Twin Falls pathologist Toni Day is on a Caribbean cruise with her husband and parents when she is jerked out of a peaceful slumber by a horrific scream. After several unsuccessful attempts to reclaim sleep, Toni heads to the ship’s deck to read. But shortly after the sun rises, everything changes when a mangled body plummets from the roof into the pool next to her.
Rather than flee in horror, Toni teams up with her stepfather, Nigel, and Scotland Yard to investigate the murder, despite resistance from the captain and the Royal Barbados Police. With just three days left in the cruise, Toni and Nigel must work fast, especially when two more bodies are discovered and a crew member is fatally injured. As Toni delves into the histories of crew members, she uncovers mysterious connections that lead back nearly three decades. Finally, with only one night remaining, Toni and Nigel must set a trap in a last ditch attempt to find the killer before one of them becomes the final victim.
Exceptional realism that only comes from personal, hands-on experience. Munro writes with captivating flair, and her story line is believable and realistic.
—Charline Ratcliff for Rebecca’s Reads Munro’s story is a roller-coaster ride of suspense and intrigue, with twists and turns that will entertain a lover of mysteries and forensic crime novels for hours.
—The US Review of Books If this is your first Toni Day novel, you’ll want to go back and start the series from the beginning.
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The Body on the Lido Deck
A Toni Day Mystery
By Jane Bennett Munro
iUniverseCopyright © 2016 Jane Bennett Munro
All rights reserved.
His hair stood upright like porcupine quills.
— Giovanni Boccaccio, The Decameron
I couldn't say what it was that woke me up.
Whatever it was had jerked me out of peaceful slumber and had me sitting upright in bed, eyes wide and heart pounding, wondering what the hell had just happened.
My husband Hal's gentle snoring had long ago ceased to bother me. We'd both gotten used to the engine noise and the gentle rocking of the North Star as she slipped through the darkness of night to the next port. A bad dream perhaps? Usually I remembered those. I didn't remember this one.
Maybe it had been a noise of some kind. Someone walking in the corridor? A cabin door slamming? But why should that cause such heart-pounding wakefulness?
Maybe the person walking in the hall hadn't been alone. Maybe what I'd heard had been a fight. A body hitting the floor. A fist hitting a wall. A scream.
That was it. A scream. Only it was unlike any scream I'd ever heard.
Whatever it was, I couldn't seem to get back to sleep. I lay there for a while, listening, but heard nothing more. So rather than toss and turn and wake Hal, I slipped out of bed, stealthily shed my pajamas and climbed back into the shorts and tank top I'd worn the day before and hung over a chair. I grabbed the turquoise mesh boat bag I'd acquired at our first port of call in the Bahamas eight days earlier, which contained everything I was likely to need, carefully opened the cabin door, and peeked out into the corridor. I saw nobody, so I slipped out of the room, closed the door noiselessly behind me, and ran up the one flight of stairs to the Lido deck.
Up there it was still dark. The only illumination came from the liquor cabinet behind the bar, which was closed, and its reflection in the swimming pool. A faint line of pink along the eastern horizon indicated that dawn was imminent. The Lido restaurant was closed too, but it was still possible to get a cup of coffee, which I did before settling myself at a table where I could best see the sunrise over the ocean. Maybe I could get some nifty sunrise photos with my smartphone, which, unbelievably took better pictures than my digital camera used to.
So I put my feet up on a chair, reached into my boat bag, and retrieved my smartphone and my e-reader, upon which I'd downloaded enough books to keep me occupied for this trip and many more. Luckily, the screen was backlit, so I could read it in total darkness if I wanted to.
I became so absorbed in what I was reading that I completely forgot to watch the sunrise, and I was brought back to reality with a start by the grinding of the gears that opened the roof. That meant it was seven o'clock, because the staff opened the roof every day at the same time.
But they seemed to be having trouble this morning. The grinding of the gears had a high-pitched shrieking quality that definitely wasn't normal. It reminded me of the noise that had awakened me. One side of the roof was opening smoothly while the other seemed to have gotten stuck. No doubt I was hearing the death throes of the motor on that side as it burned out.
