'The Caribbean Cruise Incident'
by Phineas Redux
Summary:— Fiona 'Fay' Cartwright & Alice 'Al' Drever are private detectives in an East Coast American city, in the 1930's. They sail to the land of olden-time pirates, only to find modern pirates.
Disclaimer:— All characters are copyright ©2016 to the author. All characters in this story are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Caution:— There is a certain amount of light swearing in this story.
"Stop complainin'. Anyone'd think y'were in pain."
"Well, they'd dam' well be right."
"Give it up, Al; come on, heave yourself in'ta this here wheelchair; we've got a date on deck with the sunshine, an' I don't wan'na miss a minute of it."
"Oh well, perish the thought I should stop you from catchin' the rays for a whole minute." Alice sniffed sarcastically, as she slowly and carefully shifted the foot or so from the edge of their cabin bed to the chair's seat. "Ahh, right, there we are—happy now?"
"I would be, if I still didn't hav'ta navigate these dam' door an' passage-way sills." Fiona smiled, though, as she gently pushed the chair's occupant over to the cabin's door leading onto the main deck. "Right, watch out; I got'ta lift the front wheels up, then the back. Try'n hang on tight; don't want my cargo shiftin'."
The Halstadt Line's passenger-cargo ship SS Myrina; one funnel, two diesels; two screws; and 320 Ist Class passengers, was the crown of their Caribbean enterprise. It had been built recently, in 1927; interior design and decoration was in the Moderne style, much to Fiona's chagrin; the vessel was 500 feet in length, with a beam of 62 feet. From the main deck railing to the sea below was 40 feet; top speed 15 knots; and the whole boat weighed in at a svelte 14,000 tons. Alice had recited all this, direct from a leaflet she found on the wide double bed in their luxurious cabin suite, on the first evening of their occupation; which had taken place three days previously, when the vessel left the harbour at Delacote City, NH, on the morning of Wednesday, February 21st, 1934. Fiona, of course, had merely groaned at this plethora of unmeaning and, in her case, unwanted detail; retaliating by pouring herself another glass of sherry.
Alice's injuries, from a car wreck associated with their last case, had proved slightly slow in healing enough for Doctor Helen Carter, responsible for putting her patient back together again, to allow of her quickly becoming mobile in a wheelchair. But finally the great day had come and Fiona, by this time also having recovered enough from a bullet wound in the left shoulder, became Alice's chief helper and dogsbody. Rather more of the latter than was perfectly fair, in the dark-haired detective's view; but there you were.
Their self-owned and operated company, 'Drever and Cartwright' Detective Agency, in its 5th floor office in the Packer Building, Rosemont and 12th St, had been taken over for the projected three months the travellers expected to be away—luxuriating and recovering in tandem—by two female detectives who had previously worked for Fiona and Alice, and had gained their confidence. So now the convalescing duo were happily settling into life on board the well-run ship—their destination, the islands of the Caribbean Sea; and thenceforth the Canal and a voyage over the Pacific to Hawaii. "Could anything possibly be any better?" Alice had mused, on the second evening at sea, as she lay in Fiona's arms in the soft bed. "No, it couldn't", she went on to answer her own question.
Alice had sustained a broken right ankle, three broken ribs on her right side, and multiple fractures to her right arm; hence the wheelchair. Dr Carter had, she informed her patient with professional pride, inserted no less than three metal pins in Alice's arm, and one in her ankle. Alice's right arm was still encased in a plaster cast from shoulder to fingers; while her ankle had its own smaller cast, encircling her foot, except for the toes, and running four inches up her leg. Progress would, Dr Carter had to admit, be slow; and Alice would probably need the services of the wheelchair, and her partner's unstinting if complaining help, over the next three months. But, she nodded vigorously at her helpless patient, the sea air would work wonders, if Alice only remembered to take deep breaths everywhere she went, along the ship's decks.
Fiona's heart-felt reply, that it'd be her who took the deep breaths while the chair's passenger sat back eating peeled grapes, meeting only with frowns from both opposite parties she simply sighed, bowing before the inevitability of Fate.
"Seen Robert Harling anywhere, Fay?"
"Nah, he'll be engrossed somewhere in tryin' t'entice Nyala Gibson in'ta some dark corner, for a bit of romancin'."
"You got a one-track mind, lady." Alice sighed as her helper pushed the wheelchair along the main deck, under the canopy created by the floor of the second deck above. "If we go along t'the stern we can sit in the shade an' watch the wake streamin' out. I like that."
"Anythin' y'say, dear, anythin' y'say."
The main deck of the medium-sized ship ran from stern to bow; the superstructure running three-quarters of the ship's length. The second, top deck ran from the stern to the Bridge. It was here a row of lifeboats on their davitts lined the deck's edge on both sides. The single funnel being located immediately behind the tall Bridge, with its extended wings on either side. Altogether, as Fiona had opined, a decent strongly-built vessel.
As on all such cruises the passengers pretty quickly shuffled themselves into like-minded groups or couples. Fiona and Alice had made preliminary acquaintance with a fair number of their fellow sailors so far; though only the two mentioned had struck them as really worth knowing. Robert Harling, 27, was a junior in a law firm in New York; Nyala Gibson, 24, worked as a secretary in an insurance office in the same town. The almost immediate friendship between these two youngsters had struck the two detectives as romantic and nice, and the women were following the course of true love with interest, even after only three days.
"Y'taken your dose o'laudanum this morning, Al?"
"Jeez, how many times do I have to tell you, it ain't laudanum—just some modern liquid pain-killer." Alice groaned sepulchraly, at her partner's continued lack of comprehension on this matter. "Dr Carter assured me it ain't habit-forming, but works well. An' it does. Y'wouldn't believe the gyp my bloody arm gives me, at the oddest hours o'the night; or day, come t'that."
"I know." Fiona retreated, like Napoleon from Moscow, in disarray. "Sorry. So, ya got a good stock of it?"
"Three bottles. An' Dr MacDonald, on the ship here, tells me there'll be no trouble about providing more, if I need such."
"Oh well, that's fine." Fiona pulled the wheelchair to a halt, still under the shade of the deck-roof. "Well, here we are. A nice view o'the wake from here. God, looks amazingly white, don't it?"
"Yeah, lovely." Alice nodded in agreement, shuffling around to get comfortable. "Glad it's warm enough not t'need blankets or wraps. Heavens, I could sit here all day."
"—'an I bet ya will, too."
"What was that, dear?"
"Aah, nothin, lover." Fiona found herself on the backfoot for the umpteenth time, but swiftly recovered. "Have ya found out what the overall plan of this here voyage is then, yet?"
