Less than an hour into her forced captivity with fifteen days remaining. She’d never make it, Eve thought as the cool sea breeze swept around her.
A few weeks before she’d been counting down the days and walking on air because she’d finally agreed to take some real time off to relax.
Eve watched the shoreline disappearing.
Sagging against the railing, she made a point of smiling.
“You’ll be pleased to know we arrived safe and sound,” she told Jill, her voice light and cheerful.
Jill laughed. “Try saying it with less anxiety in your voice. What’s up?”
“It’s not anxiety, it’s…” Eve sighed and tried to admit to being out of her depth, but her pride stopped her. “Have you ever been to an Elvis convention?” she asked. “Or any convention where everyone is dressed in their elaborate costumes… and you’re not.”
“Not in this lifetime. Don’t tell me there’s one on board?”
“Hang on, you’re breaking up.” Eve leaned over the railing. “Not an Elvis convention. It’s a Carmen Miranda glitzy extravaganza. Everywhere I look, there’s someone wearing a bunch of bananas on their head. I’ve boarded the cruise ship from hell.”
“Carmen Miranda! But that sounds like fun.”
“You’d say that and I thought so too at first, but then I saw their true colors. Ruthless comes to mind. They have this ‘get out of my way or be run down’ air about them. It’s actually scary.”
“What I’d give to see you there right now,” Jill said in what sounded like teary-eyed laughter.
Eve stared at a woman who was not only dressed to the nines in her Carmen Miranda getup, but was also surrounded by a musical entourage serenading her.
The woman gave Eve a head to toe sweep that felt like fingernails digging into her.
“Eve? Talk to me. I need to know you haven’t been pushed overboard.”
“Close. One of the impersonators just gave me a death stare.”
“Try to play nice,” Jill suggested.
“Honestly, I haven’t said a word to them.”
“You’re on a ship… on the water,” Jill reasoned, “Sound travels. Either that or they think you’re their competition.”
“Why would they think that?”
Jill hummed. “Well… you do have a sort of retro look happening and with the right costume, I’m sure you could give them a run for their money.”
Unconvinced, Eve snorted. “As if. I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing a pineapple on my head.”
“I thought you said it was bananas.”
“Let me put it this way, I’d have no trouble throwing together a fruit salad and I wouldn’t have to go anywhere near a fruit market.”
“Just how many are there?”
“Hard to say. They all look the same, give or take a banana.”
“Eve, you’re broadcasting your thoughts. They must be picking up on your disapproval.”
“Who said I disapprove of them?”
Eve harrumphed. “Did I happen to mention one of them already shoved me… quite unceremoniously, out of her way?”
“No, you didn’t.”
“Well, she also threw in a few expletives.”
“You must have said something to aggravate her.”
“I might have suggested she tone it down a bit. There are kids around. Hang on. I’m taking a photo of this. You need to see it.” Just as she snapped a photo, the Carmen Miranda impersonator who had earlier on given her a scathing look stuck her elbow out and jabbed another Carmen Miranda in the ribs. “Oh…”
“There’s a Carmen Miranda rumble about to erupt.” Another woman burst in on the scene. Eve stood well out of hearing range but going by the hand gestures, she’d guess they were exchanging more than a few harsh words. “Okay, it’s on its way. I only wish I could send myself off.”
“Don’t be so melodramatic, Eve. What’s the worst that can happen?”
“Apart from losing my cell signal… I don’t know.” She rolled her eyes. “I could be marooned on an island with them.”
Jill said something but the signal dropped off.
“Jill. Are you there?” she asked, her tone desperate.
“You might be right,” Jill’s voice crackled slightly. “This cruise might not have been the best idea for you. Is it too early for a drink?”
“I think they saw me coming. Waiters have been plying me with tropical drinks since I arrived. I thought it would help settle me down, but now I’m thinking I need my wits about me. I can’t let Mira see me like this. As far as she knows, I’m here to have the best time of my life. That means I need to dump all my angst on you. Sorry.” Although Eve doubted her aunt would notice. She’d fallen behind on her next book and was facing another deadline so would most likely be too busy to even come up for breath.
“You’re suffering from first day jitters. Relax. Enjoy. Remember, you’ve got an inn to set up. It’ll probably be ages before you can take another vacation.”
“That’s just it. What was I thinking taking time off now? I’m about to open a business I don’t know the first thing about. People will be depending on me to provide a service… to employ them…”
“Think of the positives. What’s your cabin like?”
Eve drew in a shaky breath. “It’s simple, which is a lovely respite from the rest of the ship. Think of Vegas and you’ll get the idea. Lots of gold trim clashing with pastel colors. Remind me to steer clear of them for the inn. No peach, lilac, cream or beige…”
“Positives, Eve. You’re straying.”
