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"A compulsive page turner with all the poignancy of CSI"
John Smithson - Canadian Literature Reviews
ALAN LOOKED AROUND HIS neat and tidy little apartment for the last time; he felt like one of those old whaling captains of long ago, preparing to embark on a long sea voyage. Well, he was going on just such a trip, but this time, he was to be a passenger. He stood by the window and looked out over the shoreline before him: such a pretty view. Smiling, Alan thought it so typical of him - he always had to be within sight of water.
Turning, Alan's eyes swept the living room. Ah, Jo Ann had always been such a fastidious woman: a place for everything and everything in its place. The fingers of his right hand curled about the gold ring on his left hand. He wondered, should he keep it on, or leave it here? Experience had taught him that many ladies on the ship wouldn't care one way or the other.
Yet, Alan was torn. That phase of his life was over. But, how does one put aside so many years shared with another person and just ignore them? He chewed his lip. He knew the answer - by not doing it! He would do what he felt was best; he would honor that most noble of ladies by keeping the ring right where it always belonged.
Alan stepped over to the hallway mirror and looked himself over. Huh, that patch of gray in his beard was getting just a bit bigger. He wondered should he shave it off? Jo Ann had always said he looked younger when he was clean-shaven. Since her ... departure from his life - he'd stopped shaving. It had only been this morning that he'd at least trimmed the beard down so that he looked nice and neat.
Rubbing his hand across the fine hairs on his chin, Alan grinned. Jo Ann had always complained that his whiskers felt like sandpaper against her soft skin. But now, with the hairs grown out, they had softened and felt quite nice. No, he'd leave them. Hey, maybe the ladies on the ship would think he looked distinguished! Besides, Alan's days of trying to look younger were well and truly behind him.
He pulled on his coat and cupped his hands before his mouth, blowing a warming breath into them. Oh, the place was just a bit too chilly for his tastes. Of course, all those years serving in the Caribbean had tended to ... thin his blood just a bit. Still, with ten generations of New Englanders in his genes, these cold winters weren't too terribly much for him to endure. No, Alan wasn't heading south to escape the cold; he knew that, and had to admit it to himself. This trip was about one thing - the need to forget.
Alan picked up his bag, fished his keys out of his pocket and headed out the door. The hallway was rather narrow but not as narrow as he was used to on board ship. He locked the door and headed down to the elevator. A short ride later, Alan was strolling across the pretty little lobby area. Ah, it was all decked out for the holidays and he could see a bit of snow and slush outside the large glass doors.
The doorman saw Alan approaching and pulled the door open for him.
"Good day, Dr. Mayhew," he said brightly. "Call you a cab, sir?"
"Yes, thank you, Frank."
Frank waved to a car down the block, and one of the city's many yellow cabs was soon approaching.
"Off to spend Christmas with the family?" Frank asked.
"Not this year," Alan replied. "Alexa and the boys gave me a rather odd gift ..."
"Oh? - Odd in what way?"
"They're sending me on a cruise ..."
"Oh, that is priceless! You sure it's not a gag gift and they're expecting you to redeem the ticket?"
Alan gave him a weak smile.
"No, I'm sure. They set it up that way. They think it'll do me some good."
The cab arrived, and Frank popped the back door open.
"Hey, it's already done you some good; this is the first time I've seen you smile since ... well, a while. Who knows - after all you've done on ships over the years, I wouldn't be surprised to hear they let you go up to the bridge and drive the boat. So, you go have some fun."
"I intend to," Alan said, handing the cabbie his bag. "My best to your ... wife. Oh, and Frank - it's steer the ship."
With that, Alan climbed in, and they drove off. He gazed out the window at the city and thought of all his years there. It's said that the best cities in the world are the ones you feel comfortable walking around. Well, that must be true of Boston; in all the time he'd lived here, he'd never once bothered to buy a car. Did he even remember how to drive one?
Jo Ann had known. She drove like a New York City cabbie and cursed like one too, at times! Ah, driving out to Arlington or Fitchburg, or out to Amherst to see Alexa at school had always been an ... adventure. Sure, Alan's life often flashed before his eyes and he returned white-knuckled, but life was never dull with her around.
Now that he was retired ... and without her ... what would life be like? Time to find out. On this drive to the airport, Alan may have looked over the city but he didn't really see anything; he was lost in thoughts of the past. He was actually startled when the door popped open next to him.
"He'e ya go, fella; Logan Ai'po't, te'minal A," the cabbie said.
Alan blinked his eyes and climbed out.
"Yeah, right ... thanks."
Alan stuffed some bills in the man's hand, grabbed his bag and made his way inside. Once again, he really wasn't aware of what was going on; his body just sort or knew the routine. After all, he'd done this so many times in the past. A cold wind blasted at him, practically picking him up and scooping him through the big double doors. Alan barely felt it; it was so much colder inside his soul than outside.
As if in a dream, he just sort of floated along with the crowd. If anything, Alan felt as if he was having an out of body experience. He seemed to hover over his body and watch it get jostled about like a sheep or cow in amongst a herd but not one going to slaughter, he hoped.