I got up and walked around to the other side of the swimming pool where I could see better, and that's when I heard a strangled cry — and running footsteps above me.
And saw something fall. With a squishy thud, it hit the edge of the swimming pool and bounced into the water. Red-tinged ripples spread out from where it went in.
A trick of the light? Or was it blood?
Who was bleeding?
Wait. Was there a body up there? Part of which was now in the pool?
I went back to the other side of the pool.
It wasn't a trick of the light. The smear where the thing had hit was bloody, and so was the water that had splashed up onto the deck. The thing that had gone into the pool lay blackly on the bottom in the shadows just below where I stood. It looked like a bowling ball with hair.
A human head?
But what else could it be?
Something dripped on my head. I reached up to touch it, and my hand came away bloody.
I backed up, wiping my hand on my shorts, and grabbed my smartphone. As I did so, a larger object detached itself from the edge of the roof and landed on the deck right in front of me, splattering me with blood. At least I assumed it was blood. If the thing lying splayed out over the tiles was the rest of the body, it would be blood. It was hard to tell. Most of it looked like a cube steak that had been pounded to oblivion, but I was able, in the dim light, to identify an arm and hand, a foot, and part of a leg. The uncrushed limbs were slender, the skin was smooth and deeply tanned, and there was bright-red nail polish on both the fingernails and toenails. Experimentally, I touched the foot. It was warm.
Warm foot. Dripping blood.
Had she been alive when she was crushed in the roof?
Wait. The roof was closed every night at seven o'clock and opened every morning at seven o'clock.
If she'd been crushed in the roof at seven o'clock last night, she wouldn't be warm and dripping blood now, twelve hours later.
She couldn't have been dead more than a few minutes. Therefore, someone had had to open the roof, put her in it, and close it on her sometime in the last hour.
Could that have been the sound that woke me?
I didn't even want to contemplate the possibility that it might have been her screaming that woke me.
I wiped my face with the cleanest part of the front of my tank top, suppressing thoughts of blood-borne pathogens invading my body by way of my mucous membranes, and took pictures of the edge of the opening in the roof, the thing on the side of the pool, and the thing in the pool.
After that, there was only one thing to do.
Aside from getting a better look at the head, I needed to get the blood off me.
I kicked off my Birkenstocks and dived in.CHAPTER 2
Strongest minds Are often those of whom the noisy world Hears least.
— William Wordsworth
It was the head, all right.
I brought it back up to the surface to get a better look at it. The long blonde hair, the red lipstick, and the gaudy, ornate, sparkling earring dangling from one of her pierced ears reinforced my initial impression that the victim had been female. The other earring was missing, apparently torn from her earlobe. The facial features were no help at all; her face was puffy and discolored beyond recognition, with a swollen dark-blue tongue protruding from the mouth. I pried up an eyelid. The iris looked dark brown, but there was not enough light to see the size of the pupil. I turned it over to look at the back and found a jagged laceration about six inches long. I explored it gently and felt the bone underneath give, with crunchy bone fragments grinding together as I pressed on them.
The lady had a depressed skull fracture.
Furthermore, the head hadn't been severed cleanly from the body. The neck ended just below the chin in a diagonal, ragged, red fringe in which it was impossible to differentiate the larynx, esophagus, and great vessels. Even the bones of the cervical spine had been pulverized.
Her neck had been crushed so badly that the head had been avulsed from the body. The evidence of what had done that was right above me, dripping on the floor.
I retrieved my smartphone from where I'd placed it within reach, and took pictures.
Nothing would be gained by further tampering with evidence, so I put the head back where I'd found it, on the bottom of the pool. After rinsing as much blood as I could off myself and out of my hair, I wrapped myself in a towel, grabbed my smartphone, and ascended to the observation deck via the small curved metal stairway hidden behind the bar. Most people didn't even know it was there and used the elevator instead, but I suspected that the crew used it often.
