quick trip to the bathroom to change into street clothes before she grabbed her cell phone and followed Andy out of the cabin. 

Millie mulled over the previous evening’s events and her conversation with a very intoxicated Courtney.  She remembered how Courtney had mentioned she thought Kyle had been murdered and alluded to the fact that she might be next.   

She would tell Andy what had transpired the night before but not until she had a chance to look around the cabin for clues.  “I have something to tell you, but want to wait until I look at the room.”

He didn’t have a chance to answer.  They were standing outside the open cabin door.  Two men, dressed in ship’s security uniform, were inside.  Millie tiptoed in, careful not to touch anything. 

She plucked her cell phone from her front pocket and began snapping pictures.  She took pictures of the bed, the floor. With the tip of her shoe, she eased the bathroom door open and took a couple quick photos.

The closet door behind her was ajar.  She stuck her elbow in the gap and nudged the door open before snapping a few shots of the interior.

Satisfied that she had as many photos as she would possibly need, she turned to Andy.  “Any chance I can take a peek in the you-know-what?” She jerked her head toward the hall.

He nodded and waved her out.  They walked silently down the long hall.  When they got to the stairs, they made their way down several flights and headed in the direction of the medical center. 

They stopped at the end of a long hall, in front of a door marked, “Restricted Area.” Andy pulled his key card from his pants pocket and inserted it in the slot. 

Millie sucked in a breath.  She wasn’t used to looking at dead bodies.  Only on TV. She hoped she wouldn’t embarrass herself and pass out cold.

“…better to ask for forgiveness than ask for permission,” Andy was saying.

“I’m sorry, Andy.  I didn’t catch all that.”

“No.  I was just saying I’m not sure if this is against policy, letting you back here and all.  But that I’d rather ask for forgiveness than ask for permission.”

Millie liked that saying.  She’d have to remember that for future reference.  If she overstepped her boundaries.  Say, during an investigation.

She followed Andy into the small room.  One bare bulb hung from the low ceiling.  The room was cold and sterile. Millie shivered.

Over in the corner, pressed together against the far wall, were two gurneys.  A white sheet covered each of the gurneys.  The outline of bodies was clearly visible: the bodies of Kyle Zondervan and Courtney Earhart.  “Are these being taken off today?”

Andy answered in a low voice, almost a whisper.  “Yes, the authorities are waiting for customs to clear the ship.”

He took a step closer.  “You want to take a peek?”

Millie was torn.  She did and she didn’t.  What if there was a clue, something that would help solve the murders…unless, of course, Courtney was responsible for their deaths. 

No! Something in Millie’s gut told her it wasn’t that cut and dried.  Determined to get to the bottom of it, she took a deep breath and nodded.  “I’m ready.”

Andy lowered the sheet that covered Kyle Zondervan’s body first.  Millie avoided looking at his face.  He was dressed in khaki shorts and a pale green button down shirt.  On his feet was a pair of tennis shoes. 

She switched her phone to camera and took a quick snapshot.  “Okay.”

Andy carefully covered him back up and shifted to Courtney’s body.  Millie knew this one would be harder to see.  He pulled the sheet back and once again, Millie avoided looking at her face.  She took a couple quick photos.  “That should be enough.”

Andy pulled the sheet back over her body and they stepped from the room.  “So what do you think?”

Millie looked up and down the corridor.  There was a group of people further down the hall, out of earshot.  Then she dropped the bombshell.  “I met Courtney last night.  She was up in the VIP area.”

She went on to explain to Andy everything that had happened.  How Courtney was so drunk, Millie helped her back to her room and that when they got there, the young woman had passed out on the bed.  “She was out cold and that’s why I’m not sure I believe that she committed suicide.  I mean, she couldn’t even stand up, let alone write a suicide note and then down a bunch of pills.” She shook her head.  “Something doesn’t add up here.”

Andy tugged on the edge of his ear. “They’re comparing the handwriting on the note to the form that Courtney filled out the other day when she boarded.”

The “form” was a form all passengers were required to fill out prior to boarding.  It was a small questionnaire, really, where guests checked boxes and signed off saying they hadn’t been exposed to certain illnesses and that they themselves had no flu-like symptoms.

“What about witnesses?  Friends of the couple?” Millie remembered the previous night in the club when Courtney and her friends had been off in the corner drinking.  Surely, someone would be able to shed some light on Courtney’s state of mind and her relationship with Kyle.  It would also be helpful to know whether or not it was on the rocks. 

“They’ve been interviewed,” Andy said. He looked down at his crumpled shirt and wrinkled slacks.  “I have to go shower before guests are up and around.  Can’t have the cruise director looking like a train wreck.”

The two wandered down the steps to “I-95,” the main employee corridor and crew quarters.  “I’ll meet you up in my office in an hour.” Millie nodded and watched as he disappeared down the hall and around the corner. She headed back to her cabin to go over what she had so far.

The cabin was empty when she got there. In fact, now that Millie thought about it, it was empty when Andy showed up on her doorstep earlier.  Sarah, Millie’s cabin mate, must have pulled an early shift. 

Millie grabbed a clean uniform from the closet and slipped it on.  She pulled out the only chair in the cabin and plopped down at the desk. With her glasses firmly on her nose, she scrolled through the photos of the VIP deck right after Kyle went overboard. 

Somehow, she needed to talk to the friends of Courtney and Kyle, to see what their thoughts were.  That was her first order of business. 

When Millie got to the second picture, she noticed Zack, standing off to the side.  He didn’t look happy. Why was he there?  Had he just happened to be passing by and stumbled upon the accident after it happened?  Zack was next on her list.

She studied the photo of the suicide note. 

Next, she focused on the picture of the cabin.  It looked a lot like it had the previous night when Millie had helped Courtney to her room. 

She flipped past the photo of the makeup counter, then scrolled back. She tapped the screen and zoomed in.  The room card.  The one that Millie had placed on the counter before leaving was in the exact spot that Millie had left it, which meant that Courtney never left the room after Millie. 

There was something different about the photos.  Something that Millie couldn’t quite put her finger on.  She’d have to think about it, but for now, she had to get going.  It was time for work.

Chapter 7

Millie wandered into the backstage dressing room on her way to Andy’s small office. Andy and Zack were standing in the far corner.  Andy’s face, red with frustration, was mere inches from Zack’s face.  Millie could hear every single word. 

She scooched a little closer but still out of sight.  Millie pretended to straighten some of the makeup cases and arrange the hairbrushes.  “…and you should never have been up on deck.  If anyone finds out you knew Courtney, dated her even, and that you were up on deck when her fiancé died, it is going to put you right in line for suspicion.”

Millie’s eyes widened. Zack had dated the dead girl?If that were true, he would most certainly be a suspect.

“But she asked me to come up there and talk to her,” Zack argued.

“Why?”

Zack shrugged.  “Never got a chance to ask.  All I know is she was upset and I couldn’t tell her no.”

Millie slipped back around the corner before Zack or Andy spotted her. 

She cleared her throat and entered the room.  “Hey guys.”

Andy stepped forward while Zack eased past Millie and hightailed out of the dressing room. 

The two of them stepped into his small office, which was really just a partitioned cubby off in the corner.  They went over the schedule for the next two days. 