He had been reading a lot since the passing of Jo. Could it be that a person's beliefs have at least some bearing on who is likely to have an out of body experience (OBE)? Could it be that a person who believes in soul survival is more likely to have an OBE than one who does not? The answer, according to some surveys by psychiatrists, seems to be - yes!
Alan knew enough to know he was not crazy, but he really wasn't in control of anything, was he? He was just going with the flow and letting events drag him along.
Well, what of it? Maybe that's just what Alan needed right now. He'd been trying to control his life to the nth degree ever since he was a young man. Why not relax and let someone - or something - else do the steering for a while?
December 6, 2009: Miami
THE PLANE FLIGHT WAS uneventful. Or, at least, Alan didn't remember anything about it. So what did it matter, one way or the other? When he stepped out onto the sidewalk outside the terminal, his mind snapped awake. Oh yeah, this was south Florida; the temperature and humidity were positively stifling.
A bunch of cabbies tried to hail him, but he ignored them. He knew the drill with the ships; there was a shuttle that took passengers to the dock. Ah, now wouldn't this be a switch? All those years taking the crew entrance and now he was going in the front door. The shuttle was very nice; the air conditioning made the trip much more bearable.
Funny - so many years spent down in this area and yet he still hadn't gotten used to the climate. Oh well, once they were out on the water, he'd feel right at home. The Miami skyline hadn't changed much since his last visit and the dock area was just as he remembered. Yeah, that area wasn't about to change; too much money was generated by the cruise ships. They were here to stay!
The ship Alan was going to travel on was of course, docked at the pier. In many ports, one has to take a tender out to the ship. The massive groups of people just gather at the portside, usually in great long queue, waiting for the tenders (often the lifeboats from the ship) to take them aboard. Shipping companies usually pick a port where they do not have to do that at the beginning of a cruise. The logistics are much easier if everyone - and their luggage - can merely walk or be wheeled aboard.
Miami is one of those ports where everything is designed to make it easy for the passenger to get aboard, and for the cruise line company to get the largest number of passengers on board in the shortest time. The faster the turnaround from disembarking passengers to loading a new group of pocket books, the more cash the company makes.
My God, no matter how many times Alan shipped out on one of these, he never got used to their massive size!
"You going the wrong way, sir," a porter called out.
Alan looked around, having lost his bearings for a second.
"Huh, what ...?"
He looked up. Yep, he was heading toward the crew's entrance. He laughed: force of habit. It seemed his feet knew where he belonged. Giving his baggage to one of the pushy porters, he headed inside and got in line for the ticketing.
The place was huge: a large open room with thick, rich patterned carpeting. Alan sort of felt like a visitor to Disney World; after all, there were all those queues carefully set up to weave and wind their way from the glass front up to one of the massive numbers of ticket counters.
Plenty of people were already in line and Alan joined them. Standing there, slowly shuffling along, his eyes played across the myriad of people there with him. He smiled. Oh yeah, this was always the fun part for him, back when he was on the other side of the barrier. He'd look over the different people waiting to board, and he'd play a little game with himself: what was the story connected with a person, couple or family?
Some were easy. The couple all giddy and happy and with stars in their eyes: newlyweds. The couple with three or four little ones: a family trying to go on vacation in peace, and without poor old Dad having to do a lot of driving and Mom doing the baby sitting; (the opportunity to dump the wee ones in the Kids' Corner was the main reason many families went on cruises).
Alan thought back to his first week-long cruise as a member of the crew. How long ago had it been; how many years? Oh, he didn't want to think about that! Yet, he couldn't help his mind wandering back to those times when he had first gone aboard ship to work ...
ALAN HAD NOT BEEN just any member of the crew of the ship Ocean's Quest. No, he was Dr. Alan Mayhew - the ship's doctor - the name had a nice ring to it, he thought, but he knew the connotations that entailed; many of the ship's old passengers still remembered The Love Boat, and insisted on calling him "Doc". He didn't mind. After all, there was a time when a ship's doctor had an altogether different meaning. In the "Old Days", a ship's doctor was usually about one day ahead of a lawsuit - or arrest - and wasn't known for his expertise.
Alcoholism was high among the old time ship doctors, probably as a way of dealing with the impossible situations that they were often put in the middle of - both medically and politically - aboard ship.
Oh, if those happy tourists coming on board only knew what really went on behind all the glitz and glamour of a cruise ship ... what it was really like to work on one of these floating cities! One day he'd have to write a book. He was already planning that day; his notebook went everywhere with him. One never knew when one of the well-heeled passengers would let slip a real gem of a quote and Alan wanted to catch it.
Alan knew that when you worked for one of these cruise lines, you got a view of more than the ship itself. The company you worked for was usually quite sizeable. Of course, Alan wasn't directly involved in the corporate goings-on, but he was responsible for the budget and various other financial aspects of his department. As an officer, he also had to attend Captain Halverson's weekly meetings and various other management meetings. He knew the drill; the company made its money on the volume of passengers they carried, and all the extras that they sold: the novelties, drinks, tours and so on. Yes, there was profit in running a cruise line. But what would the ship's doctor know about that?
