Read an Excerpt
A Bad Hair Day Mystery
By Nancy J. Cohen
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2007 Nancy J. Cohen
All rights reserved.
Are you sure I won't get seasick? Marla Shore asked her fiancé as they approached the Port of Miami via a bridge over the Intracoastal. Squinting at the white ships lining the pier like ducks on parade, she felt a twinge of queasiness in her stomach. Hopefully, her first Caribbean cruise wouldn't be her last.
"These big ships have stabilizers," Dalton Vail replied, focused on his driving. "It'll probably be so smooth you won't even notice we're on the water."
The handsome detective spared her a glance. He wouldn't admit to being excited, but she saw the spark in his gray eyes. She looked forward to sharing this experience with him and his fourteen-year-old daughter.
From the backseat, Brianna tapped Marla on the shoulder. "Look, there's the Tropical Sun! Can you see it?" The teen had talked about nothing but their trip for the past few weeks.
"It has their signature lounge on top," Marla pointed out, admiring the massive vessel's sleek lines. Her attention shifted. "Do you have enough cash for parking?" she asked Dalton as he followed signs to the garage. "It's twelve dollars a day."
"They take credit cards. Why don't you and Brie get off here with the luggage? The cruise terminal is straight ahead. I'll meet you at the entrance." After he pulled up to the curb, he helped them unload before jumping back behind the wheel and zooming away.
Marla grimaced as a stiff sea breeze blew wisps of her carefully coiffed hair about her face. Her hairstylist skills would come in handy on this voyage. Rummaging in her purse, she withdrew a few bills for the porter, who checked their bags.
"Where do we go now?" Brianna said, confusion muddling her brown eyes. She wore her toffee hair in a ponytail along with the standard teenage garb of jeans and a camisole top.
"Let's wait for your father."
Charter buses pulled up to the curb along with yellow taxicabs and a shiny metal Sysco supply truck. Cops wearing neon green vests directed the traffic that added to the noise level. Seagulls squawked. Engines idled. Porters shouted. Airplanes roaring overhead made Marla's blood pound in her ears.
Who said cruises were restful vacations? Mingling with three thousand other passengers doesn't fit my dream of a tropical getaway.
Diesel fumes warmed by the summer sun mixed with the aroma of hot dogs from a nearby vendor. A passenger next to her crunched on a potato chip, his ample belly filling his shorts and flowered shirt.
Oh joy. Eleven days to gain weight at endless buffets. It's a good thing my new salon will offer spa services in addition to the usual hair treatments. I'll be their first customer.
Marla knew Dalton was looking forward to the meals. He'd pored over the dining-room pictures in the brochure. Same for Brianna, whose growing stage made her continually hungry. Marla was more interested in checking out the shops and lounging by the pool. Forget the onboard salon. She'd take a peek, but that was one place she wanted to avoid on her vacation.
As Vail hustled across the street, she watched him with pride. His broad shoulders filled the Tommy Bahama black shirt she'd given him for Father's Day. Even with the silver peppering his ebony hair, his distinguished appearance made female heads turn in appreciation. She hoped this cruise would bring them closer together as a family.
"Let's go inside," he said, taking charge.
At the door, a uniformed official checked their passports and ushered them into the terminal. They entered the line for U.S. citizens and shuffled along like sheep in a herd until they reached the counter. Vail collected their papers and submitted their passports, cruise tickets, and credit cards for their on-board credit accounts.
"How does my hair look?" Marla asked before she grinned in front of a mini camera that snapped her photo. Just getting to the ship was an ordeal. She couldn't wait to get settled.
In the next room, another attendant handed them each a room-key card, which they signed on the back. Brianna's eyes bulged when she realized she'd be able to charge her own purchases.
"All right! I hope I meet kids my age to hang out with on the ship." Brianna stuffed the card into her Nine West purse.
"You will, honey," Marla said, giving her an indulgent smile. "They have an excellent teen program. You'll have your own activities and even your own newsletter every day."
"Over here," Vail said, directing them to the security detail. Like at the airport, they had to pass their carry-on bags through an X-ray machine while they walked through the gates. After they cleared, a guard waved them toward an up escalator. A long metal walkway open to the breeze awaited them at the top. Shaded by a blue awning, it led to the gangway onto the ship itself. But first they had to get past the pair of photographers who captured a quick picture of them in front of a Tropical Sun welcome aboard poster.
"I wonder how much that photo will cost," Marla remarked. She shivered with excitement as they crossed a plank over a short expanse of water. Once on the ship, they had to present their key cards. A crew member swept each card through a machine that brought up their photo ID. Marla noticed a dispenser of liquid hand sanitizer just beyond. Great; they'd need it to prevent norovirus.