Millie wasn’t surprise that he put her in charge of trivia again.  She was surprised that he scheduled her to host bingo.  On her own.  She started to protest. Andy held up his hand.  “You’re good Millie.  Don’t sell yourself short.”

“But…”

“No buts.”

Millie closed her mouth and they continued going over the rest of the schedule. 

After they finished, Millie headed to the kitchen to track down Annette.  A lot had happened since the three women had met in the library. 

Annette looked as if she were about to explode when she saw Millie saunter in. She grabbed her hand and pulled her to the corner, right next to the walk-in freezer.  “The fiancé is dead,” she hissed.

Millie nodded.  “Andy told me.”

“She left a suicide note.”

“Andy told me that, too.”

Annette stuck her hand on her hip.  She tipped her head to the side. “Well, did he tell you the bodies are off the ship today but all the friends decided to stay on board?”

“No.” Millie shook her head.  She did not know that but she was glad they were staying on.  Hopefully, she’d have a chance to track them down.

Annette glanced around. She lowered her voice.  “Cat said the friends of the couple were in the store this morning.  She said to stop by when we had time.  She might have something.”

That was promising.  A lead! Millie turned to go.  “I’ll head up there now.”

“Without me?” Annette seemed so disappointed; Millie relented and told her she would wait.  That they would go together.

Millie left the kitchen promising Annette they’d run by there when she took her afternoon break at three. She had half an hour before the first round of trivia started.  Millie decided it would be best to avoid the gift shop since it would be too tempting to swing on in there.

Instead, she decided to take a shortcut through the casino, which was directly across from the shops.  She made a beeline down the center aisle when something – actually, someone – caught her attention.

There, sitting at a row of machines near the door, was the couple that had been on the deck when Kyle went overboard: Courtney and Kyle’s friends.  They were engrossed in play and didn’t notice Millie as she slowed to a stroll and pretended to study the machines. 

The girl picked up a half-empty beer bottle and took a sip.

The whole thing was a bit odd.  The two of them didn’t appear to be distraught over the sudden death of their supposed friends.  Shouldn’t they be a bit more somber, more subdued? 

The guy leaned over and whispered something in the woman’s ear.  She laughed and went back to playing her machine. With friends like that, who needs enemies?Millie thought to herself. 

The woman glanced up at Millie.  Her eyes narrowed as they traveled up Millie’s uniform and settled on her nametag. She grabbed her beer off the ledge and tapped the man’s leg.  “C’mon.  Let’s get out of here.”

The two abruptly rose from their seats and exited the casino.  Millie watched them as they headed to the elevators.  Maybe they thought she was following them. 

Millie shrugged and went in the opposite direction, toward the trivia area.  She spent the next hour engaging a large group of passengers.  This trivia contest was a bit different from the others she had hosted so far.  Millie played clips of hit songs and the guests had to guess the artist and song name.

It was harder than it seemed and no one got them all right, although one couple came close.  Millie was excited with the prize this time.  It was a buy-one, get one-free coupon for bingo. 

She was wrapping up the trivia, putting the folder in the cupboard and locking the door when Annette careened around the corner.  “You didn’t see Cat yet?”

“Nope.” Millie shook her head.  “We’re going together, remember?”

The two women picked up the pace as they made their way into the gift shop.  Cat was waiting on customers so Millie and Annette wandered around, inspecting the what-nots inside.  After the customers left, Millie and Annette headed to the cash register near the back. 

Cat skipped the small talk.  “The couple came back in.  You know, the specialty products purchasers.”

She patted the top of her head, waved to someone through the plate glass window, then leaned forward.  “They seemed pretty shook up about their friends.”

The complete opposite of what Millie had just experienced.  “Go on.”

“Well, the girl had said Courtney was getting threatening notes and she felt like she was being stalked.”

“And?”

“Well, I said. ‘How can that be? You think someone on board the cruise ship was out to get them?’”

“Then the girl said that Zack.  You know, Zack Smythe, had dated Courtney and had some sort of serious obsession with her.”

Zack had been in the area when young Kyle went overboard.  Was Zack there when Courtney died?  He wouldn’t have access to guests cabins, unlike Millie who had a master key.  Of course, Courtney could have let him in, let someone in her room that she knew.

Things were not looking good for Zack, at least not in Millie’s opinion. 

“So the couple are staying on?  The friends?” 

Cat grabbed a bottle of glass cleaner and sprayed the top of the counter.  “That is one of the things I asked.  You know, after all, it sounds like they were good friends and such.”

Millie hoped they were staying.  She was planning on the fact that they were staying.  There was more to their story than they were letting on and Millie planned to get to the bottom of it. 

Then Cat dropped a bombshell or, as Millie liked to describe it, another wrench into the mystery.  “Yes.  They’re finishing the cruise.  Not only them, but Kyle’s ex-girlfriend, who also happens to be Courtney’s sister.”


Page 5

Chapter 8

Millie shook her head as if to clear it.  These young kids were beginning to sound like the old soap opera, “Peyton Place,” where everyone seemed to be running around with everyone else.

Cat stuck her hand on her hip.  Millie could tell she had something juicy to add.  Probably another unexpected twist.  “The girls – Courtney and her sister, Chloe, were identical twins.  You know.  They look, or looked, exactly alike.”

Millie’s forehead crinkled.  This did add a new level of intrigue and mystery to the case.  Zack had dated Courtney and he was at the scene of the first incident.

The friends didn’t seem particularly shaken up by the murder/suicide of their close friends.  On top of that, Courtney’s twin sister, Chloe, was still on board the ship and she had dated her sister’s fiance!

“You have any idea who the friends are?  Do you know their names?”

Cat shook her head.  “Nope.  I tried to keep them in the store, make enough small talk where they mentioned it or even called each other by name but they never did.”

“What about looking at their room cards when they – ahem – purchased their goods?” Annette asked.

Cat frowned.  “I did glance at the card the woman handed me and I saw the name.” She let out a sigh.  “For the life of me, I just can’t remember what it was.”

Millie snapped her fingers.  “I have an idea on how we can get their names.”

Maybe Donovan Sweeney could help her.  After all, he was the purser on board the ship.  Didn’t he have access to all the records of the passengers?  She wasn’t sure if it might be against company policy but at least it was worth a try!

Millie added it to her to-do list.  First, she planned to make a run back to the dressing room to see if Zack was around.   

Millie’s heart sank when she spotted several of the dancers clustered in a small group in the dressing room back stage.  Zack was right in the thick of it.  He looked upset, his face flushed and swollen. 

Millie thought he looked as if he might cry.  When the others saw Millie coming, they stepped aside and busied themselves at their respective counters.

Zack didn’t seem to have much luck keeping the women in his life alive.  First Olivia LaShay had been murdered and now Courtney Earhart. 

Millie made her way over to Zack, leaned forward and gave him a warm hug.  A small sob escaped his lips.

“I can’t believe she’s gone.” The words escaped Zack’s lips in a low moan.  “She didn’t kill herself.  I just know she didn’t.”

Millie didn’t think so, either, considering the condition she had left her in. 

She led Zack into Andy’s small cubicle and motioned to the chair.  She pulled a tissue from a nearby Kleenex box and handed it to him. 

Zack wiped his eyes and loudly blew his nose.  Millie eased into the chair next to him.  “They’re already questioning me as if I’m a suspect.”