It didn't take a genius to figure out where the problem was. Two Filipino crew members stood looking down at the edge of the opening in the roof, while another lost his breakfast over the rail. By their uniforms, I assumed they were maintenance or possibly engineering. One of them saw me and rushed to intercept me. His badge identified him as Ramon.
"Ma'am, please, you need to leave!" he protested.
I raised both hands to placate him. "It's okay," I said calmly. "I'm a doctor."
He was adamant. "No, ma'am," he said. "I know ship's doctor. You not him."
"I'm a doctor too," I said. "A pathologist. I work with dead bodies all the time." A slight exaggeration, since I did very few autopsies these days. Autopsies are going the way of the dodo bird, thanks to advanced imaging techniques that permit guided needle biopsies from practically anywhere in the body.
His face lit up with comprehension. "Like Quincy!"
This guy was not old enough to remember Quincy. I'd watched it during my teens, and it had influenced my choice of career. It was a seventies TV show featuring a crusty medical examiner played by Jack Klugman, which made the whole TV-watching world aware of what a pathologist does: autopsies and testifying before Congress. Since it was a show about a medical examiner, it made no mention of all the other stuff pathologists do. They must show reruns in the Philippines.
I wasn't exactly Quincy, but I figured it would do for now. "Close enough."
Now that he thought I was like Quincy, he was all eager to assist me. "You come this way, ma'am. Come see."
"Thank you, Ramon," I said and followed him back to where his companion waited. The one who'd tossed his cookies had vanished.
There wasn't much to see. All that was left was blood and bits of tissue and cloth on the edges of the two halves of the roof. Some of the flesh had been squeezed out when the roof was closed and now lay in bloody chunks along the edges of the opening. There was no blood in the track itself.
I wondered how the person who'd put her there had secured the body in place while he or she closed the roof on her. She hadn't been secured very well if the head, an arm, and a leg could fall free of the roof edges and avoid being crushed.
"Are you the one who opens the roof?" I asked him.
He shook his head. "The captain opens it. From the bridge."
"Does the captain know about this?"
The other crew member, who had been silent up to now, spoke up. "Yes," he said, brandishing a two-way radio in the general direction of a tall man in uniform approaching in the opposite direction from which I'd come. "Here he comes now."
Captain Colin Sloane stood over six feet tall, and his tanned face and forearms contrasted nicely with his crisp white uniform. He doffed his cap as he approached, revealing a headful of silver hair. All in all, he was a fine figure of a man, as my mother had said when we'd all met him at the beginning of the cruise. I didn't expect him to remember me, though, since there were nearly twelve hundred passengers on board.
Captain Sloane didn't even see me at first; his attention was on the two crewmen. "Fernando, Ramon," he said curtly as he came up to us, "what's all this about a dead body?"
I spoke up. "The body's down there," I said helpfully, "by the pool."
He looked down through the opening in the roof, and his face paled noticeably under his tan. "Oh dear."
"We should be down there," I said, "not up here, don't you think?"
The captain shifted his attention to me. "Madam," he said, "you shouldn't be here. I'll have to ask you to leave."
His British accent made him sound polite instead of boorish. It reminded me of my mother and stepfather, still asleep in their cabin across the hall from ours on the Navigation deck. I repeated what I'd told Ramon. He shook his head. "Nonetheless, you're a passenger, Mrs. —" He peered at my passenger ID which I wore on a lanyard around my neck.
"Doctor," I said. "Toni Day. MD."
"Your ID says Toni Shapiro," he objected.
"Day is my maiden name, which I use professionally," I told him. "And I know I'm not licensed to practice medicine here, but I do know a thing or two about forensics and maybe I can help. Not only that, but my mother and stepfather are on this cruise too, and my stepfather is a retired homicide detective chief superintendent from Scotland Yard."
That got his attention. "Scotland Yard? Homicide? Would that be Nigel Gray?"
"That's the one," I said with surprise. "You know him?"
"I certainly do," he said. "Years ago we had a death on board just as we were about to dock at Southampton. It turned out to be a homicide. Detective Inspector Gray was in charge of the investigation."