“Okay. The bed felt comfortable when I collapsed on it. Then again, a wooden plank would have been heaven after all the waiting around I did.” Eve listened to the silence. “Did you just roll your eyes?”
“Do you blame me?”
No. She didn’t. She’d only ever gone on working vacations. She should be over the moon happy. Instead… “Boarding a cruise ship is hard work,” Eve complained. “The security checkpoints got me a bit rattled. I’m sure I look like a maniac on the photo, which I had no idea they were going to take. If anything happens on this ship, I’m going to be the prime suspect.” She raked her fingers through her hair. “I’m not cut out for this.”
“A life of leisure?” Jill laughed.
“It’s not that. I can relax. I’m sure I can. I know I can. It’s just… all the fake tans and over the top chirpiness, not to mention the toothpaste commercial bleached smiles… it’s all too much. I’m all for happiness, but this is too contrived.”
“Careful, it might be contagious.”
“Don’t joke. After we checked in, Mira took me to the top deck. That’s when the drinking started. Everyone was super happy and pumped with excitement and waving at imaginary people on the dock. I caught the bug and I swear I had tears in my eyes when the ship slipped away from the pier. Now that I think about it, the Carmen Miranda scuffle is a breath of fresh air.” Eve shook her head. “Okay, I just heard myself.”
“Actually, you might be right. A cruise was a huge step for you. Maybe you should have started with a weekend away. Chip away the workaholic in you a tiny layer at a time.”
“Jill, I’ve already had a few months on the island to wind down—”
“Your time on the island doesn’t count. Think about all the killers who’ve come after you.”
Several more Carmen Miranda lookalikes had joined in the argument. Fingers were pointed. Expletives exchanged. Before anyone could draw blood, a man stepped in and somehow managed to pacify everyone. He didn’t appear to favor anyone in particular, but Eve noticed all the women responded to his call for calm without any arguments.
“Killjoy,” Eve said under her breath.
“What? Did someone get killed?” Jill asked.
“No, but I almost wish someone had. I think I’ve become addicted to murder and mayhem. Why didn’t you talk me out of this? You must have known I’d go stir crazy.”
“Think of me, I’m surrounded by your paint and fabric swatches. Oh, and boxes. Too many to count. Linen. Cutlery. Pots. Pans.”
“Sorry, on our way to New York I insisted we stop by a catering supplier and I went a bit overboard. By the way, thank you for staying at the inn.”
“Are you grateful enough to offer me permanent residency? I need to get out of my parents’ place. They’re driving me batty with their squabbling. Dad’s got his eye on a new Winnebago and mom’s set her heart on a trip to Hawaii. I’m in the middle and I’m afraid that even after they sort this argument out, they’ll find something else to bicker about. If I don’t get out now… well, I might do something.”
“A room at the inn? If that’s what you want, go for it. Or maybe we could convert the space above the stables for you.”
“Hang on. It sounds as if I missed my chance to ask for more.”
“This is interesting,” Eve said changing the subject.
“That man who broke up the scuffle. He’s walking away now and all the impersonators are following him.”
“They all have goofy, adoring smiles on their faces. If they all have their eyes on him, we could be in for more than just a bit of elbowing.”
“See, I knew you’d cheer up. You only needed a hint of trouble.”
Eve groaned. “I can’t be that person. I’m… too run of the mill normal.”
“Aha. That’s why you’re freaked out by the impersonators.”
“Well… think about it. People pretending to be what they’re not. There’s a lot of scope there. Who knows what they’re hiding behind those fake personas?” Eve drew in a big breath. “Yoga. I saw it on one of the brochures. Yes… that’s what I’ll do. Spend my trip mastering the art of relaxation. Thanks for being my sounding board, Jill. Talk to you soon.”
Eve returned to her cabin, along the way making sure she steered clear of anyone wearing a costume. However, her efforts were futile. They’d taken over the ship. Thoughts of being decked by a pineapple had her hurrying her steps.
Inside her cabin, she leaned against the door and sighed with relief.
Her aunt Mira looked up from her laptop. “Glad to see you haven’t jumped ship.”
“Am I that obvious?” She collapsed on the bed and stared at a painting of a woman dressed in 1920s clothing. In those days, casual meant wearing suits and hats, with gloves not far behind. Kicking off her flip-flops, Eve smiled as she thought of the five new pair of shorts she’d packed for the trip.
Mira chuckled. “I’m surprised you’re not hyper-ventilating.”
“Sorry. I don’t know what’s come over me.”
Mira hummed under her breath. “I expected to see a hint of cabin fever, but it hasn’t even been a day. Maybe you’ve had too much excitement in your life lately and you’re finding all this too sedate.”