Millie wondered who “they” were.

“You know. Dave Patterson.” 

Millie nodded.  That made sense, since Dave had been one of the first people on the scene when Kyle went overboard.  On top of that, he was head of security.

“What do you think happened?” she asked.

“I don’t think Courtney killed herself.  I don’t think she killed Kyle, either.” He wadded the tissue in a ball.  “Think about it.  Kyle was way bigger than Courtney.  Do you really think she would have the strength to push a big guy like him overboard?”

Millie wasn’t sure how much she should be telling Zack, but she had to get his thoughts.  After all, he knew Courtney better than most.  “I met Courtney last night up near the scene of the accident.  She was drunker than a skunk.  She mentioned feeling threatened.  It was almost as if she thought someone was trying to kill her.  Kill them,” Millie added.

Zack slowly nodded.  “Courtney wanted to talk to me.  She left me a message saying it was urgent.  That’s why I was up on deck, to try to track her down.”

“What about her sister, Chloe?”

Zack shook his head. “I can’t see Chloe as a killer but then you never know.  She dated Kyle for about a year.  When they broke up, Kyle started dating Courtney.”

“How did Chloe feel about that?”

Zack shrugged.  “How would anyone feel if you were madly in love with a guy and he broke up with you only to turn around and propose to your twin sister?”

That’s what Millie suspected.  A love triangle gone wrong, but to what level was the hurt and hate?  Was it deep enough to kill someone? Millie was about to find out.

Zack extended his arm. “Chloe was so in love with Kyle, she had his name tattooed on her arm.” He pointed to the inside of his arm, just above his elbow.  It was in a place one would not be able to see unless the under arm was visible.  “Right there.”

“Is Chloe capable of murder?” He shrugged. “I don’t know.  All I do know is it wasn’t me.”

Millie wanted to believe him.

“Can you help me get out of this mess?  Andy told me they might fire me if they can’t clear my name soon.”

Her heart sunk because she didn’t want to see Zack go.  He was one of her favorite staff on board.  Always upbeat, trying to help Millie adjust, giving her tips, encouraging her, pushing her onto the stage when she froze…

She patted his hand.  “I’ll do whatever I can to get to the bottom of this,” she promised him.

Millie got to her feet. “First, I need to talk to the friends.  Do you know their names?”

Zack grabbed another tissue and dabbed at his eyes.  “Adam and Melissa West.” 

That should make it easy for Donovan to find their room. She repeated the name in her head, hoping she wouldn’t forget it!

She whispered it under her breath, all the way to the guest services desk.  She must have looked a bit weird talking to herself as she walked. She did get a few odd stares, not that she minded.  It was more important to remember the names than to worry about appearances.

Her eyes scanned the customer service desk.  Donovan wasn’t on duty.  She grabbed a pad of paper and pencil to jot down a note.  “I need to talk to you ASAP.” She folded the message in half and stuffed it in Donovan’s cubby. 

Millie turned to go and ran smack dab into a woman that could have been Courtney Earhart’s twin.  It had to be her twin sister, Chloe! 

Millie shifted to the side. Chloe stepped to the counter.  The only other person working behind the counter was busy helping another passenger.

Millie seized her opportunity.  “Can I help you with something?”

Chloe gave Millie a sideways glance.  “I-I was gonna see if they might let me into my sister’s cabin.  Courtney Earhart.”  The girl pulled a card from her pocket.  “Here.  Here’s my ID.”

Millie glanced at the key card:Chloe Earhart. 

Millie handed the card back and reached for the lanyard around her own neck - the one that gave her access to all areas of the ship, including passengers’ cabins.  “Is there something inside you need to get?” 

Millie wasn’t sure if they still considered Courtney and Kyle’s cabin a crime scene and if it was off-limits. She was torn.  Shecouldopen the door to Courtney’s cabin.  She could also get in a whole lot of hot water…probably.  Of course, she could claim ignorance as a new employee.

Erring on the side of the investigation, Millie touched her arm.  “I can let you in.”

Chloe Earhart looked up.  “You can?”

The women headed to the elevator.  “The stairs will be quicker,” Millie pointed out.

Chloe nodded.  “Okay.”

Questions were swirling ‘round Millie’s mind.  Questions she was dying to ask.  Like why would she stay on board and not get off with her sister’s body, not to mention her ex-boyfriend’s body?

Chloe clenched the handrail.  “I know I should’ve gotten off.  My parents.  Well, they’re devastated.”

Chloe stopped abruptly.  “My sister won’t be laid to rest until I get back home.  I’ll get off this ship, but I’m not leaving until I get to the bottom of this and find Courtney’s killer,” she vowed, “and Kyle’s.”

Millie’s eyes wandered down her arm in search of the tattoo that Zack had mentioned.  The spot with Kyle’s name.  Unfortunately, Chloe was wearing long sleeves.

She followed Chloe down the steps to Deck 4. The same deck Millie had been on the night before when she helped Courtney to her cabin.

They stopped in front of cabin 4204.  Courtney’s cabin. Millie glanced down the long hall, took a deep breath, and lifted her lanyard from her neck.  She pushed the key card in the slot.  The lock clicked, Millie pushed the door open and followed Chloe Earhart inside. 

Chloe spun around. She glanced down at Millie’s tag.  “You - you’re…”

“Millie Sanders, the assistant cruise director.”

Chloe nodded.  “I ran into Zack Smythe earlier.  Are you the one that helped Courtney to her cabin?”

Millie nodded. 

“So you were the last person to see Court alive?”

Millie blinked.  She had been the last person – which would make her a prime suspect.  The thought hadn’t occurred to her.  Did that mean security would be coming to track her down and arrest her?

Chloe didn’t wait for an answer.  She opened the bathroom door, looked inside and closed it. She wandered around the room, as if looking for something. 

“Is there something specific you needed, dear?”

Chloe looked at Millie then dropped her gaze to the floor.  She shrugged.  “I don’t know.  A clue maybe?  Something the investigators might have missed?”

Millie didn’t think that would be the case.  After all, the room was small.  It wouldn’t take long to search every square inch of the cabin.

Still, Chloe seemed determined.  She lifted the edge of the mattress.

Millie pulled open a closet door and peered inside the dark space.  It was empty. She started to shut the door when something caught her eye. Something blue.  Millie reached in and grabbed hold of a silk fabric.

She pulled it out and unfolded it, holding it up. 

Chloe dropped the edge of the mattress and stepped closer.  “What’s that?”

Millie frowned.  What it was - was the stained dress that Courtney Earhart had been wearing the night of her death.

Millie draped the dress over her arm. She slipped her cell phone from her pocket and turned it on.  She scrolled to the pictures she had taken of Courtney in the morgue. She slipped her glasses on and pulled the phone close.  Courtney was wearing a different dress - a pink one! 

That meant that if Courtney committed suicide, she managed to change into a clean dress, write a suicide note and then overdose on a bunch of pills, all the while inebriated to the point of passing out.  This scenario was highly unlikely.

Chloe pointed to the dress draped across Millie’s arm. “This is the dress Courtney was wearing the last time I saw her alive!”

Millie turned the phone so Chloe could see the dress Courtney had on when security discovered her body. “Does this dress look familiar?”

