For travel escort Emily Andrew and her fellow Iowans, aloha means "hello" to all the sun, surf, and scrumptious cuisine their Hawaiian cruise has to offer. But for Professor Dorian Smoker, a renowned expert on the legendary Captain Cook, aloha also means "good-bye" -- as in "man overboard."
Sure, it could have been an accident. But Emily wonders if some guest with a grudge might have knocked off the opinionated professor. Or maybe it had something to do with that missing journal Nana's friend lent him -- the one with the mysterious treasure map. Emily figures the map is probably a fake. But when another copy turns up, she and her friends take off, rafting down rivers and plunging through jungles to find the treasure themselves. Unfortunately, Professor Smoker's killer just might have the same idea. And this tropical heat wave could quickly turn into a crime wave...
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Aboard the cruise ship, Aloha Princess
En route to Kauai, Hawaii -- October 28
"The Hawaiian islanders weren't as predictable as the English, and it was this unpredictability that Captain Cook and his crew found so confounding. There was no rhyme or reason behind the natives' gift giving one day and their hostility the next. History places blame for Cook's death and dismemberment on the shoulders of the islanders, but I prefer to blame the era. Cook needed the assistance of a behavioral psychologist, and unfortunately, psychology was hardly even a fledgling science in 1779."
Professor Dorian Smoker glanced toward the back of the lecture room for the umpteenth time, his pale blue eyes flickering with an uneasiness that seemed unwarranted for a man recognized as the world's leading authority on Captain James Cook. What in the heck was back there that he found so disturbing?
I glanced subtly over my shoulder to find people packed into the room like proverbial sardines. I wasn't surprised to find standing room only. Professor Smoker was the academic headliner for our cruise, which advertised excursions to the sites visited by Captain Cook on his fateful third sea voyage, so the audience was filled with bespectacled, erudite types with name tags that identified them as members of organizations I'd never of: the Sandwich Island Society, the World Navigators Club, Haute Cuisine International.
I wasn't sure why the Haute Cuisine people were here, but intuition told me they'd probably confused Captain Cook with Mr. Food and were expecting a guy in an apron and chef's hat to wow them with food preparation and tasty free samples. Instead, a man in a navy cardigan and baggy Dockers had mesmerized them with tales of an eighteenth-century English explorer.
And I do mean "mesmerized." Even the guests who were obviously sitting in on the wrong lecture made no attempt to leave. As physically unremarkable as Professor Smoker was, once he started speaking, he oozed such magnetism that he held all of us spellbound. His knowledge gave him an intellectual swagger and confidence that elevated him from dowdy to dazzling, from Mr. Rogers to Buck Rogers. Without having to rely on artificial creams, costly implants, or media hype, Professor Dorian Smoker suddenly became the sexiest man on the planet -- not bad for a fiftysomething academic with a slight paunch, bad posture, scruffy beard, and thinning gray hair.
But I still wondered about the odd glint in his eyes. Was it alarm or a piece of fuzz caught behind a contact lens?
I'm Emily Andrew, full-time coordinator of global excursions for a senior travel club and person most likely to misinterpret a lot of things related to life, death, romance, and spastic eye movements. I'm aboard the Aloha Princess as the official escort for a group of eleven Iowans who've lived in my hometown most of their lives. I'm a longtime resident, too, except for a few years when I worked the New York City theater scene and was married to Jack Potter. I refer to that phase in my life as my "preannulment period." I was hoping my "postannulment period" would show marked improvement, but I keep running into glitches, most especially with a certain Swiss police inspector by the name of Etienne Miceli.
Professor Smoker cleared his throat. "Five days after the Captain was slain in the surf of Kealakekua Bay, one of King Terreeoboo's chiefs returned a jumble of bones to the crew of the Resolution -- Cook's hands, skull, legs, lower jaw, and feet. His thigh bones and arms were never recovered."