Alice turned, with some difficulty, to eye her compatriot.
"Y'don't think I just picked this boat with a pin stuck in the company's list, did you?" The brunette shook her head sadly. "I spent weeks comparing one ship with another. Different Lines; different boats; different destinations. God, y'wouldn't believe the effort I put into finally enjoying myself—enjoying ourselves, that is. So, yeah, I know exactly where this boat's headed, thank you."
The hiss of the water past the sides of the ship provided a quiet soothing background. On board footfalls, happy laughter, shouted comments and queries, and all sorts of other shipboard sounds came to the ear. It wasn't till all this had washed over Fiona for a full minute that she finally felt impelled to return to the fray.
"So? Where're we headed, then? It's just that I'd like fine t'know, er, y'know."
A low growling rumble, which may or may not have contained several naughty words, came from the seated patient; but nevertheless she looked up at her dark Lochinvar with a sweet smile.
"Well, we slipped past Bermuda yesterday." Alice nodded, as at a pleasant memory. "Pity we couldn't stop longer there; nice place. Now we're headin' for the Bahamas. A short stop at Nassau to drop an' pick up passengers; then we head for Havana, Cuba—"
"Where the ceegars come from."
"—uurph, after which the ship heads over to Tortuga." Alice continued her catalogue unflustered. "We don't stop, just pass by. Then it's Kingston, Jamaica. After that, a long sail south over open water t'the Canal. From there we head straight for Hawaii. An' that, lady, is it. Satisfied?"
"Yeah, it'll do, I suppose." Fiona leaned an arm casually on the back of her patient's wheelchair as she contemplated the rolling ocean streaming out behind the ship. "So we got how long on this boat, then?"
"Around a month or so." Alice sighed with deep pleasure. "—'an don't I just need it, too."
Finding no answer to this Fiona leaned forward, placing a soft hand on Alice's shoulder, as they both gazed out over the blue sea.
"What is there to do but play Bridge an' drink orange daiquiri's?" Selena Gargieston, scion of the Hillhead Gargieston's—owners of a large Glasgow shipyard, and therefore rolling in dough—sat back on her wicker chair in the ship's quiet second saloon, contemplating her companions. "Apart from sitting on deck watching the bloody waves roll by, that is."
"Considering your family, an' their business, I'd a'thought you loved ships an' the sea?" Alice raised an enquiring eyebrow at their dis-satisfied acquaintance. "After all, y'must'a been brought up with them from childhood."
"That's just it, darlin'." Selena liked to project an air of exquisite refinement, helped in no small way by her superbly upper-class Scottish accent, and two years in a Swiss Finishing School for daughters of the elite. "Up till I was sixteen daddy insisted on draggin' me down t'the dam' Clyde at every opportunity. Have you any idea how—how messy an' dirty it is there? No, of course you haven't. Well, lem'me tell you all—it's dam' dirty in a Glasgow Clyde shipyard."
"It's the source of all,—I mean it's where ya get all the spondoo,—er, it's where—" Fiona found herself floundering in that bog often created by trying too hard to be polite in reply to a bore.
"—where the gold, an' unending twenty-pound notes, an' riches beyond the dreams o'Croesus come from." The young lady helpfully finished for her. "Yes, that has t'be taken into consideration; but, in the end, if one's bored out of one's skull by watchin' the workin' man at work, well, what is there t'do?"
"Go out into the real world, and get yourself a real job?" This from Robert Harling, tall, fair, square-jawed, and not liable to take imbeciles, of either sex, with any degree of sang-froid. "Good Gracious, Miss Gargieston, you sound like an Indian fakir, bewailing the trials an' horrors of the world, just before he climbs up on his pillar t'escape it all. Get yourself an honest job; as,—as a secretary to a shipyard director, for instance. Bet that'd open your eyes t'reality in less than a week."
"Oh, thank you."
"Well, you have to admit, Selena, you do come across that way." Nyala Gibson, a brown-haired native of New York, and a secretary in her own right, shook her head though accompanying it with a pleasant smile. "I think there's more under the surface of your personality than you like to let most people imagine."
For the first time that soft warm evening another of the guests seated round the large table spoke up.
"Same thing occurs all the time back in India." Colonel Hawsley grunted, thick grey mustache blowing in the wind. He was around fifty-five, and recently retired. "The unattached gals spend their time in a plethora o'tiger-huntin', pig-stickin', an' polo, all the year round—the latter bein' by far the most dangerous t'life an' limb, let me tell you all. Never play polo."
Fiona butted in, bravely cutting off her partner before anyone could answer this question.
"I don't think polo's a game much followed, over here in America, Colonel." The black-haired detective grinned at the old grey-haired Indian Government official. "We tend t'go in more for football."
"Humph, no-one plays football in India." Another grunt echoed from behind the Colonel's facial forestry. "Dam' silly if they did; sunstroke for sure, in half an' hour, ha-ha."
The SS Myrina had left Havana, in Cuba, the day before; and now had just finished a slight detour so it's passengers could have the thrill of seeing the coast of the old pirate isle of Tortuga. Presently they were wending their way through the Windward Passage, separating Cuba and Haiti, en-route to Kingston Jamaica.
As had become a habitual procedure, the group of friends had come to the little-visited second saloon on the main deck to enjoy a quiet conversation and drinks; following dinner in the main, somewhat noisy, dining-room. A large round table, excellent waiters, good wine, and pleasant company all helped to pass away the hours before the night fully encroached and everyone went to their cabins and bed.
Mrs Bertha Albertson, of the Kentucky Albertsons, shifted nervously in her own wicker chair, a soft cushion protecting the most delicate parts.
"Pity we couldn't stop at a port in Tortuga." She caressed her white shingled hair in a characteristic manner they had all come to recognise. "I should so much have liked to walk in the footsteps of the old buccaneers."
"Too rocky, an' no accesible ports." Fiona supplied the cold hard facts. "No really large settlements there; no back-up for a ship like ours. An', anyway, dam' all t'see, as far as I can tell from the reading matter in the ship's library."
"Reading about them in a book's as close as I wish to come to pirates and buccaneers, thank you." Selena, somewhat embarrassed, shuffled her shoulders in her fashionable Redfern evening dress. "Nasty people; I just suppose I don't have the usual romantic attitude to them."
Colonel Hawsley placed his tumbler of lightly watered whisky on the table and wiped his copious mustache, nodding the while.
"Quite right, madam." Giving a last flick to his grey upper lip he cast a glance of approval towards the young lady. "If you were t'read that Exquemeling chappie, who was mixed up with them at the time, your eyes'd soon be opened an' no mistake. That L'Olonnais creature was a demon in human form, for a start. I must decline to go into his personal traits; too outrageous for feminine ears, I assure you."