Chloe’s eyes grew wide.  “That dress belongs to Melissa!  I watched her unpack it and put it in her closet!  I only know ‘cuz I remember telling her how much I liked it.”

Chloe lifted the stained dress from Millie’s arm.  She held it up.  “Maybe you can talk to Adam and Melissa?”

Millie paused.  Why would she talk to Adam and Melissa if she, Chloe, was bound and determined to get to the bottom of her sister’s death?

“I could.” She looked around.  “I need to find out what cabin they’re in.”

“Well, that’s easy,” Chloe replied, “it’s right next door!”

Millie’s radio began to squawk.  “Millie. Do you copy?” It was Andy.  She glanced at her watch and discovered she was late!  Ten minutes late to be precise.  “I’m here, Andy.  I’m on my way.”

“Meet me in front of the watermelon.” The “watermelon” was a carved, Styrofoam fixture that separated the buffet line from the tables in the eating area.  If one looked at it real close, you could see the food stains and nicks that covered the front. 

“10-4.”

Millie turned to go.  “You need to take the dress to Detective Patterson.  It’s evidence.”

Chloe followed her to the door.  “So maybe we can work together to track down my sister’s killer?” 

Chloe kept saying her “sister’s killer” but there was no mention of poor Kyle. 

Millie’s eyes wandered to Chloe’s long-sleeved blouse, which was odd considering they were in the tropics.

Chloe followed Millie into the hall.  The poor thing looked so sad!  Millie impulsively turned around and hugged her slender shoulders, which trembled ever so slightly.  “I’ll see what I can do,” she promised.

“Thank you,” Chloe replied thickly.  She pressed a hand to her forehead.  “I think I need to go lie down.”

Chapter 9

 

Millie jogged down the corridor to the staircase.  She took the stairs two at a time.  She forgot how many floors it was from Deck 4 to the lido deck, which was whereWaves, the ship’s buffet area, was located.

Andy was already waiting for Millie when she reached the watermelon.  He narrowed his eyes when she got close.  “What happened to you?”

“I-I.  Well, I ran in Chloe Earhart, Courtney’s twin sister, down near guest services.  She’s beside herself what with her sister’s death.”

Andy crossed his arms and rocked back on his heels.  “Why on earth didn’t she get off the ship with her sister?”

“She’s convinced her sister was murdered and seems determined to get to the bottom of it.”

Andy tapped the side of his face.  “Ah, I see. So you offered to help find her sister’s killer?”

Millie shrugged.  “Kind of…sort of.”

He waved his hand.  “You know, since you were the last person to see Courtney alive, Dave Patterson will want to speak to you.”

That didn’t bother Millie.  What did bother her was the fact she was getting a reputation for being a busy body, which she didn’t think she was.  It wasn’t her fault she just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

She thought about Dave.  He was a nice enough guy.  She wasn’t sure that he liked her.  After all, she always seemed to be underfoot and in his way.

“You still have your list for today?”  The “list” was Millie’s list of duties. She patted her top pocket.  “Right here.  In an hour, I report to stage to help Alison with the line dancing class.” Alison was one of the other dancers.  Millie liked her but didn’t really know her all that well.  Actually, the only one she really knew was Zack.

She decided she needed to get to know them all a bit better.  One never knew when they might come in handy while investigating a murder! 

“C’mon.” Andy waved his arm. “Let’s eat.”

Millie followed Andy over to the pizza counter.  She eyed the pies in the display case. “What do you recommend?”

“Hawaiian is my favorite but the pepperoni is pretty good, too.”

Millie grabbed a slice of pepperoni pizza along with a small side dish of pasta salad.  The two wandered to a table in the corner.  “Oh! I almost forgot.  The captain would like to see you up on the bridge at 1400 hours. To you civilians, that would be 2:00 this afternoon.”

Millie had just taken a bite of her pepperoni pizza.  It tasted delicious, at least the first bite.    Now it felt like she was chewing on a chunk of cardboard. She chewed a few more bites and then swallowed the thick lump.

Millie grabbed her glass of water and took a big swig to wash it down.  “W-why me?”

He shrugged.  “Maybe he wants to talk to you about the murder.”

“You think he suspects me?”

Andy wasn’t quite sure, and he wasn’t one to question the captain.  It was as much a mystery to Andy as it was to Millie. 

“I don’t know, Millie,” he admitted.  “All I can tell you is in all my years as cruise director, Captain Armati has never asked to see my assistant.”

If that was supposed to make Millie feel better, it didn’t.  In fact, it had the opposite effect.  Her brow began to sweat at the thought of Captain Armati.  She’d met him only once.  On her very first day and she got the distinct impression he didn’t care for her.

Maybe he was going to fire her!  “Do you think I’m getting the boot?”

Andy picked a chunk of pineapple from the top of his slice of pizza and popped it into his mouth.  “Well, I would hope he would have given me some sort of warning if that was his intent.”

Andy picked up his glass of lemonade and took a long swallow.  “Of course, he may not tell me in case I tip you off.”

That made sense to Millie.  Certain she was about to get the ax only days into her new job, she shoved the plate and the rest of her pizza aside.  She had completely lost her appetite. What would she tell her children?  That their mother, the loser, had managed to be fired less than a month into the first paid job she’d had in years?

Andy reached over and patted her hand.  “Don’t worry about it.  If that’s the case, I’ll try to go to bat for you.”

“If I have to get another assistant, that means I’ll have to share my cabin again.” He winked. 

Andy had it made.  His cabin was a bit larger than the rest of the staff.  It was large enough to accommodate a small table and a couple chairs.  There was also a sofa and nice, new flat screen TV. 

Plus, Millie couldn’t guarantee, but his bath sure seemed a bit bigger than the one she and Sarah shared, which was barely big enough to turn around.  Every time Millie climbed into the shower and turned even just a little, the shower curtain clung to her!

“Well, that makes me feel better,” she said grimly.

Andy placed his empty plates on his tray and stood.  “Let me know as soon as the meeting is over.  I’m opening for the afternoon galley tour and will be back in my office after that.”

Andy didn’t really have an “office.” It was more of a cubby tucked back in the corner, behind the dressing room at the back of the stage. 

Millie’s steps dragged as she made her way to the theater for the line dancing, as if she was making her way to her own execution.  She wondered how she’d gotten herself into this predicament.  She was beginning to take a real shine to the job, getting to know some of the crew and staff.  Millie was making friends, solving murders, and they were paying her for it!  Finally, she had purpose in her life again.

The thought of going back to the suburbs and facing the four walls, wandering around with nothing to do and sinking back into a depression was not what she wanted to do.  Maybe she could beg him for mercy.  Surely the man had some sort of compassion.  She could explain her situation.

Her steps lightened.  That was what she was going to do!  Plead her case.  There was no way Captain Armati could fire her if she told him how much the job meant to her!

Millie picked up the pace as she entered the theater.  When she spotted Alison setting up on stage, Millie rolled up her sleeves and bound up the steps.  “Let’s get this show on the road!”


Page 6

Chapter 10

The line dancing class was way more fun than Millie had thought it would be.  Along with Alison, there was another young dancer, Tara.  Millie took an immediate liking to Tara.  She was bubbly and she smiled all the time.  Whenever she looked at Millie, her eyes twinkled with mischief.  As if she was about to get in trouble but because she was so sweet, it wouldn’t matter.