"At last," she said, once they were free to find their room. She glanced at the bank of elevators, the wide carpeted stairway, and two long corridors flanking either side of the ship. "Where is our cabin, port or starboard?" she asked Vail, relying on his sense of direction.
"We're starboard on deck eight," he replied. "That's on the right side of the ship facing forward. I usually remember because port has four letters same as left." He nodded at the crowd waiting in front of the elevators. "It'll be a few minutes before the mob clears."
"We can take the stairs." Wondering why he peered around as though expecting someone, Marla put her foot forward just as she spotted an auburn-haired woman waving at them. She'd come off the down elevator, accompanied by a tall man with receding hair, eyeglasses, and a broad grin.
"Dalton! Brianna!" The lady descended upon them, spreading her arms wide.
"Grandma," Brie responded, rushing into the older woman's embrace while Marla stared.
Grandma? Don't tell me Dalton s parents are here. Her vision wavered. She felt as though the floor had opened beneath her, and she'd dropped into Wonderland. Why did no one else act surprised? Dumbfounded, she stood there like a statue.
"You think we'd pay for your cruise and not come along for the ride?" Brianna's grandmother said. "Besides, we wanted to meet Marla . At the rate your father is dragging his feet regarding a wedding date, this may be our only chance."
She grasped Marla's stiff hand. "We're delighted to meet you. I'm Kate, and this is John. Or call us Mom and Dad."
Vail hugged his father. "Dad, I figured you'd be looking for us down here."
Marla stood back, struggling to comprehend. Dalton had known his folks would be on the cruise, and he hadn't said a word? True, Kate and John had treated them to the vacation. Presumably the elder couple meant to smooth things over after Dalton's former in-laws created a strain between them. But if Dalton's folks were anything like Pam's parents, she'd plotz!
Not to worry. Kate and John flew in from Maine. They'll have plenty to do on the cruise.
And she really should forgive Justine and Larry, who still mourned Pam's death. It wasn't easy for them to accept Marla as a potential stepmother for their granddaughter.
Kate linked her arm with Marla's. "You're prettier in person than in your picture," Kate said with a warm smile. "I can't wait to get to know you, but I'm sure you and Dalton would like to unpack. We'll take Brie to our cabin. Her suitcase is already there."
Vail frowned. "Huh? Why would it have been sent to your stateroom?"
"I guess you didn't notice that her room number is different from yours. She's staying with us so you and Marla can have some privacy. I hope that's okay with you, sweetheart."
Brianna's expression took on a devilish gleam. "Sure, I have my own key anyway. As long as you agree that I don't have a curfew." She cast her father a smug grin.
"Now just a minute," he began.
Vail's dad made a dismissive gesture. "Let it go, son. Brie can't get lost on the ship, and she'll have a better time if she hooks up with some young people." He exchanged a knowing look with Marla that made her like him already.
"We'll catch up to you guys later," Kate told Marla, then squeezed her elbow.
Kate was certainly a touchy-feely person, Marla thought, appreciating how she appeared totally different from Justine, Pam's mother. It might not be so bad having her future in-laws on board after all. Wanting to accommodate Brianna, she turned her attention to the teen.
"Are you certain you're all right with this, honey? You know you're welcome to stay with us. We want to spend time with you, and--"
"She'll be fine." Kate wrapped an arm around the girl's shoulder. "Take your time exploring the ship. We sail at five; then we have the lifeboat drill before dinner. We'll meet up with you in the dining room."
After trudging up the stairs, Marla and Vail sought their cabin. Feeling like a conditioned laboratory rat, she followed the coral carpet down a brightly lit corridor that seemed to stretch to infinity. Brass plates displayed room numbers, and when they reached theirs, Marla noticed an envelope tucked into a seashell decoration by the door.
"Look at this," she said, showing Dalton the scrawl that addressed the message to Martha Shore. "Someone must've spelled my name wrong." After sticking it inside her purse, she unlocked the door to their cabin. "Yikes, my closet at home is bigger than this place!" Plopping her bags on the floor, she surveyed their home for the next week. There was barely enough space for their suitcases, let alone her and Dalton.
A queen-sized bed stood against the opposite wall, where a wide picture window showed a view of the pier. Other furnishings included a small nightstand, a desk that served as a dresser with drawers, a desk chair, and a small love seat facing a television mounted on a ledge.
She noticed Dalton eyeing the TV and said, "If I'm going to lose you to sports games, you can find me on the pool deck." Upon peering in the bathroom, she added, "Hey, look in here. If you turn around when you brush your teeth, you'll be taking a shower."
Vail excused himself to use the facilities while she examined a pile of papers on their bed: the Tropical Tattler newsletter, announcements about a preview art auction, gift shop flyers, and spa treatment specials. Always on the lookout for bargains, she stuffed them in her purse to read later and turned to her carry-on bag to remove her cosmetics.