"Don't worry about my delicate ears, Colonel." The lady from Glasgow sniffed with a degree of sarcasm. "I've been inoculated against all levels of bad language since I was seven, an' papa first took me to the shipyard at Govan. You haven't heard language, Colonel, I assure you, till you've heard a Govan shipyard worker lettin' fly. As to outrageous sights, I once saw a man lose three of his fingers when a sheet-metal plate slipped and fell on his hand. I used to haunt the yard, in my own right, as time went on. I was learnin' all the esoteric details an' secrets of building big steel ships. Lots of accidents; lots of blood; lots of danger; came close a couple of times, myself."
The Colonel shook his head, looking round at his companions. He was a soldier of the old school, and found it difficult to come to terms with the Jazz age.
"The Modern Woman, eh?" He nodded, as at an old problem. "The new, New Woman, in fact."
"What d'you mean?"
"Back at the turn of the century, when I was a mere stripling, there'd been a lot of fuss over women looking to gain their freedom in society." He pursed his lips, unseen under his mustache. "They were called 'The New Woman'. Books were written about 'em, I believe; though I never read any myself. I suppose every era has its own modern women."
There was a pause in the conversation, as everyone contemplated their inner being; the subject under discussion having become somewhat dark. Alice, bravely taking up the cudgels, was about to introduce, by main force of character if necessary, a lighter topic when she was herself interrupted.
"I was just thinkin—"
"My mother was an ambulance driver during the Great War." Nyala spoke up in a rather strained voice, fiddling with a spoon the while. "Nineteen seventeen and eighteen. She was wounded, and the French gave her the Croix de Guerre. She doesn't talk about it much; not at all, in fact."
Another, chillier, silence now fell on the would-be revellers.
It was Fiona who came to the rescue of what was supposed to have been an evening's mere idle banter. She accidentally, but with supreme timing, nudged her cigarette case off the side of the table; letting it fall at the Colonel's feet. What the military man had no way of knowing, however, was that Fiona only carried it as a comfort object; the unused cigarettes it contained, now cascading all over the wooden deck, being at least a month old. She having recently been eased off the nasty habit by her brown-haired companion; who didn't, herself, smoke at all.
"Oh, my cigarettes are all over the floor."
"Not to worry." The military man was already nearly out of sight below the table; only to emerge once more like Poseidon from the waves, the case secured in his hand. "You've lost the contents, as you say; but allow me to offer my own. They're Turkish; perhaps a trifle strong, but not bad, I assure you."
"Latakia?" Fiona knew her tobaccos.
"About forty-per-cent." The Colonel nodded. "I have them specially made for me. A touch of Egyptian, an' the rest ordinary Virginia. Try one, you might like it."
Over the last year or so Alice had been fighting a slow, but finally successful battle, to wean her loved companion away from the dreaded weed. Now she looked on anxiously as Fiona, with a smile of thanks, accepted the long white paper cylinder; but Alice needn't have worried.
"Thanks, I'll just slip it in my case, an' take it later." Fiona placed the cigarette in her returned case and snapped it shut with finality. "What shall we do now? Anyone for whist, or mah-jong, bridge, or somethin'?"
A series of low mutters ran round the table; the end result of which was the general opinion that it was getting late, and several of those present had a date with their beds and soft pillows. Everyone stood up, picking up those small personal items lying around loose on the table; then they all gave their concerted goodnight's and made for the door onto the outer main deck. Outside it was already pitch dark, and in less than a minute Fiona found herself alone with her wheelchair-bound partner on a silent untenanted deck.
"Wan'na go t'our cabin, ducks?"
"Nah, not yet." Alice, though encumbered by her arm-cast, wasn't going to let this romantic night pass unused. "If y'can make that dam' lift work in the main saloon we could go up on the boat-deck. I'd like t'sit at the stern there, an' look at the stars. It ain't cold at all. Wha'd'you think?"
"I think that's a swell idea." Fiona grinned in pleasure, gently turning the chair in the appropriate direction. "There's no-one about. We can canoodle in the dark, if not dance. Works fer me, dear."
"Fay, you're impossible." Alice laughed quietly, putting her left hand up to touch her lover's fingers resting just by her neck. "Come on, then; time's a'wastin'. If we don't get a move on the stars'll have called it a night too, an' gone t'bed themselves."
The sea was calm; the night dark as pitch, only interspersed with the ship's own lights reflecting off the water; there was a greenish phospherescent trail where the wake trailed behind the ship; and on the decks a few romantic couples wandered quietly about, seeking that perfect dark, private corner. Fiona and Alice sat at the rear of the top deck, near the rail overlooking the stern. Alice in her wheelchair, cosily wrapped in a thin blanket, just in front of the bench on which Fiona sat facing the same view. There was no-one else within earshot or view.
"The waves sound like pebbles being dashed down a beach." Alice had been listening for a minute or two to the ambient sounds around them. "The hiss of the water past the sides is like, I don't know, a kettle steaming on a low gas."
"That might be poetical." Fiona grinned impudently in the encompassing darkness. "Lem'me think about it a while, dear."
"There's a lot t'be said for a sea-voyage." Fiona proceeded with a thought that had caught her attention some while ago. "All by ourselves, on deck here—"
"Only another, what is it, three hundred and something other passengers?"
"Don't spoil the atmosphere." Fiona sniffed austerely. "There ain't nobody here but us two love-birds, so let's make the most of it."
"I'm agreeable." There came a titter from the nearly invisible patient. "What exactly does make the most of it mean, in your vernacular—just inquisitive?"
Finding that action, in this scenario, would suit far better than words Fiona proceeded to show her companion just what was on her mind—and presently Alice happily found she was thinking along the same lines, too.
The next day was sunny, with an empty sky whose blue intensity stretched from horizon to horizon. The upper deck being too exposed, everyone had congregated under the wide roofed walkways of the main deck; creating quite a crowd, and a deal of noisy conversation. There were over three hundred passengers on the ship, and this being several days into the voyage they had all found their sea-legs—except for a few die-hards; who were indeed seemingly dying hard in their bunks, attended by the rushed-off-his-feet ship's Doctor. But the majority were intent on fun, games, hilarity, and athletics of a ruthless efficiency. The saloons, dining-rooms, and all other public spaces were crowded to capacity; making Alice's progression about the decks anything but easy. Fiona had already had words with three males and two high-falutin' ladies. Finally, they had decided to retreat to their large cabin for the morning, to escape the merciless rumbunctiousness of the hoi-polloi.