She and Alison seemed to like each other and the two women taught not only the 15 or so passengers some basic line dance steps, they taught Millie, who had never kicked up a pair of cowboy boots in her life.

It took her a little bit to get the hang of it and she was glad no one she knew was there to watch her embarrass herself, but the girls were patient and they made it fun.  The passengers were having a ball and soon, they were groovin’ to Achy Breaky Heart. 

When the class was over, Millie’s feet were sore, but her face was smiling.  She thanked both of the girls for showing her the steps.  Millie guessed she had done an okay job with her new task because they asked her if she wanted to come back and help the next afternoon when they taught a square dance class.

Millie was thrilled.  Square dancing was right up her alley. She nodded.  “I can cut the rug with the best of ‘em.”

Tara’s eyes twinkled.  “Well, maybe you can show us a thing or two.”

Millie was still smiling – sweating – but still smiling – as she walked off the stage and made her way out of the theater.  The smile lasted right up until the moment she remembered she was to meet Captain Armati. She glanced down at her watch.  She had ten minutes to make it up to the bridge. 

Millie’s steps dragged as she made her way to the bridge.  The captain held her very future in his hands.  With just a single word, her world could come crashing down around her! 

Millie’s hand shook as she tapped on the outer door that opened to the bridge.  She sucked in her breath, closed her eyes and whispered a small prayer.  “Please God.  Let me keep this job.  You know how much it means to me.”

The door swung open.  Millie flashed startled eyes at the man in the doorway.  His outfit was similar to Captain Armati’s uniform, complete with the stars and bars on the shoulders.

She glanced down at the tag. Staff Captain Antonio Vitale. His brown eyes were warm and welcoming.  A small smile played across his lips as he looked at Millie’s tag.  “Ahh. The infamous Mildred Sanders.”

His heavy accent was charming and if Millie weren’t so dang nervous, it would sound downright sexy.  But she was nervous.  So nervous that her armpits were damp and her mouth dry.  She wished it were the other way around.  Her mouth moist and her armpits dry.

She sucked in a breath and smiled brightly. She held out her hand.  “How do you do.  Uh, Captain Vital.”

Millie just about passed out.  It wasn’t Captain Vital.  It was Captain Vitale! The man chuckled.  “Vital, Vitale.  It’s all the same.” He waved a hand to the side.  “Please. Please come in.  Captain Armati is expecting you.”

Millie groaned inwardly.  That’s what terrified her. Expectations. Expectations she was certain she was not living up to. Why, oh why, could she not behave herself?  Why did she have to prove that she could be just as good a detective as her ex-husband, Roger, had been?

Captain Vitale cocked his head.  “Follow me, please.”

Millie obediently trudged behind the captain as he walked down the narrow hall and into the bridge.  There were only two other people inside: a woman in uniform and Captain Armati.  The woman was off to one side, studying what looked like an oversized computer screen. 

Captain Armati was front and center.  He held a pair of binoculars to his eyes as he studied the vast ocean through the wall of windows.

Millie wished she hadn’t been so nervous. It would be cool to stand there and check out the view.  All that water.  The amazing thing was - the captain knew exactly where they were at – and where they were going. 

Millie wished she felt the same.  She had no idea where she was going.  Probably home.

Captain Armati set the binoculars on the top of the counter.  He shifted his body, his gaze coming to rest on Millie.  The sweat had traveled from her armpits to the top of her forehead as beads of perspiration formed on her brow.  Millie was so freaked out, she didn’t even wipe it away.  Soon it would be trickling into her eyes.  No matter.  She would be history and this whole moment of sheer terror forgotten.

The captain skipped the pleasantries.  “Millie Sanders. Follow me.” He didn’t wait for an answer.  Instead, he abruptly headed to the other side of the bridge - the opposite end from where Millie had just come in.  She picked up the pace and trailed along as he walked down a small corridor.  At the end of the small hall was a gray metal door marked “Private.” Above the silver door lever was a key pad.

Captain Armati punched in a code and opened the door.  He stepped inside and held the door.  “Please.  Come in.”

Millie let out the breath she’d been holding.  He had said “please.” Maybe she wasn’t in as deep of doo-doo as she originally imagined. 

There was no time to dwell on thepleasepart.  Millie looked around.  She was in some sort of private apartment.  Her eyes widened as it dawned on her that this had to be Captain Armati’s private quarters!

It was a masculine space. A dark, gray sofa sat against the far wall.  In front of that was a round wooden coffee table.  On the other side of the room was a flat screen TV that hung on the wall. 

Next to the TV were two floor-to-ceiling bookcases, crammed full of books.  A wingback chair was directly in front of the bookcases and a tall lamp with an ornate, Victorian shade hovered over the top of the wingback. 

It was the perfect spot to read a book, escape the hordes of passengers or avoid complaining crew.

It was definitely a cozy retreat. 

Beyond the living room was a small kitchenette.  Millie couldn’t see the whole thing.  Only enough to know there was a small stove, a sink and enough counter space to cook a gourmet meal. 

Millie didn’t want to seem as if she was snooping.  She lowered her eyes and studied her fingernails. Her palms were sweating. She rubbed them on the front of her pants. 

Captain Armati stepped past the living room and stopped in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows on the other side of the room.  Millie, unsure what she should do, followed him.  Plus, she wanted to check out the view.  This was a whole lot different from her little hole in the wall.  Windowless, claustrophobic hole in the wall.  Still, she was grateful for her job.

Which was in jeopardy.  The fear came rushing back as she followed the captain’s gaze and stared out the window, certain this was one of the last times she would have a view such as this.  There were absolutely zero views like this in the suburbs of Grand Rapids!

Captain Armati put his hands behind his back.  He nodded out the window.  “I love the ocean.”

Millie nodded.  “Me, too.”

He glanced at Millie.  “It’s in my blood.  You know, my father was a captain.”

She didn’t know that but Millie nodded anyways.

He went on.  “Spent his whole life sailing the world.” He abruptly changed the subject.  “Do you like working on the ship?”

“I-uh.  Yes, sir.  I mean, yes, Captain Armati.” The words stuck in her mouth like six saltine crackers without a drop of water to wash them down.  “I love the job,” she admitted.  There.  It was out.  He could fire her, but at least he would know he was destroying her dreams!

He held up a hand.  “Stay here.”

He didn’t wait for an answer.  He deftly sidestepped Millie and headed up the stairs on the opposite side of the room.  Stairs Millie hadn’t even noticed. 

Her eyes followed him up.  The wonder of it all! This place had a second floor! 

She watched him stroll across the open loft and disappear behind a door.  If he was going to fire her, he was being nice about it.  Maybe this was some sort of test.  Then she remembered Andy saying that the captain had never asked an assistant cruise director to come to the bridge.

Millie nervously shifted from foot to foot.  He was taking forever!  The minutes dragged by.  Maybe something happened to him.  Like he suddenly became ill.  She wondered if she should go check on him.

Millie took a step in the direction when the upper door suddenly opened.  The captain was back – and he wasn’t alone.  There, trotting along beside him was one of the cutest little dogs Millie had ever seen.  He wasn’t much bigger than a doggie dish.