My grandmother -- whose name tag was crammed with microscopic text that read Marion Sippel -- Windsor City Bank Travel Club, Windsor City, Iowa, Birthplace of America's First Pork Fritter Fingers -- looked up from the ragged sheet of paper she was studying and leaned over to whisper in my ear. "If they'd waked him at Heavenly Host, there wouldn't a been no public viewin'. It's one a them rules a thumb. You gotta have a body to be eligible for the open casket option."
A man with a high-tech camera around his neck slipped through the door at the front of the room. He snapped a few shots of the professor and the audience, then disappeared unobtrusively out the door again. Ship's photographer. The same man who'd snapped individual and group photos of us as we'd boarded and showed up to take candid shots during the lifeboat drill. I had a sneaking suspicion this guy's camera was going to be in our faces a lot during the cruise, whether we wanted it there or not. Our own personal paparazzi.
Professor Smoker sipped a mouthful of water before allowing his gaze to drift slowly over his audience. "Captain Cook's remains were committed to the deep on February 22, 1779, and on the following day, under the command of Warrant Officer William Bligh, who would gain infamy years later aboard the mutinous ship, Bounty, the Resolution set sail for England. Eight months later the ship arrived back in the Thames, having suffered the deaths of a score of crew members, and the ship's surgeon, as well. As a note to any actuaries who may be sitting in the audience, Cook's wife, Elizabeth, survived him by fifty-six years."
"I hope I don't survive your grampa by fifty-six years," Nana whispered. "That'd make me" -- she pinched her eyes shut in a quick calculation -- "a hundred and thirty-two. We're talkin' brain cells like leaf lettuce."
Nana had switched from cable to Direct TV after our Italian trip, so her always impressive store of mindless trivia had increased exponentially over the last four months.
Professor Smoker smiled with pride and conviction. "Let there be no mistake. Captain James Cook's accomplishments were both extraordinary and unparalleled -- distinctions that have earned him the title of the greatest explorer of all time."
Applause. Whistles. More applause.
Followed by a voice that bristled with animosity. "Your praise completely ignores the darker side of Cook's explorations. How do you answer those who charge that he and his crewmen spread incurable diseases and precipitated the collapse of countless native cultures?"
Smoker's pale blue eyes hardened like magma. "I call the charges ignorant and unfounded. Next question."
"The great explorers sailed without instruments," another man shouted out. "Cook's ships boasted the finest navigational equipment of the era. That fact alone diminishes his achievements and sets other explorers far above him. This is not new to you. When will you admit that you've misled the public about -- "
"I've never misled the public about anything," Smoker cut him off, obviously annoyed. "Are there any more questions?"
Wow. The last time I'd heard people get so hot under the collar about an historical figure was during my senior year at the UW, when the Memorial Union sponsored a panel of experts who rabidly debated the burning question: Was Attila the Hun a midget, or was he just short? I'm always surprised how fanatical people can get about obscure details. I mean, what difference would it make if Attila had charged into battle on a miniature pony instead of a stallion? He'd gotten the job done, hadn't he?
"Excuse me, Professor." Tilly Hovick raised her walking stick in the air to attract his attention. Tilly was a retired university professor who'd become fast friends with Nana on our trip to Ireland. She stood nearly six feet tall in her stocking feet, was thin as a torchlight, and had an affinity for pleated woolen skirts with matching berets, though as a concession to the tropical climate, she'd switched to Madras plaids with coordinating visors. "You're familiar with the Resolution's crew roster. Was there a seaman aboard by the name of Griffin Ring?"
Dorian Smoker lifted his brow in surprise and a curious smile touched his lips. "There was indeed a crewman by that name aboard the Resolution. Ordinary Seaman, Griffin Ring. A taciturn fellow with a dubious background that scholars later discovered may have involved the suspicious death of a relative and the theft of a family heirloom before he embarked on the expedition. But no formal charges were ever drawn up because he died shortly after returning to England. His name is absent from most primary sources, so he remains something of a mystery in the annals of navigational history." Smoker's eyebrow arched further upward at Tilly. "Do you mind my asking what interest you have in Ring? He's mentioned so sparingly in the literature. How do you know his name?"