"Dam' passengers." Fiona was on a run, as she made sure her patient was comfortable in the high-backed wheelchair facing the porthole onto the deck. "A voyage on a cruise ship would be just dandy, it weren't for all the other people. You OK, darlin'?"
"Yeah, fine thanks." Alice shuffled around a little; her arm-cast making it difficult to find just that perfect comfortable position. "Y'certainly knocked seven bells out'ta those two daisies a while back. The red-haired one hardly knew I was there when she bumped into my chair. Gave my arm a painful jolt, too."
"I noticed." Fiona's voice had taken on a hard gravelly note, as of a Queen's Torturer sharpening his best instruments for a particularly deserving prisoner. "There was an instant, there, when I nearly picked her up an' threw her overboard."
"Glad you didn't." Alice, as ever, took the pragmatic view. "I'd a'just had'ta finish the voyage on my own; after you were marooned at the nearest port as a result. Or maybe the Captain would have thrown you in the ship's Brig. That would'a been good."
"Thanks." Fiona sniffed regally at this perceived nonchalance in respect of her good deed. "For why, if I may ask?"
"I could'a visited you, see?" Alice nodded, the whole scene conjured up in her vivid imagination. "Succour for the ill; or, in this case, the imprisoned. Would'a taken the Captain a helluva long time to stop the ship, and send out a launch to save the gal. The one you might'a thrown overboard, I mean."
"Ha, yeah." Fiona brightened considerably as she allowed her own imagination free reign. "Might not have been needed in the end. The sharks might'a finished her off long before the launch caught up with her. Ha-Ha."
"Jeez, your sense o'humour frightens me sometimes, Fay."
"Only my little fun, dearie, only fun."
A sharp rat-a-tat on the door brought this discussion to a formal close as Fiona performed her cabin duties of general dogsbody and door-opener to the elite—in this case a young brown-haired slightly battered patient in need of tender loving care; Fiona being the gal for the job, bar none.
"Who is it? Will ya stop tryin' t'break the bloody door down. I'm comin', I'm comin'."
Standing framed in the opened door Nyala Gibson grinned widely at the cabin's butler and, on being given free entry, walked over to the patient and leaned over to kiss Alice on the forehead.
"Hey, none o'that, if ya please." Fiona smiled broadly herself; the girl having made it plain to both women days ago she was easy-going and broad-minded on sexual matters. "I got the canoodlin' rights in this here cabin, if ya please."
"Sorry, just a friendly hallo." Nyala laughed gently, looking down at the frail survivor of the late car-wreck. "Feelin' any better t'day, Alice? D'you need any more laudanum? Hey, Fay, has she taken her laudanum t'day, yet?""
"Jay-suus, will you both get it into your thick heads, once an' for all, it ain't dam' laudanum." Alice bared her teeth indignantly. "It's just some strong cough medicine, is all; wouldn't harm a baby."
"Wouldn't like t'give a baby any." Nyala seemingly considered the matter in all seriousness, then shook her head as she glanced at Fiona. "Bound t'end in tears, don't you think? Have you smelt the stuff? Smells like laudanum t'me."
"Yeah, I think—"
"Good God, will you two give it up." The sorry patient squirmed in her chair, baring her teeth at both parties like a tiger approaching it's Sunday lunch. "It's just a perfectly normal ordinary run-o'-the-mill pain-killer, is all. Absolutely harmless, unless you drink a bottle at a time. Perfectly safe—an' not dam' laudanum."
Fiona turned her back, to hide a smirk, and went off in search of glasses to pour everyone a much-needed shot of sherry. Nyala raised an eyebrow slightly, then let it drop back into place and strolled over to recline on the sofa; her long legs encased in grey slacks below a loose pink silk blouse. Altogether Nyala looked the picture of content.
"You look like the cat that's got the cream all to itself." Alice smiled at the visitor with a knowing look. "So, tell all."
"Everythin', babe." Alice wasn't letting this heaven-sent opportunity to hear the gossip on a particularly imperious shipboard romance slip through her fingers. "How's the great an' good Mr Harling doing, these days? Makin' like Valentino, or what?"
"More like Gary Cooper, I bet." Fiona had returned, balancing a metal tray with full glasses as comfort for the troops. "Mind ya don't spill any, Nyala. Will ya give Al her's, thanks?"
The young secretary tasted her sherry, nodded in approval, then got down to the nitty-gritty.
"Mr Robert Harling is not my paramour; neither is he my gigolo; nor is he front runner in the boyfriend stakes." She paused to consider her next words; found she had run the course of her disdain, and sniffed imperiously. "Merely an acquaintance, is all, nothing more. Easy-goin', an' all that; nice t'be around; but nothin' more, I assure you."
"What'll we get 'em for their wedding presents, when we get back t'the Big Apple, Fay?"
"God, Alice." Nyala now began to turn a pretty shade of pink, attempting to obscure this by taking a giant swig at her sherry. "D'you see romance, an' smooching, an' necking everywhere? Can't a girl just have fun?"
"She's like a bloodhound, when it comes to anyone else's romance, Nyala." Fiona spilt the beans with no appearance of shame. "Better than any o'these weekly Romance magazines on the stalls; of which she's an avid reader, I may tell ya."
A lengthy pause ensued; while each of the trio sat back and enjoyed their sherry and just being with friends. The cabin was a wide one; the porthole, facing onto the covered main deck on the starboard side, was partially open, but not much noise from the milling passengers outside filtered through. Altogether it was a haven of tranquility from the baying mob, as Fiona had rather pointedly described the rest of the passengers earlier that morning.
"I wonder if anyone'll have their pearls stolen, this voyage?" Alice mused, out of the blue, on a subject close to her heart. "Break the monotony, at any rate. Give us somethin' t'do, Fay."
"Nobody's gon'na get their rocks half-inched, dear." Fiona dumped a heavy coating of sarcasm on this suggestion. "I'm here for a holiday, gal. I don't wan'na detect as much as a nasty smell in the bilges, so there."
"Huh, y'see what I'm up against, Nyala?" Alice turned to their friend with a lop-sided grin. "No back-up, that's what it is. A gal proposes a perfectly logical—in fact highly likely—scenario, considering the location; an' what's the result? Turn over, an' go back t'sleep, is all my companion o' the ages can come up with. Blunts my enterprise, y'know; my sense o'purpose."
"Ho-Ho-Ho, the only purposeful thing y'do every week, doll, is head for the newstand of a Thursday mornin', like a wasp to a honey sandwich, in order t'be first t'nab the latest copy of 'Romance Weekly'. Fact, Nyala, absolute fact."