“Yip!”  The little ball of fur eyed Millie before he scooted down the stairs and darted to her.  He raced around her feet a few times before stepping on her shoes and lifting his front legs.  He pawed at her shins.

The captain looked down at the bundle of fur sitting on Millie’s feet.  “This is Scout.”

Millie bent over and stuck her hand out so Scout could sniff it.  Then she reached out to rub the tip of Scout’s ear. 

Captain Armati sighed.  “The dog is a gift from my daughter, Fiona.”

Scout ran over to the captain who promptly picked him up.  The dog nuzzled his neck.  Millie did a mental shake.  This man loved that little dog.  But the ship didn’t allow dogs - or any animals for that matter.  That was, of course, unless you were the captain.

“Scout is a birthday present,” he explained.

He set the wisp of a dog down.  The dog ran back to Millie and pawed at her ankle. She picked him up and held him close.  Close enough for him to lick the end of her nose.  The dog was adorable. 

Scout was a cute name.  She remembered her dog, Daisy. Sudden tears welled in the back of her eyes.  Millie blinked rapidly.

She hoped the Captain hadn’t noticed, but he had.  “You don’t like dogs?”

Millie sucked in a breath.  “I love dogs.  My dog, Daisy, died a few months back.  Daisy’s death was the last straw.  She was the reason I decided to apply for a job on the ship.  Once she was gone, nobody back home needed me.”

Captain Armati stepped close to Millie.  “I’m sorry.”

Millie nodded.  “Me, too.” 

Scout was trying to climb the front of Millie.  He got hold of a chunk of her hair that had come loose from the tidy bun and began to gnaw on it.  The crazy thing was cuter than a button.  How could anyone not become attached?

“I was hoping you could help me out,” he said.

Millie set Scout on the floor.  He ran over to a small box of stuffed animals in the corner of the room and proceeded to drag a stuffed monkey – twice as big as he was – across the floor.  He stopped in front of Millie and looked up.  “Ruff!”

“Scout gets lonely in here all day.  I need someone who can take him around.  You know, keep him company.  I thought of you.”

Millie nodded.  Perhaps it was because she was the most “grandmotherly” of the staff and crew. 

Captain Armati studied her face.  “Of course, only if you’re interested.”

Was she ever interested! Millie interrupted.  “Oh, I would love to help out!  Take Scout for walks, take him around the ship.” She paused.  “Can I take him with me around the ship?”

Scout could be her sidekick, her partner in crime…her miniature sleuth!

Captain Armati nodded.  “Of course. I have permission to keep the dog on board with me.  I guess you could say corporate bent a rule or two on my behalf.  As long as Scout doesn’t become a nuisance,” he warned.

That meant Millie would be responsible for making sure the dog didn’t get in trouble.  Heck!  Millie couldn’t even keep herself out of trouble! 

“Are you sure?”

Millie nodded.

The captain grinned.  “You have a bit of a reputation as a busybody, but I think you’re the perfect person for this job, if you’re up to it.”

“I’ll leave a small baggie of food in the table,” he continued. “Scout eats a little bit all day.”

Scout knew they were talking about him! He barked and then danced around in little circles.  It was if he somehow knew his life was about to get a lot more exciting.

Captain Armati picked Scout up and headed for the balcony.   “Let me show you around.”

He unlatched the hook and slid the slider open. The three of them stepped outside.  Millie could almost be envious of the balcony.  It was large.  On one end were two lounge chairs, a small glass top table next to each.  On the other side was a long, green strip of AstroTurf…a spot that apparently belonged to Scout. 

The captain set the pup down.  Scout pranced over to the strip and routed around, pawing at the fake grass, before darting to the other end to take care of business.

After Scout was done, they walked back inside the cabin.  The captain quietly closed the door and locked it.  “I was thinking you could come up in the morning before your shift started, take Scout out and then go back on duty until lunchtime.  After that maybe run back up here in the evening for another go ‘round the ship.  Kind of wear him out so he’ll sleep at night.”

That would be fine with Millie.  In fact, that would be more than fine!  She loved the idea!  On top of that, it meant that Millie wasn’t about to be fired.  It felt more like a promotion!


Page 7

Captain Armati walked Millie to the apartment door.  He put his hand on the door handle and paused.  “Or, if you want, you can pick him up later today…maybe later this afternoon?”

Millie reached down and patted the furry brown head.  Scout licked her hand and wagged his little stub of a tail.  “Sure!  Why not? I’ll be back at 4:00!”

Captain Armati opened the door.  “I heard you’re snooping around, asking questions about the man overboard and his fiancé that committed suicide.”

Millie’s heart sank.  She knew it was too good to be true.  The other shoe had finally dropped.  She sucked in a breath and waited for the reprimand she knew was forthcoming.

“Try to stay out of trouble this time,” he warned. “You have enough to keep yourself busy without trying to solve already-solved crimes.”

Millie opened an eye and peeked at him.  The captain was smiling.  He picked up his tiny pooch.  “Scout’s a good watch dog.  He’ll yip at anything.” Scout wriggled around and licked the captain’s chin, which made them both laugh.

“His case is here if you want to take it with you.”  There, lying on the floor next to the door, was what looked like a small overnight bag.  Millie picked it up.  It reminded her of a Louis Vuitton bag.  Except one end unzipped halfway.  It would be perfect for carrying Scout around the ship!

Millie patted Scout’s head.  “See you later Scout.”

“Yip!”

Millie stepped outside and the captain closed the door behind her.  Her steps were light. Millie almost floated across the bridge.

Staff Captain Vitale grinned at her.  “Looks like you got a new duty to add to the list.”

“More like a promotion,” Millie joked.

Chapter 11

              Andy was waiting for her inside his small cubby when she wandered to the back of the theater.  “Well?  What happened?”

Millie stared at him stone-faced. “I got a promotion. Captain gave me your job.”

Andy’s face turned pale. His mouth dropped open.  “You’re kidding.”

Millie grinned mischievously. “Yes, of course I am.  No one can take your place!”

Andy dropped the pen he’d been holding. He slammed the palm of his hand on the Formica tabletop.  “You’re gonna give an old man a heart attack!”

“You’re younger than me,” Millie pointed out.

“True,” Andy admitted.  “So what did happen?”

“I have a new sidekick.  Scout.”

“Scout?” Andy was confused.  He knew the name of every single crew and staff on the ship.  There was no one by the name of “Scout.”

“It’s Captain Armati’s dog.  A Teacup Yorkie to be precise.”

For the second time, Andy’s mouth fell open.  “There’s a dog on the ship?”  He had heard rumors – hints of a dog on board - but he’d never seen an animal.  To him, it was always nothing more than a bunch of gossip. 

Millie nodded.  “He’s about this big.”   She held out her hands.

Andy leaned back in the chair. He crossed his arms.  “So you’re saying Captain Armati has a dog, the dog is on this ship and he put you in charge of this Scout?”

“Yep.  Starting later today.  I pick Scout up at 4:00 to make our first rounds together.”

Andy Walker had heard it all.  His eyes narrowed as he studied Millie.  This woman had been on the ship just a short amount of time.  So far, there had been a murder, a man overboard, a suicide and now there was a dog on the ship?  It was almost as if no matter where Millie went, something crazy happened.