"So you've had a murder on board before," I said. "How long ago was that?"
"What makes you think this is a murder?" he asked, ignoring my question.
"What makes you think it's not?" I countered. "You can't rule out murder unless you investigate. Nigel and I can help. In the meantime, hadn't you better close off the Lido deck? Her head's in the pool and the rest of the body's splattered all over the deck down there."
"Blimey!" He went pale again. Turning away from the grisly scene, he unhooked his radio from his belt and gave a series of commands. "It's a good job we're going to be in port today. Maybe we can get this mess cleaned up before anybody notices it."
Good luck with that, I thought. What were the chances nobody would notice that the Lido deck was closed? More than likely the passengers would know about the body before anybody went ashore in Bridgetown. Those who didn't would know by the time they came back on board.
As if he'd been reading my mind, the captain glanced at his watch. "We'll be docking in about an hour. I've got to contact the police in Bridgetown — and get a cleaning crew in here."
"Not until the police see her," I objected. "They'll need to photograph the scene and retrieve as much as possible of the body. There'll have to be an autopsy to see if there are any injuries that can't be explained by being crushed by the roof, and toxicology to determine if she was drugged or otherwise rendered unconscious before she was put in there."
"Bloody hell," the captain muttered under his breath.
"Nigel would agree with me," I pursued. "Shall I go get him?"
"You keep referring to the body as 'she'," Captain Sloane said. "Do you know her?"
"In my opinion, her own mother wouldn't know her," I said. "But it's been my experience that men don't usually go in for Tickle-the-Toe-Red nail polish."
The captain actually chuckled at that.
"Also," I pursued, "the head in the pool has red lipstick and long blonde hair." I could have showed him the pictures I'd taken, but I decided not to, as he seemed to be a trifle squeamish about such things. "And an earring," I added.
The six-inch gash in the scalp over the depressed skull fracture was another thing entirely. That would be a matter for the police.
At this point the captain seemed to become aware that I was wrapped in a towel and dripping on the deck. "Have you been in the pool?"
"Yes," I said. "I saw it fall, and I went in to get a closer look at it."
He scowled and shook his head as if to disperse a cloud of gnats. "What the bloody hell were you even doing on the Lido deck at that ungodly hour?"
"I couldn't sleep," I said. "I didn't want to wake my husband, so I came up to the Lido deck to read for a while."
"What did you do with it?"
"The head, of course," he said impatiently.
"I left it where it was," I said.
"In the pool?"
"Yes." I wasn't really lying. I mean, I had left the head precisely where I'd found it. Besides, I saw no point in telling the captain that I'd moved it to take pictures. He was obviously in no condition to look at them anyway.
"In God's name, why?" The captain's face had been growing paler and paler as this conversation progressed, and by this point he was taking on a greenish tint. Beads of sweat had popped out on his tanned forehead, and he pulled out a handkerchief to mop his brow.
"Because it's evidence," I said. "If the police want me to go in after it when they get here I'll be happy to do so. I mean, I'm already wet."
He closed his eyes and swallowed hard before speaking. "At least that cuts the job of finding out who's missing in half. If we wait until everyone goes ashore, we can eliminate all those passengers as well."
That made sense, because passengers were required to swipe their IDs through a bar code reader as they disembarked, and then again when they reboarded. This created a record of who was aboard and who wasn't, and it made sure that everybody who went ashore was back on board when the ship sailed. There was only one thing wrong with that.
"You can't let anyone go ashore," I objected. "One of them might be the killer."
"Impossible," the captain argued. "Can't be done. We can't prevent people from going ashore. What would we tell them?"
"I suppose the truth is out of the question?" I asked innocently, although I suspected I knew the answer.
"Absolutely out of the question," he said. "We don't want to start a panic."
"Don't you want to at least wait until the police get here and see what they say?" I asked.
Excerpted from The Body on the Lido Deck by Jane Bennett Munro. Copyright © 2016 Jane Bennett Munro. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse.
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