Tilly extracted a plastic storage bag from her canvas tote. Inside was a book the size of a paperback novel, which she removed from the plastic and held up for Smoker's observation. Bound in discolored leather, it was as thick as a deck of playing cards and looked like something straight out of the Old Curiosity Shop. "I found this in a hidden compartment of an antique chest I recently inherited. It appears to be the handwritten journal of Griffin Ring, Ordinary Seaman aboard the sloop, Resolution. From what I've read, it documents the events of Cook's last journey of discovery in the South Pacific. You're the expert, Professor. How would you determine if this journal is authentic or a masterful hoax?"
The room erupted in a low-level buzz. Heads turned. Chairs creaked. All eyes riveted on Tilly and the slim book she clutched in her hand. Professor Smoker inhaled a deep breath, then nodded meaningfully to a young woman in the front row, who stood up to address us.
"Professor Smoker thanks you for attending today's lecture." Her voice projected into every corner of the room without effort. Good lungs. Great diaphragm. I suspected she'd had professional voice-training instruction, or lived in a big family. She was in her midtwenties with a foot of coarse brown hair caught in a scrunchie at the base of her skull and no visible jewelry other than a glimmer of a chain peeking beneath the open collar of her blouse. She wore a straight skirt that hit her just above the knee and a pale yellow knit vest that I'd seen in the latest Lands' End catalogue. Her smile was subdued, her tone no-nonsense, and she wore serious, elliptical eyeglasses that appeared to add ten years to her age and twenty points to her IQ. My instincts told me she was probably Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi, and the quintessential type-A personality -- the kind who experienced total meltdown when she wasn't in control.
"Please check the schedule in tomorrow's Compass for the time and location of our next session," she continued. "Apparently we're going to be a moveable feast. And if you have questions about -- "
"I've got a question," a woman at the back of the room called out. "Where's the Coconut Palms Cafe? The ice-cream social begins in ten minutes, and they're serving thirty-two different flavors. That's one more than Baskin-Robbins!"
"I know where it is," another woman replied. "Five decks up. And it's all you can eat!"
That led to serial chair-scraping and a mass exodus through the two exit doors. Who could blame them -- one more flavor than Baskin-Robbins? Even I was curious.
Nana tugged on my arm. "I need two M&M's for the scavenger hunt. You think they might have M&M's at the ice-cream social?"
"What kind do you need? Peanut, almond, crispy, peanut butter, or plain?"
She consulted her list. "Blue."
Professor Smoker left his podium and sauntered in our direction. "Would you mind if I took a closer look at your journal, Mrs." -- he eyed Tilly's name tag -- "Hovick?"
"Professor Hovick," she corrected, giving his hand a firm shake. "Iowa State University. Retired."
The degree of respect in his eyes inched upward, like water on the indicator level of a twelve cup coffee maker. "History?"
"Anthropology. And these are my traveling companions, Marion Sippel and her granddaughter, Emily."
Smoker nodded to each of us before beckoning to the young woman who had announced the end of the lecture. "Let me introduce you to Bailey Howard." He gave her an appreciative smile as she joined us. "My brilliant graduate assistant who has single-handedly rescued me from drowning in a sea of memoranda, email, and otherwise useless bureaucratic spam. It'll be a sad day when she graduates. I'll be lost without her organizational skills."
Bailey angled her mouth into a crooked smile, looking uncomfortable with the compliment. She shrugged one shoulder. "I'm a Virgo. We have an obsessive need to create order out of chaos."
If she alphabetized her soup cans and spices, I'd have to bring her home with me. My mom would love her.
Smoker laughed. "Bailey knows nearly as much about Captain Cook as I do. In a few years, I suspect she'll be applying for my position. But in the meantime" -- he extended a polite hand toward Tilly's book -- "I should very much like to peruse your journal. You found it in an antique chest, you say?"