He couldn’t really call it a “black cloud” following her around.  More like a microburst of cosmic energy that surrounded her.  In all his years working with Captain Armati, he couldn’t remember the captain confiding in any of the staff.  For him to single Millie out to take care of his pet was a bit unbelievable.

He leaned forward.  “How do you do it?”

“Do what?”

“I dunno.  Get people to…” He waved his hand in the air.  “Take for example, Cat.  She doesn’t like anyone on board the ship and now you two are best buds.”

“We weren’t in the beginning,” Millie pointed out.  “Yeah, I guess she does like me.  Maybe I’m not a threat.  You know, more like a grandmotherly-type.”

“Hmm.” Andy leaned back in his chair. Maybe Millie was right.  She wasn’t threatening.  She did have that grandmother look about her.  In addition to that, she was nice, even if she was a bit on the nosy side. 

Andy remembered Millie mentioning her ex-husband. How lonely she had been after he left her.  It was one of the reasons she’d applied for the assistant cruise director job in the first place. 

Well, as long as Millie wasn’t after his job, she could watch the do and walk the dog. He changed the subject. “How’s the investigation going?”

Millie mentioned the friends that were in the cabin on the other side of Courtney and Kyle’s.   

“Let me guess.  “You’re going to talk to them.”

Millie nodded.  “After I pick up Scout.”

Andy stood. 

“You want me to bring Scout by?” she asked.

Andy nodded.  “Sure.  I can’t wait to see a broken company policy live and in action,” he said wryly.

Millie’s brows furrowed.  “Captain Armati said he had permission.” 

Millie would feel terrible if she got Captain Armati in trouble.  She was having second thoughts about taking the dog out in public, but the captain was the one that told her to do just that. 

The rest of the afternoon dragged by.  Millie was anxious to start her dog sitting duties.  She hadn’t realized how much she missed Daisy.  Hopefully, Scout and she wouldn’t become too attached to each other.  If something happened and Scout had to leave the ship, she would feel terrible.

Millie shoved her fears aside and wandered back to the cabin.  Sarah was inside, getting ready for her shift.  She brushed her hair as she glanced at Millie in the mirror.  “Did you know there were two more deaths on board the ship?”

“Yeah.  Hard to believe.” Millie unclipped the two-way radio from her hip and set it on top of her bed.  “Such a sad situation.  They’re calling it murder/suicide.”

Sarah tilted her head and ran her fingers through her straight, dark hair.  “What do you think?”

“I’m not sure about the young man’s death but I don’t think the young woman committed suicide.”

Sarah set the brush down and stared at her reflection. “Why do you think that?”

Millie sighed as she sank down on the edge of the bed.  “Because I was the last one to see that poor girl and she was in no condition to commit suicide.  She had passed out on the bed.”

Sarah straightened her nametag.  “Are you a suspect?”

Millie was certain that even if she wasn’t a suspect, Dave Patterson would be tracking her down soon to ask her what she knew. 

After Sarah left, Millie slipped off her shoes and lay down on the bed. She stared up at the bottom of Sarah’s bunk.  The last 24 hours had been harrowing. She was beginning to wonder if she was coming or going. 

The good news was, she wasn’t being fired.  The bad news was, the more she learned about Kyle and Courtney, the more suspects that kept popping up:  Chloe, the twin sister. Zack, the ex-boyfriend.  Courtney herself, even though she was no longer around to defend herself, God rest her soul.

Millie’s eyes narrowed.  But what about the couple’s friends?  Adam and Melissa.  Millie was a good judge of character.  She would be able to tell right off the bat if the two of them were hiding something. 

Chapter 12

 

Millie’s eyes flew open.  She must have dozed off.  She glanced down at her watch.  It was almost four.  Almost time to start her doggie duties and she didn’t want to be late! 

She slipped her feet into her shoes and stepped over to the mirror.  Her hair stuck out in all different directions. Millie quickly pulled her hair into a ponytail, twisted it in a tight bun and stuck a hair clip over the top.  She grabbed her radio and raced out the door. 

Millie made it to the bridge with a minute and a half to spare!  Captain Armati was standing in the middle of the bridge, in front of the large panel of gadgets. He turned when he saw her.  “Scout’s ready to go.”

He walked Millie down the small hall to the door that separated the bridge and his apartment.  He pressed the buttons on the keypad and pushed the door open.  Scout was waiting on the other side.

Millie covered her mouth to stifle her laugh.  Scout, decked out in a miniature sailor suit and round white sailor cap, wagged his tail when he saw Millie.  He trotted over and climbed up on her foot.  “Woof!”

She picked him up and held him close.  “Look at Mr. Spiffy, all ready to see the sights.”

Captain Armati patted the top of his head.  “I think he knows.  Somehow the crazy dog knows.”

Millie grabbed Scout’s bag and the two stepped into the bridge.  “What time should I have him back?”

“Your shift ends at…”

“10:30,” Millie told him.

“Right.  Just bring Scout back after you’ve finished your shift.”

He gently tugged Scout’s ear.  “Behave,” he warned him. 

Scout was a bit of a wiggle worm as they walked.  He knew he was going somewhere.  Somewhere he’d never been. 

Millie shifted the bag on her shoulder and pulled Scout close.  It was time to set the ground rules.  “You need to stay with me.  This is a big ship and I don’t need you getting lost,” she told him.

“Yip!”

Happy hour trivia wasn’t scheduled to start for another hour. Millie’s stomach growled.  She remembered how she hadn’t finished her pizza, thinking that she was about to be canned.  “Let’s go grab a bite to eat.”

Millie took the outside deck as she headed toward the buffet.  It would give Scout a chance to enjoy some fresh air.  Millie clipped the leash to his collar and set him on the ground.  The doggie leash was almost as big as he was. 

Scout’s little tongue hung out of his mouth as he trotted next to Millie.  His brown eyes darted back and forth, as he tried to take everything in.

He got a few looks from passengers, which quickly turned to smiles as they bent down to pet him.  Scout was eating it up!

When they got outside the restaurant, she opened the bag and set him inside.  She left the top half open so he could peek out.  She hadn’t asked the captain if Scout could have snacks. 

She thought about Daisy, her beloved dog that had died.  Surely a tiny piece of chicken or beef couldn’t hurt.  As she moved along the buffet, she could see Scout’s round little nose move up and down as he sniffed the air.

Millie filled a plate and she and Scout headed back outside to one of the bistro tables.  She set Scout and the bag on top of the table. 

The first thing she did was slice a chunk of prime rib into tiny pieces.  She held it out for Scout who promptly licked her hand, then devoured the small pieces of meat.  He ate it so fast, Millie thought the poor fellow was starving. She carved a second piece.  Scout devoured that piece just as fast!

Millie stopped at three pieces.  The last thing she needed to do was make the poor thing sick!  He continued to watch her with that same hungry look so she turned the bag out.  The sights and sounds around him easily distracted Scout.  He no longer cared about food. 

His head popped all the way out of the bag. His ears moved back and forth like two furry rotating radars as he watched passengers pass by. 

Millie finished her meal and began placing the empty dishes back on the tray. She took a sip of water and set the glass next to the plate. 

A young couple stopped near the table.  With them was a young girl who couldn’t have been more than 4 or 5 years old.  She pointed at Scout. “Dog.”