“Hardly.” Eve chortled. “You wouldn’t say that if you’d seen the Carmen Miranda brawl.”
Mira smiled. “Trust you to come across a bit of excitement. I saw them mentioned on the program. It’s their tenth anniversary cruise. They’re going to commemorate it with a competition for best Carmen Miranda impersonator.”
A competition. That would definitely raise the stakes. Eve bit the edge of her lip. This was one spectacle she needed to stay away from. “I’ve decided to look into the yoga classes on board. I think it’ll do me a world of good. Force me to focus on relaxing.”
“That’s jumping in at the deep end. You should work up to it. Get a massage first,” Mira suggested.
Eve sat up and dug her fingers into her shoulder. “You know me too well.”
“You’ve had too many close encounters with killers, Eve. I think you’re suffering from fight or flight syndrome. You need to shake it off.”
Eve gave a pensive nod. Mira had a point. Maybe she should look into a meditation class. She swung her legs off the couch and sat up. “How’s your book coming along?”
Mira stretched her arms over her head. “My hero thinks he knows what’s best for the heroine and that’s landed him in a heap of trouble.”
“What about the mad innkeeper? How’s she doing?”
“Turns out she’s been working undercover. I’ve turned her into a spy. She’s investigating the hero.”
“Is this where the heroine steps in and saves the day?”
Mira’s mouth gaped open. “You’ve been reading my manuscript.”
“I snuck a peak.” Only after she’d discovered her aunt had fashioned the innkeeper after her. “Please tell me you’re not going to kill the innkeeper.”
“Kill her? Oh, no. I’ve been plotting an outline for her. She’s getting her own story. That’s why I’ve fallen behind with this book.”
Eve clapped her hands. “You’re turning me into a heroine?”
Mira laughed. “You still think I modeled my mad innkeeper on you?”
Eve gave her aunt a raised eyebrow look.
“Okay, there might be some similarities…”
Hearing a knock at the door, Eve went to answer it. Seeing it was the porter with their luggage, she dug inside her pocket and drew out a bill for the tip. “Our luggage is here.” She wheeled their suitcases in and put hers on the bed.
“Now you have no excuse, you’ll have to take up yoga. Unless you didn’t bring any yoga pants with you.”
“Actually… now that I think about it, I didn’t. I guess I’ll have to hit the shops.”
“Oh, they’re going to love you. These ships are a shopaholic’s paradise.”
“Wait a minute. This isn’t my luggage.” Eve held up a white top that would barely cover her. “Check yours.”
Mira unlocked her suitcase and after a brief look said, “Yes, all here.”
Frowning, Eve went through the rest of the clothes and pulled out a plastic fruit salad headdress. “It’s a Carmen Miranda smorgasbord.”
Mira threw her head back and laughed. “Marvelous. You can join in the fun now.”
“The porter must be dyslexic. He inverted the last two numbers on the tag. I better hurry and catch up with him.” By the time she rolled the suitcase out, the porter had disappeared. Eve crossed her fingers and hoped the other person had her suitcase. As she strode along the hallway checking the cabin numbers she saw a woman emerge from one of the cabins, her head covered with a turban embellished with fruit.
When Eve reached the cabin, she realized it was the one she’d been looking for.
She called out to the woman, but either she didn’t hear her or she’d decided to ignore her.
Eve rushed after her, but before she could reach her, the woman disappeared inside the elevator.
She had to return the suitcase and get hers back.
On the off chance there might be someone else in the cabin, Eve knocked on the door.
It eased open. Not because someone had opened it, but because it hadn’t been locked properly.
“Hello,” she called out. “I think I have your suitcase and I’m hoping you have mine.”
No one answered. Eve checked the corridor. Just her luck. No staff at hand to help her.
“Hello,” she called out again. “I’m coming in.” At this point, Eve knew she should be wondering why no one had answered. Without giving it much thought she decided the woman she’d seen rush off hadn’t closed the door properly.
She considered her options but decided against chasing after her. Surely no one would mind if she retrieved her suitcase. In fact, she’d be doing everyone a favor since she’d also make sure she locked the door behind her.
Taking a tentative step, she peered inside the cabin. At first glance everything appeared to be normal, then Eve noticed the fruit on the floor. Cherries. Bananas. A pineapple. She followed the trail and gazed out the floor to ceiling sliding door. It stood open.
“Okay. This does not look good but I don’t want to jump to conclusions because if I do, Jill will accuse me of being a death knell.” With her gaze fixed on a colorful scarf hanging on the railing, she released her hold on the suitcase and urged her feet to move toward the balcony. “For all I know, a light breeze swept it out there.” Yet when she reached the railing her first impulse was to look overboard.
And just as well she did…
Copyright ©2017 Sonia Parin/All Rights Reserved