From the bathroom, she heard a thump, followed by an explosive whoosh and a loud curse. The detective emerged looking shaken. "Jeez, if you sit on that thing when you flush, you risk losing some vital body parts. They aren't kidding when they say to close the lid first."
Marla laughed, then put her things down on the bed and walked over to kiss him soundly. "I can see one benefit to this cabin. We'll have to snuggle closer." They spent a few minutes doing just that until a knock sounded outside the door.
"Hello, my name is Jovanny," said their cabin steward, a short young man with a swarthy complexion. "May I assist you with luggage?" Their suitcases had arrived. Marla and Vail stood by while Jovanny dragged the luggage inside. "Your cruise guide will tell you what goes on each day," Jovanny said, with a flashy grin, while Marla strained to understand him. He spoke as though he had a wad of cotton in his mouth. "Today we have lifeboat drill at five-thirty. Life jackets are in closet. Your station is deck seven, C-4. Okay, lady and gentleman? If you need anything else, please call me on telephone."
As soon as he left, she returned to unpacking her bag. A loudspeaker blared, making her jump.
Ding dong, ding dong.
"Attention, all passengers," announced a deep male voice from a console on the desk. "According to SOLAS, International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, we are required to hold a lifeboat drill within twenty-four hours of sailing. When you hear seven short blasts and one long blast, this is the signal to proceed to your lifeboat assembly station. There will be no eating or drinking during this exercise. This is a mandatory drill even if you have cruised with us before."
The man's voice droned on, issuing further instructions, but Marla closed him out. She'd opened the envelope addressed to Martha Shore and pulled out a piece of paper inside. Narrowing her eyes, she stared at the typewritten words:
I know what you did and I have what you want.
Her blood chilled. Who would send this weird message?
She'd done a few bad things in her life, but mostly they'd been resolved. No one on board could possibly know about the erotic pictures she'd posed for when she was nineteen. That hadn't been the best moment in her life, but she'd needed the money to pay for an attorney after Tammy had drowned in a backyard pool. As her babysitter, Marla had been held accountable by the toddler's parents. She'd finally put the tragedy to rest, so why would it rear its ugly head now? Nah, this had to be a mistake.
"What's wrong?" Vail asked, giving her a curious glance. He'd started hanging up his suit jackets.
"Look at this note." She thrust it at him.
Scanning the words, he scowled. "Gotta be some sort of joke."
"Or it's been sent to the wrong person." Flushing with guilt, she grabbed the paper and tossed it into a drawer. Nothing would ruin her vacation. "Forget about it," she said. "Let's explore the ship. I'd like to make sure Brie is happy with her arrangements."
Vail opted for a snack, so they headed for the Outrigger Cafe on deck eleven. Unsure of where to go, Marla suggested they follow the trail of people holding drink cups. They found the dining room with several buffet lines, and Vail filled his plate with a juicy hamburger, French fries, pasta salad, and herb-roasted chicken, while Marla allowed herself coffee and fruit.
"How can you eat so much? It's nearly time for dinner," she said, sipping the brew.
"Don't worry, I'll be hungry again," Vail answered, his mouth full. "How's the coffee?"
"Rich and robust, with no bitter aftertaste. I saw a notice alongside the dispenser that says the brand is Hair Raiser. They must have the concession throughout the ship."
His eyebrows lifted. "I hope that isn't a portent since you do hair for a living."
You and me both, pal. This is one week where I want to lie out and catch the sun, not help you catch killers. "Maybe I should serve the stuff in my salon. I'll look it up on the Internet when I get a chance."
After bolstering their energy, they strolled outside to preview the pool, Jacuzzis, and solarium. Then they went indoors to ride the glass elevator down and ended up by Hook's Champagne Bar on deck five. Marla stared at the nine-story central atrium in confusion.
"How did we miss the salon, spa, and fitness center?" she asked. "Weren't they on the same deck as the pool?"
"I don't know. They could be at the other end. We need to look at a diagram." A couple of long blasts on the ship's horn sounded. "Forget it, we're about to cast off. Let's take the elevator back up."
Completely disoriented, Marla pointed to the carpet on their way aloft. "It's a good thing the design tells you what day it is. I could easily lose track of time here."
"I wonder if they change the carpet at midnight."
"You can stay and watch. I'll be too tired tonight."
As soon as she stepped outdoors into the afternoon July sun, she felt the vibration increase and realized the ship had begun moving. Jostling for a position by the rail, she felt a rush of excitement. She watched the pier recede before they entered the outlet leading to open sea.
Excerpted from Killer Knots by Nancy J. Cohen. Copyright © 2007 Nancy J. Cohen. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.