The only missile the patient had to hand was a small cushion, but she sent this flying across the cabin with unerring aim to where her target sat beside Nyala on the sofa; only for it to be expertly caught—like an express delivery to silly-mid-off—by the black-haired member of the detective duo, who was well-used to this sort of thing.
"If something happened,—aboard ship, I mean,—wouldn't the Captain just handle the affair himself—he and his officers?" Nyala asked this with a puzzled expression, not having any experience in such things.
"Well, maybe he'd like t'do it that way, t'start with." Fiona nodded sagely, a certain smirk beginning to curve the corners of her mouth. "But we'd pretty soon put him right. We'd be in there like a couple o'raccoons at a moonshine party; wouldn't we, darlin'?"
Their visitor considered this for a moment, then came out with something that was worrying her.
"I don't mean to be personal, Alice, but you are sort'a incapacitated at the moment." Nyala motioned towards the seat of the problem, with a slightly self-conscious air. "You are, well, in a wheelchair. Won't that kind'a put a brake on your sleuthin'?"
"Oh, don't worry about that." Alice shook her head with assurance, looking across at her partner the while. "I'm the brains of this company, y'see; I do the thinkin', Fay here does the foot-sloggin'; works out well that way. No, no, I'd be fine."
At this necessary juncture Fiona bent her head forward and gave her long-standing lover a dark frown from under lowered brows; but this, as she well knew before she started out on it, was a lost cause—Alice having a brazen nonchalance in these things that would have embarrassed Sherlock Holmes himself.
"Darlin' of my heart," Fiona leered obscenely at her partner. "Y'do realise that if I rescind my services you'll be trapped in this cabin for the duration? No way you'll get that chair over the door-sill, y'know. Just sayin'."
"Don't worry, Nyala, she's bluffin'." Alice, on her part, knew her lover better than Fiona knew herself. "One hour of tryin' t'be resilient under pressure, then she'd break down an' beg for forgiveness. She can't do without me, y'see. It's a struggle, but I bear up bravely under the burden."
With one smooth motion Fiona rose and crossed the cabin in two paces. Standing over the wheelchair's occupant she lowered her head and gently kissed Alice's cheek with a tender regard.
"Al, I just love ya, that's all."
"Me too, Fay. Ditto, that is. I mean, I love you right back, is what I'm tryin' t'say."
"Who needs words; another kiss'd be fine."
Here, suddenly remembering their duties as hosts, they glanced across at the sofa; but found it empty, Nyala having in some mysterious way exited the cabin unnoticed—knowing when she was no longer required.
"Well, there y'are." Alice sniggered quietly, holding her lover's hand fondly. "A guest who knows when the right time for leaving is. So, what now lover?"
"We lock the door, close the porthole, then I give ya that bath you've been complainin' about needin' since yesterday." Fiona returned the pressure of Alice's fingers. "Don't worry, I have a gentle touch."
"Don't I know it, lover, don't I know it."
Kingston, Jamaica, lived up to its reputation when the ship docked there. Or, at least, when it dropped anchor in the bay and a selection of motor launches came out to transport the passengers landwards. For Alice, in her present predicament, this meant some little planning, but the ship's officials were up to the task. She was taken out of a lower deck entrance in the ship's side, nearly on a par with the sea-level. Careful hands brought her, and her chair, into the waiting launch, and all was well until arriving at the dock. Here things became a trifle ropey, as the only set of stairs were too narrow and steep for Alice to negotiate on her own; but the dock longshoremen produced a jury-rigged bosun's chair in no time; and presently Alice sat in her wheelchair on the wharf with all Kingston in front of her, and Fiona standing ready behind her.
Of course Alice's restriction, the wheelchair, did place some necessary limitations on their plans to give Kingston the most severe and determined going-over since the Goths last enjoyed an all-in package tour (all booty inclusive) of Rome; but, on finally finding King Street they decided this quaint and characterful stretch of assorted life would provide all the interest needed for an afternoon's entertainment. It was Alice who pinpointed the particular bar which could cater to their specific requirements; ie, outside tables for Alice to sit at comfortably, under a candy-striped shade. Rum cocktails were ordered all round, the doughty duo being accompanied by Nyala and Selena, and they settled in to watch the crowds on both sides of the wide street with its variety of old buildings running into the distance.
"I just love watchin' other people workin' hard, an' goin' places at a rate of knots." Selena mused on this for a moment. "Did someone else say that, way back when—can't remember?"
"Probably." Alice nodded contentedly, taking an exploratory sip from her tall glass. "Anyways, I agree. Nothin' like observin' folk buckling under the strain and stress o'everyday life, while you're relaxing with,-with, er, this concoction. What is this, Fay? I asked for a rum cocktail—don't know what this is."
"I just think the waiter's taken a wider view of our order than expected." Fiona took a hearty gulp herself, then made a face as she tried to get her breath back. "Punch. Jamaican Rum Punch. It's got a kick like an angry Titan; go careful Al, don't want ya half-seas-over when we return t'the ship. Gettin' y'back aboard might prove difficult. Is bein' drunk in charge of a bosun's chair a criminal offence here?"
"Fool." The brunette invalid snorted contemptuously, taking another careful sip just to show she wasn't scared. "Wheew, you're right, it does like t'let you know it's there, doesn't it?"
The street, as were all the others in the heart of the town, was bustling with crowds and traffic which equalled Picadilly Circus. It soon became obvious that pushing Alice through this mass of people, going both ways on each sidewalk, was not practicable. Nyala having broached the idea of crossing the street to view some shops they could glimpse there, this also proved a step too far—the two-way stream of buses, cars, and trucks being impassable to the chair-bound tourist. Finally, a sweating Selena grumbling about the heat of the afternoon, everyone decided to make their way back to the wharf and return to the welcome shade of the ship's cool promenade deck.
So another hour found the prospective explorers back where they had started; having had a great deal more exercise than any of them required, including Alice. As soon as they were alone in their cabin once more Alice let rip.
"Jeez, glad t'be home." She wiped her forehead with a thin handkerchief. "Next time I propose goin' ashore t'sight-see anywhere, hit me with somethin' heavy, Fay."
"Bad as that, eh?"
"Fully as bad." Alice growled, like a cat being kept waiting for its lunch. "Y'don't realise how constricting a wheelchair can be, until you've tried it. And it's so much effort, too. You wouldn't think so, but I sweated buckets goin' ashore in that dam' launch, then bein' carted up onto the wharf in that bloody bosun's contraption. And the crowds in King Street; well, it's been enough for me, darlin'. From now on I do my sight-seeing from the promenade deck, an' that's it."