The young Dr Alan Mayhew stood on the small deck just off of the bridge. It was a great Monday morning: clean skies, a few fluffy white clouds and a light ocean breeze. He inhaled - deeply and slowly. Yeah, Alan loved the sea. The smell of the salt air was positively invigorating; this was where he was meant to be.
Captain Halvorsen stepped out next to him.
"Well, Doc, you ready to head down to the main promenade and 'press the flesh'?"
Alan gave him a smile. Captain Halvorsen was a fine figure of a man: tall, with a solid build and his salt and pepper hair gave him a very distinguished look. Alan had always felt that was deliberate. After all, as Captain, he had to look commanding and all-knowing, even when he wasn't.
"A full load this time, sir ...?"
Captain Halvorsen nodded.
"As always; after all, July is our busiest time. Should be good, though - a real mix on this cruise, Doc; not just the Golden Oldies. Should be fun. Besides, you know how the ladies go for a man in uniform."
Alan cringed. He was always rather embarrassed by the attention that the uniform seemed to draw from the young ladies on the make. Shy and somewhat reserved by nature, Alan would love to find the right girl - 'The One' - but he knew 'the one' for him would have to see beyond the swanky uniform and the prestige that comes with being 'Doc' on board ship. No, he'd leave the chasing the booty to the Captain and other more forward ship's staff. He was hopeful that 'Miss Right' would appear on ship one day and spot Dr. Alan Mayhew going about his daily business of tending to the truly sick and the pampered people aboard the cruise ship. He had pictured her many times - not so much the physical details - he was hazy on those - but the personality ... now that he knew. Miss Right for Alan would be a real lady - fun, not stuffy, but ... demure. She'd not be one of these gannets at the dinner table, eating all she could because it was included in the price ...
Alan's attention was diverted from thoughts of the one true love he had yet to find as the first few over-sized passengers waddled onto the deck before them as he and the Captain stepped out of the crew elevator - the one "behind the scenes" - and made their way onto the Promenade Deck, the public area. Once through it, they took up their usual positions near the main hatch to the gangway.
Alan looked around him. Unlike so many of the crew, who had grown immune to all that the ship had to offer, he was always delighted to look over the unrelenting parade of humankind and its many manifestations and often the humor it provided and then of course, the beauty around him - the ship's architecture - while many other crew members had their eyes firmly on the young female eye candy tottering up the gangway.
This area was the most open part of the ship's interior; it went up four decks and was capped by a dazzling glass ceiling. A bar sat at the center of the room and then the excursion desk was against one wall, opposite the entryway. Then there were the glass elevators. Alan smiled; oh, the number of handprints the cleaning staff had to wipe off of those every night!
Captain Halverson's elbow tapped the Doc in his stomach, bringing Alan's forcibly attention back to the matter at hand - the new passengers. He painted a big smile on his face; this was the hardest part of the job. While he loved being around people - after all, he was a doctor - it was just difficult smiling and saying the same sorts of greetings to the same sorts of people week after week.
The passengers began filing in and there they all were: all the usual stereotypes. There were the old retired couples - the husband with his short pants up around his chest, and the black socks and sneakers. Then in came the families - half a dozen children decked out in colorful clothes. Oh - and there was a newly married couple; they were in their fanciest clothes and had eyes only for each other. There were also middle-aged women who had scraped every last cent together to come on the cruise and buy clothes they otherwise could never afford, all in an attempt to get a husband. There was a sprinkling of matronly females of ripe old ages, mostly widows, hoping to find that retired or also widowed male to take care of them in their reclining years. And of course the dance hosts. These guys were often retired, divorced, or widowed and not in the best of financial situations. Their hope was to latch onto some wealthy older female, who could financially support them in their reclining years.
Excerpted from CRUISE SHIP CRIME by PAUL DAVIS Copyright © 2010 by Paul Davis MD. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted May 16, 2010
"Paul Davis's Cruise Ship Crime is a new breed of mystery-crime novel, first in Dr Davis's series of novels. Crime dramas usually follow established formulas quite closely. This book breaks the mold and brings something new by telling a ripping good medical detective story in the sealed-off, closed floating world of a ship on the ocean. It is an exciting, fast-paced tale with complicated relationships and depth of character development in a fascinating setting where suspects and investigator cannot get away from each other. The author is a master who draws on deep personal experience. Paul Davis is the real thing: in real life, he is an internationally-known physician who has come to specialize in providing medical care on board cruise ships. He has seen a lot over the years and the experience is reflected in his work and the effortless way he turns the cruise ship into a self-contained social universe with deep secrets and seemingly infinite possibilities among the passengers on board. This book will enthrall mystery fans, crime drama addicts, medical drama fans, and compulsive travel book readers, alike."
Tee Guidotti MD FACOEM FACP FRSOM Eminent Professor of Medicine, Past President American College of Occupational & Environmental Medicine