Tilly handed over the journal. "An antique bachelor's chest willed to me from a cousin who lived in England for many years. Marion's grandson found the hidden compartment quite by accident when they were visiting last week. He was pretending the chest was the control panel for the Starship Enterprise, and when he turned a knob to reverse engines, the compartment opened up. A charming youngster, young David," she said stiffly. "So" -- she searched for the right adjective -- "energetic."
Nana shook her head. "In the last year he's went from action figures to farm machinery to spaceships. His mother thinks he's got Attention Deficit Disorder. Or Hyperactivity Disorder. Or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. They sure got a lot a names for normal five-year-olds these days. You got grandkids, Professor?"
Smoker opened the journal, his eyes skimming the first page. "I've never married," he said offhandedly. "I'm afraid I've made my career my life. This journal is in extraordinary condition for a book that's over two hundred years old. Excellent ink pigment. Minimal deterioration of the paper. Legible handwriting. It's almost too good to be true."
"My sentiments entirely," Tilly agreed. "Not to mention that your typical seaman in the eighteenth century couldn't write." She cocked her head. "Yet if you read a few pages, you find a certain element of authenticity about it."
"The twentieth century gave rise to forgers who knew their profession well," Smoker asserted. "I'd need to read the complete journal before I could make any kind of determination, but at first blush, Professor Hovick, I'd deem it a well-crafted hoax." He closed the book and attempted to hand it back.
"I feared as much. But still..." Tilly leaned on her walking stick, her eyes registering a sudden decision. "I invite you to read the complete journal, then."
The book seemed to weigh more heavily in Smoker's hand. "It could take days. Are you comfortable entrusting it to me for that long?"
She nodded assent. "However long it takes, Professor. If you're able to resolve its true origin, I expect it will be well worth the wait."
"I can't promise any startling results, but please consider it on my front burner. What's your cabin number, Professor Hovick? I'll get back to you as soon as possible."
While Tilly and Dorian Smoker exchanged cabin numbers, I observed two young women standing by the door at the back of the room, watching us and each other with icy glares. One was a statuesque brunette with a milk white complexion that looked as if it had never been zapped by an ultraviolet ray. She wore a skimpy pink halter top and belted white short-shorts that bared a pierced navel and abdominal muscles so flat, you could probably bounce quarters off them. The other woman had long blond hair the texture of straw, a too-dark tan that screamed of a tanning bed, and a colorful tattoo that hugged her shoulder. She was dressed in a skintight tank top enhanced by a push-up bra and wore a black microminiskirt that was the size of a candy wrapper. They looked like Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders waiting for a football game to break out someplace.
"You don't got a business card I can have, do you, Professor?" Nana asked Smoker as she eyed her crumpled list again. "It's on account a the scavenger hunt. We're s'posed to ask perfect strangers to give us really stupid stuff, and that's s'posed to break the ice."
He smiled as he slipped the journal back into the plastic storage bag that Tilly handed him. "You're in luck, Mrs. Sippel." He reached into the pocket of his shirt and removed a small case. "I always carry extras when I'm lecturing. You never know who might want to visit my website, or make a contribution to the university." He plucked a white card from the stack and offered it to Nana. "Will that do?"
Nana gave it a quick glance before stashing it in the oversized leather pocketbook that was her signature piece. "Penn State, hunh? Go Nittany Lions! You don't happen to have a couple a blue M&M's on you, do you?"
"Afraid not. You might try a vending machine."
"I haven't seen none on board, but then, I haven't been lookin'. Good idea." She looked suddenly worried. "I only got a few more hours before the hunt ends, and if I can find a few more things, I got a good chance a winnin' the grand prize."
"Which is?" asked Smoker.
Nana read from her paper. " 'A priceless memento that celebrates the uniqueness of the Hawaiian Islands.' I'm thinkin' maybe a free ticket to that luau they're offerin' on Maui."
Better that than a book contract with a five-figure advance. A little chill tickled my spine. Been there, done that.
Bailey Howard tapped her watch to catch Smoker's attention. "It's about that time, Professor. We're supposed to vacate the room by four."