There came a short rap on the cabin door, interrupting this flow of self-pity. On opening it Fiona discovered their steward, George Arbuthnot, resplendent in his dark trousers and short white mess jacket.
"Afternoon, ladies, just thought I'd ask after your needs an' necessaries." George's accent was redolent of the wharves of Wapping, London, from which area he had originated; the women having soon come to trust him and enjoy his laconic wit. "Suppose it'll be the usual seven-thirty table at dinner?"
"Yep, an' I've got a raging appetite, George." Alice laughed as she swung her chair in a circle. "I could demolish a yak, easy."
"Dunno about that, ma'am; whatever it may be; but there's some nice steak, or chicken an' roast potatoes, if your taste goes that way—ham's orf, I'm afraid."
"Hmm, decisions, decisions." The invalid giggled lightly. "Think I'll leave it to my cabin-mate here, when we reach the table—I like surprises. Talking of surprises, George, any more news on you-know-what?"
Fiona, being out of the loop on this obviously important topic, cocked an interested ear—the while trying to appear absorbed in an old edition of 'Country Life', which didn't fool either Alice or George for an instant.
"We-el, ma'am, there has been some progress I must admit. But strange, though; very strange."
"Well, cough it up; I'm agog with, with,-well, just tell me, that's all."
Nothing loth the steward placed the flat silver tray he usually carried as part of his attire on the nearby chest of drawers, sniffed, looked thoughtful, and finally launched out on the seas of declamation.
"You'll recall my tellin' you, three days since, about the curious matter of the cold meat in the kitchen larder on F deck?" He pursed his lips and ran a hand through his sparse brown hair, he being somewhere in his late forties. "The cook's definite that he'd listed the ham t'the nearest half-ounce at the beginnin' of this here cruise."
"Yeah, I know that. So, what's changed as we speak?"
"Ham?" Fiona felt impelled to mutter hopefully, but Alice just gestured for the steward to continue.
"We had another raid on the larder this mornin'; or, at least, last night." George nodded sagely, as one in the know. "Cook sez there's near two pounds o'cold meat bin half-inched since he last catalogued the contents a week ago. One o'the passengers with a taste for cold ham comin' the Raffles, he says. Not half-mad he is too. He's got'ta go t'the Purser, y'see, an' explain how most o'his cold meat's walkin' orf in the night. Purser Harrison's bound t'cut up rough, fer sure."
"Will someone please explain what the disappearance of some cold meat possibly has t'do with the runnin' of the ship." Fiona, finally losing her grip, plunged into the fray. "Ship don't run on ham, does it? So, who cares?"
"Ah, you're missing the point, Fay." Alice again nodded like an all-knowing Chinese mandarin. "She's missing the point, George, ain't she?"
"Hoh yes, miss, absolutely failin' t'comprehend the scend o'the sea altogether."
"What? Will someone kindly explain the facts, so I can come to a logical detective-based hypothesis on whatever's happened." Fiona snorted contemptuously. "Not that I wan'na butt in where I'm not wanted, y'understand—but I am, anyway; so spill the beans—nobody gets out'ta this dam' cabin till I know what's what."
Alice shrugged in the face of this ultimatum and waved a hand at the steward.
"OK George, time t'come clean. Tell the nice lady everything y'know. She'll only go red in the face an' break out in spots if you don't."
"Well, it's like this, ma'am." George, seemingly having all the time in the world to relax and indulge in idle chat, squared his rounded shoulders and went to it with a will. "We've had bucket-loads o'cold meat, mostly this here ham, goin' missing over the last few days, or week or so. Along with a nice selection o'available side-dishes—cold potatoes, salad, vegetables, an' suchlike. Very mysterious, but the hard fact is, as Cook was swift t'realise, is that we have a real live stowaway somewhere on the ship. Hidin' in a dark corner as we speak, ladies, munchin' cold meat like a good 'un."
"A stowaway?" Fiona could hardly bring herself to believe this news. "Oh yeah? Where are these kitchens an' larders of which you speak so highly, George?"
"F deck, miss."
"An', not to flog a dead horse but I'm gettin' impatient, where is F deck?"
"In the bowels of the beast, Fay."
"Yeah miss, in the bowels o'the bea—that is, three decks below us, well under the waterline."
"An' where exactly do you suppose this stowaway is lurkin'?"
George paused here, eyeing his interrogator with a sympathetic condescension. "Well ma'am, if we knew that there we'd have 'im by the bal—scruff o'the neck, wouldn't we? But we don't. Know where he's hidin' that is. The essence, y'might say, o'the successful stowaway."
Fiona flung her copy of 'Country Life' off-handedly onto the sofa, raised her eyes to the ceiling, took a deep breath, then returned refreshed to the fray.
"Has anyone seen this mythical beast?" Fiona cast a suspicious glance at her partner. "You, Al; wha' d'ya know? Come on, out with it. I have a feelin' this's gon'na spoil my appetite fer dinner t'night."
"Nah, nobody's set eyes on him, so George tells me." Alice hunched her shoulders where she sat, then winced as her cast made her arm throb. "Dam'. Any news on him yet, George?"
"No, ma'am." George shook his head sadly. "No-one's seen hide nor hair o'the bast—er, reprobate. Nor can we figure out where he's a'hidin'. This bein' a mighty big vessel, y'know."
"Not so big, surely." Fiona swept this apology aside with a casual air. "After all, it only has one funnel, an' two propellers. A tiddler, compared t'the Mauretania, or Aquitania."
George wasn't having any of this ill-considered criticism of his beloved ship, rising to its defence with a determined air.
"Can't say that, ma'am." He shook his head vigorously. "Different class, y'see. Never was meant as a four-funneller—just a quiet respectable cruising ship. Fourteen thousand tons ain't t'be sniffed at, either. Four decks below the waterline, y'know. An' fast; why she's as quick as a field-martin after a fly. So, y'see, there's plenty o'decks, an' out-o'the-way corners where someone who ain't got a ticket could be passin' the time durin' the voyage."
"But where does he think he's goin'?" Fiona felt the importance of this query, considering the ship's itinerary. "After all, we've left Kingston, an' the next stop's Hawaii. He can't possibly imagine he'll make it that far without bein' caught?"
"The Canal, ma'am."
"We stop in Panama, at Cristobal, just before goin' through the Canal." George raised his thin eyebrows, as one imparting secret news. "Sort of an unscheduled stop, y'might say. It ain't on the ship's cruise program, bein' mainly in order for the transfer of supplies, cargo, post, an' any passengers who knew about it an' booked from Kingston t'Panama. He's likely plannin' t'jump ship when we arrive in Cristobal harbour."