“There’s no dog,” the woman said. She grasped the little girl’s hand and urged her on.

The girl stubbornly refused to move.  “There.” She pointed again.

The man followed the child’s finger.  He bent down.  “Well, you’re right Maisie.  That is a dog.”

He held out his hand.  “Hi there, fella.”

Scout licked the tip of his finger and barked. 

The girl – Maisie – reached her hand into the carrier to pet Scout.  “Pretty,” she said. Scout’s whole body shifted inside his carrier as he tried to get close to the little girl.

The man and woman exchanged glances over the top of the girl’s head.

Millie set her tray and leftovers on the chair beside her.  She unzipped the rest of Scout’s bag and lifted him out.  She held him in her lap.  “Would you like to pet him?” 

Maisie tentatively ran a small hand down Scout’s back.   

“His name is Scout,” Millie told the little girl.

“Scout.” The little girl repeated the name. 

The woman turned her head away, tears rolling down her cheeks.   

Millie’s eyes shot up.  Something was going on here.  Dogs don’t normally make people cry.  Not unless it was a beloved pet who had just died.  It made her think of Daisy.

Millie and Scout stood.  “Would you like to hold Scout?” she asked Maisie.

“Yes please.” The little girl promptly settled into the seat next to Millie and held out her hands.  Millie gently set Scout in the girl’s lap.  He wiggled, wriggled, and licked the little girl, which made her giggle. 

The man kneeled on the deck.  Millie watched as a single tear trickled down his cheek. He pet Scout’s head.  “Would you like a dog?” the man asked the little girl.

She nodded but never took her eyes from Scout.  Finally, the man gently took Scout from the little girl’s lap and handed him to Millie. 

“Let’s go get some ice cream.” He took the little girl’s hand and led her inside.  The woman hung behind. She watched as Millie put Scout back in the case.

“My little girl.  Those are the first words she’s spoken in over a month,” she explained.

Millie gazed through the sliding glass doors.  She watched as the man filled a cone with ice cream and handed it to his daughter. 

The woman went on. “Our house caught fire and burned to the ground.  We almost lost Maisie in the blaze.”

The woman’s blue eyes stared into Millie’s eyes.  “Thank you.”

The man and Maisie were back now.  Millie bent down.  “Would you like to see Scout again?”

The girl licked her chocolate cone, her somber eyes sparked.  “Yes!”

Millie nodded.  “Scout and I will be back here tomorrow at the same time,” she promised.

The girl reached for her mother’s hand. She looked up, her blue eyes pleading.  “Can we see Scout again?”

“Absolutely.” She hugged the girl close. As the couple walked off the man mouthed the words, “Thank you!”

Millie and Scout watched them until they disappeared from sight.  She patted Scout’s head. “Well, look at you…already making friends!”

She lifted Scout with one hand and his bag with the other.  The two of them wandered across the deck.  It was time for trivia. 

 

 

Millie set Scout on top of the piano and unlocked the cabinet.  They had arrived a few minutes early, which was good.  It gave Millie time to organize trivia and make sure Scout was ready to meet more guests.

As the guests came forward to pick up their pencils and pads of paper, Scout got more oohs and aahs than 4thof July fireworks.  He was the hit of the trivia time.  Even after the game was over, most of the guests stopped back by to tell him good-bye.  Several asked if he would be back again.

Millie headed to Cat’s gift shop.  Cat spied Scout right away.  “I heard you had a dog.”  She reached over and lifted Scout from the case.  “Look at the adorable sailor suit,” she cooed.  She pulled him close.  “He’s precious.  Is it true he belongs to the captain?”

Millie nodded as Cat set Scout on the floor.  She didn’t let him get too far.  Just in the back near where they were standing.  There were guests inside the store shopping and Millie was concerned someone might not see him and step on him by accident. 

With one eye on Scout, Millie turned to Cat.  “Time for a meeting to go over what we have,” she said.  “Can you meet later tonight?”

Cat smoothed back her hair.  “Yes.  I have some new info, too.  I had a chance to talk to the other couple.  I think their names are Aaron and…”

“You mean Adam and Melissa?”

She snapped her fingers.  “Yep.  Those are the ones.  You’ll never believe what they told me about Courtney’s twin sister, Chloe.”

Great!  Millie planned to invite Chloe along for the meeting.  But if they were going to be talking about her, that wouldn’t work!  She shelved the idea.  For now.  Maybe next time.  “I better track down Annette.” She lifted Scout up and set him back in his carrier.  “How does 11:00 sound?” It would give her time to finish her shift and drop Scout off.

“Let’s not do the library this time.  Too many people in the vicinity if you know what I mean,” Cat said.

Millie nodded.  She was probably right.  They needed to stay under the radar.  “What about the kitchen?”

The last time Annette and Millie had met in the kitchen, they not only came up with great ideas for solving poor Olivia’s murder, they baked up a storm! 

Millie left the store and headed to the kitchen to find Annette, which was easy to do.  She heard Annette before she saw her.  She was scolding someone. Rather loudly.  Which wasn’t like Annette. She was normally calm, cool and collected.  But not at that moment.  She was letting someone have it!

“If I ever catch you cutting corners like that again, I’ll toss you overboard myself,” she threatened.

The tone of Annette’s voice made Millie squirm and Scout’s ears go flat.  He let out a whimper. Millie patted his head. “Don’t worry.  Her bark is worse than her bite,” she reassured him.

They rounded the corner and found Annette, rolling pin in her hand.  Holding it more like a weapon, Millie decided.  She started to back away but Annette spied her. It was too late.  The scowl changed to a smile.  She waved Millie in.  “You’re just in time to see me commit a murder.”

Annette’s gaze settled on a young man who was on the other side of the counter.  “Amit, here, decided that we didn’t need to use real butter for the lobster dipping sauce.  He singlehandedly decided that margarine would work just fine!”

Annette’s face began to redden at the thought. “Can you believe that?  Margarine!  Might as well have just used Milk of Magnesia.” She scowled. 

Amit cowered.  Millie felt sorry for the poor fellow.  She made a mental note to never, ever substitute anything in Annette’s kitchen!

Her look softened when she spotted the perky little face peeking out of the bag hanging from Millie’s shoulder.  “I heard you had a dog.” Annette reached down and rubbed Scout’s ears.  “Hey there fella.  Why, aren’t you as adorable as all get out?”

She looked up at Millie.  “You really are trying to get fired, sneaking a dog on board.” She thrust a hand on her hip.

Millie grinned.  “I doubt I’ll get fired. Scout belongs to Captain Armati.”

Annette’s eyebrow shot up.  “You don’t say!”

Millie set the bag on the floor and unzipped the front. Scout gingerly placed one paw on the cold tile floor.  He looked to the left, then the right before he stuck his nose in the air and trotted over to the edge of the counter.  The kitchen was a slice of doggie heaven! 

It took a few minutes for Scout to become brave enough to venture around but when he did, he took off like a rocket ship.  He wandered here and there.  Unfortunately, for poor Scout, the kitchen floor was spotless. There wasn’t a scrap of food for him to nibble on. 

“Can we meet here at 11:00?” Millie looked from Scout to Annette. 

“Of course.  What’s on the menu?”

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