Smoker gave us a devilish wink. "You see what I mean about her being organized and efficient? She'll be dean of the College of the Liberal Arts before long. Ladies, it's been a pleasure meeting you." He graciously shook hands with all of us, which, I figured, was our cue to leave.
As we ambled toward the exit, the two cheerleaders charged toward us, eyes locked, teeth set, like early-bird Wal-Mart shoppers the day after Thanksgiving. "I bet the professor's celebratin' a birthday today," Nana said as they brushed by.
"You think?" I peeked over my shoulder, watching the duo greet Smoker in the same way cannibals might greet a wayward traveler.
"Yup. Them two gals are dressed like they just popped outta one a them X-rated surprise birthday cakes. You s'pose they got a naughty bakery on board?" She paused in thought. "I wonder if they do special orders?"
Whether it was his birthday or not, the good professor certainly looked surprised, but not in a good way.
In the corridor, Tilly nodded back toward the lecture room, a knowing look in her eye. "I saw this all the time when I was teaching. Sexual misconduct is rampant in academia, especially with the more high-profile professors. He's probably slept with both those young women."
"No," exclaimed Nana.
"Yes," assured Tilly.
Nana peeked back into the room, stunned. "He sure don't look like no studmuffin."
"A man doesn't have to be good-looking for a woman to find him sexually attractive," Tilly maintained. "They've conducted studies. Position, authority, knowledge -- to a woman, these are much more powerful aphrodisiacs than good looks."
"Who done that study?" asked Nana. "Someone at Iowa State?"
"I read it in Cosmo. The sad thing is, those girls probably signed up for the cruise hoping to surprise Smoker, and instead they ended up surprising each other. Did you see their faces? The shock? The anger? The humiliation? Classic reactions for women who learn they've been deceived by a philandering lover." Tilly shook her head. "Smoker had better be prepared to do some fast talking. You know what they say, 'Hell hath no fury...' "
"Blue M&M's," said Nana, spinning in a bewildered circle. "Which way to the Coconut Palms Cafe? It's located aft, but I don't know if that's left or right."
I didn't know either, but I did know one thing. If what Tilly said was true, I was glad not to be in Dorian Smoker's shoes right then.
The Aloha Princess boasted thirteen decks, three swimming pools, two five-star restaurants, a miniature golf course, a climbing wall, a world-class fitness center, an exotic spa, and thirty-two kinds of ice cream -- but nowhere within its luxurious chrome-and-glass interior was there a blue M&M to be found. Striking out at the Coconut Palms Cafe, we ventured to the casino on deck six, where we ran into the rest of the scavenger-hunting Iowa contingent, their voices raised in complaint as they brandished their lists.
"They don't have vending machines on this boat," whined Bernice Zwerg in a voice that scratched like coarse-grade steel wool. "How are we supposed to get our hands on those over-priced packets of M&M's without vending machines?" Bernice had undergone emergency bunion surgery on both feet last June, but she'd bounced back in time to book a last-minute reservation on our cruise. Lucky me.
We were gathered near the front of the casino, opposite the glassed-in cashiers' windows, where a coin-counting machine rattled like a faulty race-car engine. Reflective disco balls hung from the ceiling. Slot machines hunkered in military formation on the floor. Gaming tables flanked the perimeter. Digital sound effects rang out like a chorus of off-key kazoos, joined by the hoots, hollers, screams, and laughter of the casino's patrons.
"Did anyone try the General Store on deck five?" asked Dick Teig, hitching up the belt of his size 52 waist Italian knit trousers. I'd discovered a killer in Italy; Dick had discovered couture. "They should have M&M's in the candy section."
"Osmond and I checked," announced Alice Tjarks in her KORN radio voice. "All they have is Skittles." She waved into the lens of Osmond Chelsvig's camcorder, then gave him a big 'I'm on vacation' smile.
"Skittles?" crowed Helen Teig, Dick's wife. "I love Skittles. Did you buy any?"
"At three dollars a bag?" Alice shot back. "Who's got money like that?"
"I do," said Nana. Nana had won millions in the Minnesota lottery, so she had money to burn. "But I'd rather spend it on them midget Tootsie Rolls. The fresh ones don't even stick to my dentures."