All this while Alice had been sitting frowning deeply, considering the known facts. Now she sat up and declared her interest.
"We don't know where he's hidin'; but what do we know about him? George, any ideas?"
The steward inclined his head from one shoulder to the other as he brought his sharp intellect to bear on the matter, then brightened visibly.
"Well, ma'am, there's things that're known an' things that can, maybe, be surmised."
"Don't keep us in the dark, George—we ain't the dam' stowaway." Fiona's tone was knife-edged with the intensity of her focus on the matter. "Give us what ya know, fer Chri—fer goodness sake."
George, being long immune to sarcasm and criticism, took his time to collect his thoughts; then related all that was available concerning the mysterious unwanted ship's guest.
"Cook sez he's got a good appetite—the which didn't need an expert t'figure out—takin', as 'e has, all sorts of meat, mainly ham to which he seems t'have a penchant. Also on one occasion, an' this fairly threw Cook inta a fit o'the vapours, a whole game pie—five days ago that was—"
"George, d'ya know what that means?"
Caught at a disadvantage George puffed his cheeks out and finally shook his head.
"It means our shadowy guest's been on the ship long before we reached Kingston." Fiona nodded, adopting the wise expression of the Delphic Oracle. "Maybe Havana, or even Nassau."
"Yer's miss, that'd explain a lot." George, scratching his chin, agreed with this possibility, then returned to business. "As to the chap himself we've decided, the other stewards an' I, an' Cook in his calmer moments, that he—the stowaway—must be young, well-built, male, eats like a dam' 'orse, an' has no shame whatever. Maybe upper-class, the Cook thinks; maybe a university student, on a long holiday. Y'know the kind'a high jinks those students can get up to, miss."
While considering this further information the women remained silent; musing on the puzzle, like Holmes over a three-pipe problem. George meanwhile, going into automatic mode, idly passed around the cabin, sorting loose cushions here, tidying scattered magazines there, and generally giving the place a restrained but thorough tidying-up. It was Fiona who broached the completed cerebral speculations of the two detectives.
"George, Al, I think we have us a bent one, here."
"A bent 'un, ma'am?" George stopped in his tracks and eyed the ladies with interest. "What? A crook, y'mean?"
"Just that, my excellent steward, just that."
"Yeah, somethin' other than a young college student on the razzle-dazzle's goin' on, I'll give you that, Fay." Alice nodded slowly, still frowning over the subject. "George, how many cargo-holds does this boat have?"
"Ship, miss, ship, if you please." George's voice took on the tone of an injured saint. "Wouldn't do t'have the Captin hear it called a bo—what you said, miss.—er, cargo was it, miss? Well, there's Hold's A an' B forrard, an' Hold C in the stern."
"That would make three then, George?"
"Just so, ma'am." The steward agreed with this mathematical description of the matter, then stood waiting for Alice to clarify her question. "They all has, er, cargo in 'em as we speak."
"What kind'a cargo?" Fiona began to see where her partner's turn of mind was heading. "Not loose stuff, like coal or wheat or whatever? Solid stuff, in crates an' things, eh?"
"Well, Hold A, just in front o'the Bridge, has sixty ton o'rice; headed fer Hawaii." He frowned over the details, bringing the contents of the other holds to mind. "Ah, Hold B, nearer the bow, has bags o'potatoes, maybe forty ton there. Off-loadin' at Cristobal, they is. Hold C, in the stern, it's jest general oddments belongin' t'the passengers like. All sorts'a things, mostly battened down with ropes an' ties, t'stop 'em from shifting in a storm. That's about it."
Alice jerked in her chair, obviously wanting to jump for joy; finally grinning like a well-fed Cheshire cat.
"Hold C's where it's at, Fay." She wheeled her chair to face Fiona and the cabin door. "Come on, let's get to it. Got your gun, Fay? Thanks George, we'll be back in an hour or so—suppose you'll need t'let the Captain know where we're goin'."
Alice pushed herself towards the low sill of the outer door, while Fiona made a determined rush for her handbag lying on top of the low bedside chest of drawers. But George, goaded beyond endurance by this preceding question of Alice's, stepped in front of the door, looking at his passengers in horror.
"Gun? Gun?" He gasped for breath in the heat of his astonishment, mouth opening and shutting like a fish underwater. "Gawd help us. Are y'sayin' you've brought a bloody gun aboard, miss?"
"Well, I am a detective." Fiona paused in her search through the contents of her bag to gaze at the dumbfounded steward. "I can show ya certificates an' things if that'll put your mind at rest. What's the matter?"
The steward was still looking from Alice to Fiona and back as if transfixed by the Medusa herself. Finally he managed to control his vocal organs enough to express exactly what was on his mind.
"What's the matter? Gawd, guns is the matter, ladies." He shook his head in obvious disbelief at the actions of passengers in general and these two women in particular. "Bringin' a gun aboard is a Federal offence, ma'am. You could get ten year straight for that. When 'e finds out the Captin'll throw you in the Brig like as if y'were a mutineer. Whatever y'do, ladies, for God's sake don't brandish guns around, in sight o'any o'the officers; an' especially the Captin. If he don't fall down in a apopleptic fit, he'll read the Riot Act an' fling y'both in Clink fer the rest o'your lives, take my word on it."
Fiona stood still, eyebrows raised in wonder and astonishment, aiming a quick glance at her chair-bound partner the while.
"So, what you're sayin', George, is—guns is verboten under any circumstances?"
"Dam' straight they're verboten, ma'am." He nodded vigorously. "The only official weapons aboard, apart from hunting-guns passengers have safely boxed an' tied up in the hold, are a few revolvers under lock and key on the Bridge, under the eye o'the Captin. An' he, an' he alone, has the say on when, where, an' if, such is t'be used at all."
"Under his eye, eh, George?" Fiona expressed regret and sadness combined in her tone.
"Dam' straight, ma'am." George wasn't taking prisoners, not on this subject. "Like a bloody basilisk's. If he gets wind yer both armed he'll make the past Great War look like a minor tiff in a Kindergarten."
Captain Higgs, in command of the SS Myrina for the last three years, was a sailor of the old school. Apprenticed on a windjammer in his teens he had rounded the Horn six times under sail and twelve under steam. He believed in discipline, the stricter the better; finding the most trying part of his position nowadays in being civil to his passengers; many of whom, he was repeatedly convinced on every voyage, lacked even a modicum of common-sense. He was, in short, not a person to be trifled with. Some hint of trouble below decks in the kitchens had, of course, filtered through to the Bridge as these things inevitably do. So, when approached by the Cook, the Purser, steward Arbuthnot, and two doubtful-looking American lady detectives, he was not as surprised as might have been expected. But nonetheless he was by no means in a good, calm, or even rational, temper.
