Was that a person lying half in the shadows of the ship's deck?
When Sheila had tripped, her eyeglasses flew off her face. She'd stumbled and landed on her knees, groping around for them. On this, her second day of running on the deck of the cruise ship, images of disaster ticked at her brain. What if she couldn't find her glasses? What if they were broken? She didn't have a spare. Finally, she found them and slipped them on.
Now, what was it she tripped over? What was she touching as she groped around?
She tried to get a better view as she struggled to her feet. But the sun hadn't cracked the Caribbean sky yet this morning, and the ship's lights were dim. The glasses weren't helping, either. It looked like there was a sack shaped like a body lying on the deck, with an arm strewn over the path.
That can't be right.
She pulled the glasses off her face.
These are not my glasses.
A huge floodlight flicked on, and Sheila now saw the object she was looking at was indeed a person, lying there in a most uncomfortable position.
Drunk, of course.
She thought she saw her own glasses just beyond the person's arm, and as she reached for them, a member of the ship's crew came walking over.
“Is everything okay here?”
“My glasses. I tripped,” she said, stumbling backward over the person's arm again.
“It looks like someone had quite a night,” Sheila said, smiling. She was no prude and enjoyed a drink or two, but she'd never seen so much drinking in her life as what she had witnessed on this cruise.
The crew member's expression grew pained as he leaned in closer, shaking the person gently.
“Dead,” the man said.
“What?” Sheila said with a sharp tone, dropping her glasses. Was he joking with her? What a sick joke.
“Stay right there,” he said, and pulled out his cell phone. “I'll call security.”
“I'm in the middle of my run,” she said, dazed.
“Ma'am,” he said. All business. Very stern. “I need you to stay here.”
“Well, all right,” she said, picking up her glasses and slipping them on. Her heart was thumping against her rib cage.
As she stood next to the crumpled body on the deck, she crouched over to take a better look. She blinked. The side of the face was clear: mouth open and skin sickly blue. Sheila stood fast. Yes, that was a dead person on the deck. And she had been groping around the body. Touching the body as she searched for her glasses. As soon as it sank in, she proceeded to do what any normal, red-blooded woman would do. She watched everything melt around her . . . and she swooned.
When she came to, she heard a familiar voice. “She runs every day,” the voice said. “Nothing unusual about that.”
Sheila blinked her eyes. Where was she? She looked around. There was a CPR poster, a table with medical supplies, and she was lying on a cot, underneath a soft blanket. She figured she was in the infirmaryâand, man, her head throbbed. She reached her hand to her forehead and felt the swollen area. It hurt to touch it. When she'd passed out, she must have fallen forward. Of course. She was such a klutz. Why couldn't she have swooned with grace, like they did in the movies?
As she lay on the cot, her mind patching together what had happened, she began to feel sick. She'd tripped over a dead person, and what was more, she'd been pawing around the body to find her glasses. Where were they, anyway?
She started to sit up, but dizziness overtook her. She wanted to cry.
Here she was on a scrapbooking cruise, as the guest of honorâa once-in-a-lifetime opportunityâand she couldn't even sit up.
“Mrs. Rogers? Please don't sit up yet,” said a male voice coming from the side of the room. She couldn't see without twisting her aching head. “You took quite a fall and have a nasty head injury. We don't think it's a concussion, but we need to keep an eye on you.”
“Sheila!” a familiar voice said, and Vera's face came into view. “How do you feel?”
“Like hell,” she managed to say. “What happened?”
Vera's presence calmed her. She was Sheila's best friend. They'd known each other their whole lives. It was hard to imagine life without Vera.
Vera's mouth twisted. “I was hoping you could tell us. We were paged. They said you had an accident. We came rushing down here. And this security guy starts questioning me like I'm a common criminal. Then he starts questioning us about you.”
“Vera, you're babbling,” Paige said as she came up behind Vera.
Paige was here, too. That was good. Another friend whom she'd known for a long time. And for some reason, Sheila felt like she needed as many as she could get.
“I tripped and fell during my run,” Sheila said, nearing tears.
“That's not like you,” Vera said. “You've been running your whole life. I don't think I've ever known you to fall.”
“She said she tripped,” Paige said. “Anybody can trip.”
“Yes, I fell over a . . . body,” Sheila said. “I've got this horrible headache. Anybody know where my glasses are?”
“Here.” Paige handed them to her.
“No, these aren't mine.”
“You fell over a body?” Vera asked, ignoring the part about the eyeglasses.
“These are the only glasses I see here,” Paige told her, and then turned. “Any idea where her glasses are?”
“Those aren't hers?” the male voice said.
Sheila sighed in frustration. “No, they are not mine. I'm sure I had them when I passed out. I think. Maybe they fell off again. These glasses must belong to the . . . the deceased.”
“Which means that the dead woman has your glasses on,” Vera said, smirking, then giggling.
“What's so funny?” Paige asked.
Vera shrugged and laughed. “It just seems funny. I don't think she has any need for eyeglasses if she's dead, is all.”
These two had been sniping at one another since they'd gotten on board. Paige was mad because Vera had brought Eric along on what was supposed to be a girls-only trip. Vera became upset when she realized Paige was mad, yet Paige's son had joined them on board to surprise his mother. Yet another man.
“Hi, Sheila.” The male voice suddenly merged with a face as he gently moved the two women away. “I'm Doctor Sweeney. How do you feel? Head hurt?”
She nodded. A nurse brought her an ice pack.
“Let's keep the ice on that bump for a while. I'll get you some pain medicine. Are you allergic to anything?”
“Nothing,” she said. “I'd really like my glasses. Everything is a blur.”
“We have someone working on that,” he said. The nurse brought water and some pills. “This should help with the pain. I hope your vision is a blur because you don't have your glasses. You really smacked your head.”
“Well, here they are,” said another man, who walked into the room. He was tall, well built, and wearing a linen suit. His long black dreadlocks were pulled back into a ponytail.
He handed Sheila her glasses, and she slid them on her face. The world around her took on a familiar clarity.
“Mrs. Rogers, I'm Matthew Kirtley, from Ahoy Security. I have a few questions for you,” he said. His voice was softer than what his body and his professional attitude would have led one to believe.
“Can it wait?” the doctor said. “We're not sure how she's doing.”
“Certainly,” Matthew said, and smiled. “Whenever you're up to it. My vic is not going anywhere. Well, nobody is. That's one of the interesting things about security on a ship. Nobody's going anywhere. Not even the murderer.”
“Murder?” Sheila said. Her hand went to her chest. Paige and Vera rushed to her side; both paled at the word that stuck in the air and hovered around them.
Finally, Matthew Kirtley cleared his throat in the quiet room, which made Sheila's heart nearly leap out of her chest. They were on a cruise ship with a dead body and a murderer.
Nobody's going anywhere. Not even the murderer.