Ding ding ding ding ding. A victorious shriek echoed out from the depths of the casino.
Helen Teig rubbed her eye, accidentally wiping her left eyebrow off her face. "So what else are we missing besides M&M's?"
Lucille Rassmuson raised her hand. "I can't find a balloon. I even checked the florist shop. They don't do balloons, only flowers."
"I found a balloon!" enthused Margi Swanson. This was Margi's first trip with us. She worked part-time as an RN at the medical clinic in Windsor City, but she said she was reaching the age where she needed to start spending some of the money she'd spent a lifetime earning. She'd recently lost seventy-five pounds on the "Eat Everything in Sight and Still Lose Weight" diet, so as a reward to herself, she'd signed up for the cruise.
"Where'd you find a balloon?" Lucille asked suspiciously. She was wearing her favorite piece of jewelry pinned to her sweater today -- a quarter-size campaign button with her deceased husband's cigar-smoking face stamped on it. Her good friends, the Teigs and Stolees, had surprised her with matching earrings for her birthday. I guessed next would come coffee mugs and calendars. In today's marketplace, the possibilities were endless.
"It's not actually a real balloon," Margi said in a stage whisper. "I'm using a condom."
Gasps. Wheezing. Choking.
"What size?" asked Nana.
"Jumbo. It blows up to the size of a beach ball."
Nana's eyes lit up. "You got any more?"
"Plenty. I stocked up at the clinic. If rampant hanky-panky breaks out aboard ship, I can hand them out to the masses."
Suppressing a grin, I turned toward Nana. "Why do you need condoms? George isn't even here."
"Them jumbos are hard to find, dear. I'm stockpilin'."
Nana's boyfriend, George Farkas, Windsor City's only resident with both a prosthetic leg and hardware the size of a SCUD missile, had planned on cruising with us, but he'd come down with a sudden case of shingles and been forced to cancel. His doctor didn't know what had triggered the episode, but there was mention of stress. I figured the thought of being the focus of Nana's romantic notions for ten days had finally gotten to him. I mean, he'd barely escaped with his life in Italy, where the beds had been stationary -- he'd probably been plagued by nightmares about what could happen on the high seas. No wonder he'd gotten stressed.
"Did anyone find a rock?" asked Osmond as he adjusted one of his double hearing aids.
"I did," said Bernice, pulling it out of her Aloha Princess tote. "In the spa. There was a whole bunch in one of the rooms I toured, so I borrowed one."
A cocktail waitress with a tray of tall, icy beverages skirted around us, offering free drinks to the people camped before the dollar slots.
"Which way is the spa?" asked Lucille.
"That way," said Bernice, pointing right.
"That way," said Dick Teig, pointing left.
"Three decks up," attested Alice.
"One deck down," corrected Margi.
Uff da. What was happening here? Iowans never got lost. Ever. Since the beginning of time, no Iowan had even taken a wrong turn! The fact that no one knew how to get anywhere revealed an incredible phenomenon: Everyone's natural directional system apparently stopped functioning near large bodies of water. Either that, or the new souped-up metal detectors at the Des Moines airport had caused the first incidence of group dementia ever recorded.
"Show of hands," Osmond shouted. When there was a vote to be taken, eighty-eight-year-old Osmond always did the honors. "How many of you found a paper clip?" All hands went up. "A map without advertising?" Five hands went up. "An eraser?" Nine hands went up.
"Mine's attached to a number two pencil," confessed Margi. "That won't get me disqualified, will it?"
Ding ding ding ding ding.
Seated on a high stool before a shiny one-armed bandit behind us, Grace Stolee let out a scream and pointed to the circular white light atop her machine. If the dings and flashing indicated a winning jackpot, Grace had just hit it big.
"Don't move!" instructed her husband as he leaped off an adjacent stool and aimed his camcorder at her. "This is Grace winning a big jackpot aboard the Aloha Princess." He shot a close-up of the coins pouring into her tray. "Quarters." He panned higher. "Flashing light." Then lower. "Three winning sevens." Dick Stolee kind of had a thing for stating the obvious.