"OK, I give you that, Purser, it sounds like we have a stowaway; probably hiding in Hold C." His words were clipped to the minimum of tone and accent; he believing in Spartan virtues. "And you ladies, Miss Drever, Miss Cartwright, seem to have the requisite certificates of your, ah, profession. So, tell me once more, what makes you think he may be of criminal intent and dangerous?"
"The fact he's keeping stum, undercover, for one." Fiona took up the cudgels of conversation with the irascible officer. "Any normal stowaway would mingle with the other passengers on deck and throughout the ship; tryin' t'look innocent. Makes it seem this guy's got somethin' t'hide. Also, he's headin', probably from Nassau, to Cristobal. That makes us surmise criminal objects in mind. Nassau, like Havana, being a haven for all sorts'a grifters, crooks, gangsters, an' general hoods. An' Cristobal's a fine drop-off point for him t'disappear in'ta Central America. Yep, me an' Al here are sure he's a dud eighteen-dollar bill. So I'd advise bein' careful, an' goin' armed t'the teeth when we visit the Hold; he'll certainly be packin'; an' feel bound, in such circumstances, t'make Custer's Last Stand look like an etiquette spat at a Ladies' Knitting Circle."
Captain Higgs stood foursquare in his office behind the Bridge, looking from one to the other of his assorted visitors. At five feet ten inches, with close-cropped grey hair, and of athletic, almost thin physique, his normal expression was of an Infantry General inspecting his troops, and finding them wanting. He clearly had his doubts, but squared his shoulders and met the situation head-on, as was his custom.
"We shall certainly visit the Hold. Bring four hands, Mr Rickets."
The Purser nodded in reply, then gave his commanding officer a knowing look.
"As to being armed, I don't think the necessity arises." Higgs glanced at Fiona with a significantly cold eye. "I've never yet found a stowaway who was armed; or who didn't buckle on being discovered, and beg for mercy."
"No, Miss Cartwright, no guns." Higgs was adamant. "And, although I shall allow your presence, purely out of politeness, Miss Drever here is obviously incapable of taking any physical part in the operation. Anyway, the elevator doesn't go down below deck Three, so that's that. Purser, kindly lead the way. You stay up-top and go about your usual duties, steward Arbuthnot."
"I can help." Alice tried one last attempt at squirming into the action. "Fay can—"
"No, Miss Drever, that's final." Captain Higgs, with other matters on his mind, pulled irrevocable rank; waving to one of his junior officers standing nearby. "Mr Henderson, see you put a hand to looking after Miss Drever, so she doesn't get herself into trouble while we're below decks. Alright, let's go."
The door, or hatchway as the officers referred to it, leading into Hold C was approached through a long dark ill-lit corridor in the depths of the ship, only wide enough for one person at a time; so the group made their way in single-file. Captain Higgs leading, Purser Rickets behind, two sailors next, then Fiona, followed by the remaining two sailors. No-one was armed; though Fiona, in an innocently casual manner, had brought along her heavy large handbag. On her leaving the Captain's office with this George had begun making horrible, though silent, grimaces at both women; but Alice had managed to divert his attention till everyone had left on their mission.
Now the moment of truth had arrived; it being Captain Higgs' intention to enter the hold's main echoing space, along a cleared pathway from the doorway in a direct line across to the further pitch-dark side; this in order for the hands to move objects around when needed. They had brought a couple of paraffin storm-lamps; but these at best shed a dim flickering light, only adding to the wavering shadows visible everywhere on their arrival in the mighty Hall-like expanse.
Wooden boxes and assorted crates of all sizes; tarpaulin-covered objects of mysterious origin; and sacks of a variety of contents, were stacked up well above their heads in every direction. Their voices echoed as if they were in a vast ice-cave, and unknown multifarious sounds seemed to come from all directions as the group moved into the middle of the hold. It was Higgs who took the situation in hand.
"Sir, we know full well you're here." His voice woke the echoes, like Gods arguing in Olympus. "Kindly make yourself known; there is nothing for you to do otherwise. Don't worry, you will be treated with all courtesy. I must—"
A shot, from somewhere over to their left-hand, rang out like Armaggedon starting up. A ghastly bang and whine against a metal-edged crate near the Captain's shoulder showed where the errant bullet had hit. Well accustomed to these things, Fiona whipped her .45 automatic out in the blink of an eye and, having spotted the flash of their adversary's pistol in the dark, took aim and let-off two fast ear-shattering return shots. There came a thud, closely followed by a quavering groan and mumbled words redolent of surrender on their opponents' part. Fiona grinned widely, at a job well done, turning to face the Captain in pleasurable content.
"Where, madam, where did you get that gun?"
"Close shave, Fay."
Alice's other half agreed, as they both watched the SS Myrina departing Cristobal to enter the Canal. Fiona standing on the wharf amidst the crowds of Panamanian citizens and general tourists doing the same thing; Alice by her side in her wheelchair.
"So, that's the end of our cruise, then?" Alice frowned darkly, pushing an encroaching young lady in a long green silk dress away from bumping into the left side of her conveyance. "Hey, watch it, woman; invalid here. Thought George was right, an' Captain Higgs was gon'na have an apoplexy. The things he said t'us both—I wouldn't have believed it of a strictly brought up fella like him."
"Dammed angry, o'course." Fiona shrugged her shoulders, unimpressed. "All over one little automatic. Good job he never got t'hear about your Colt too, eh, darlin'?"
"God, yeah." Alice shivered dramatically at the thought. "He'd a'thrown the key away an' denied there was anyone in his Brig for ever after. Say, Fay, can y'help me turn this thing; the crowds are too thick hereabouts."
"Sure, doll." Fiona suited the word to the action, and soon they were headed for the only good hotel in the town, and the ship-booking office. "What was the name of the boat Captain Higgs told us t'catch back t'New York?"
"The SS Hypatia; apparently it's a banana boat." Alice laughed quietly as they proceeded, under Fiona's careful direction, along the wharf. "Seemingly, accordin' t'Higgs, it's gon'na stop to load the vegetable of the same name at every dam' island in the Caribbean, Jamaica, Cuba, and the Bermudas, on its way. By the time we reach New York, an' change for New Hampshire an' Delacote City Harbor, we'll both be so tinted by the demon banana we'll look as if we've had Yellow-jack itself."
To be continued in the next story in the 'Drever and Cartwright' series.