"What's the payout, Grace?" he asked, zeroing in on the payoff chart below the window.
Osmond Chelsvig abandoned the group to film Dick Stolee filming Grace. Alice Tjarks dug her camcorder out of her tote and positioned herself to film Osmond, filming Dick, filming Grace. What was it with these guys and the infinity shots?
Grace stabbed her finger at the payoff chart. "Three sevens, three quarters, that's -- " She screamed again. "TWENTY THOUSAND QUARTERS!"
"How much is that in real money?" asked Dick Teig.
While the majority of the group hurried over to surround Grace, I nodded to Nana and Tilly, indicating that I was ready to head out and explore some more. I'd had enough of the casino's gaming tables and slot machines. Gaming tables reminded me of chemin de fer. Chemin de fer reminded me of Italy. And Italy reminded me of Etienne, who'd won an unexpected fortune while visiting his family and had gotten his memory jogged enough to ask me...
My heart started thumping in my ears.
...to have the gall to ask me...
My face grew hot.
...to have the absolute effrontery to ask me...
Nuts. I was not going to think about Etienne right now. I refused to let him spoil my holiday. But I needed to get out of the casino, and fast.
Inhaling a calming breath, I headed out the door, with Nana and Tilly hot on my heels. "Where to, ladies?" I asked, digging a floor plan of the ship out of my shoulder bag. "A spin around the Promenade deck, which is...let's see...one deck down? Or would you prefer a round of miniature golf on the putting green on deck thirteen?"
"I've never played miniature golf," Tilly admitted. "The closest I've come to it is playing croquet with a tribe of Pygmies in the Andaman Islands."
"I'd like to hit the spa and borrow a rock like Bernice done," Nana said. "And while I'm there, I'm gonna sign up for one a them Ionithermie treatments. It costs a hundred and twenty dollars, but the flyer promises you can lose up to eight inches a ugly cellulite in the first session. And it's not real complicated. They plaster you in seaweed and wire you up like the Frankenstein monster, and that detoxifies your fat cells and firms you up real good."
"I underwent a similar ritual in New Guinea," Tilly recalled, as we approached the elevator. "Only they plastered me in jungle foliage instead of sea vegetation, and I wasn't sure if their goal was to cleanse me or eat me. Cannibals are oftentimes quite hard to read."
When the door to the elevator slid open, we stepped into a cylindrical glass tube that overlooked the atrium at the center of the ship -- a huge column of open space between decks four and eleven that was rimmed by tiers of balconies and overhung by a crystal chandelier that looked like a giant upside-down sno-cone. I punched the button for deck eleven then clung to the safety rail as we glided upward on the barest whisper of air.
"I'll be," Nana marveled, her nose pressed to the elevator glass. "This is like bein' inside a hypodermic needle."
I looked down at the elegant champagne bar on deck four, where a staircase of illuminated acrylic risers spiraled toward the next floor. That would be the perfect place to have the group pose for pictures on Halloween night, when we were all expected to dress in costume for the masquerade gala. I hadn't decided on a costume yet, but I figured I could rent one at the clothing shop on deck five. They were supposed to have a good selection in a variety of sizes.
"It's breathtaking, isn't it?" mused Tilly, as we peered outward through the ship's glass walls. The gleaming waters of the Pacific Ocean appeared calm as bathwater. There was no land in sight, only blue sky and open sea. "Balboa first named this ocean the South Sea, but Magellan changed the name to the Pacific, no doubt for the calm waters that greeted him after a harrowing passage around the tip of South America. Can you feel the stillness, ladies? The wonderful calm? This must be the same calm that Magellan felt."
A bell pinged. The elevator door shushed open.
"MAN OVERBOARD!" shrieked a woman as she banged through the door from the outside deck. "Man overboard! Help me! Somebody help me! PLEASE!"
It was Bailey Howard.
Copyright © 2005 by Mary Mayer Holmes