Authors: Ronan Cray
On this island, there are no survivors.
Copyright 2012 by Ronan Cray
I wrote this book for two people – you and me. I did not write it for an editor, a publisher, a publicist, an ad agent, a sponsor, or a critic. I wrote it in the simple belief that if I allowed myself to enjoy the writing, this would show, and you, dear friend, would enjoy the reading of it.
This book gave me nightmares. I couldn't believe the horrible things that happened to the characters. I could only record it as faithfully as possible and hope they found peace.
I am saddened by the thousands who died on these pages. That great, teeming mass of human potential, snuffed out with every page. I accept the few who died from everyday causes, or even the ones who were double crossed, but those who disappeared without explanation I still find unsettling.
I'd like a moment of silence, please, before you read this book, for all those lost souls and the horror of their end.
New York City
November 4, 2012
Passengers and Survivors of the Princess Anne
Newly single man with no direction, looking for adventure and company
Sexpot siren and unfaithful wife of Eddie
Unhinged, pistol packing husband of Bailey and Mason’s mortal enemy
Petite mysophobic housewife who won the cruise in an office pool
Unfortunate dentist with karmic issues
Morbidly obese polygamist returning to one set of wife and children
Ship Steward with a penchant for unhappy endings
Clever, fit, and newly rich criminal on the lam
Mason’s savior and girlfriend on the island
Residents of the Island
Leader of the White Hairs who bears a secret that will destroy them all
Young Scottish man with no tongue and a rebellious streak
Romanian friend of Colin persistently buzzed on his own alcoholic concoctions
Meanest, ugliest, toughest Filipino to ever fight terrorists; on a first-name basis with Death
Former Tamil Tiger and specialist in survival
Portuguese doctor with a few too many skeletons in his closet
In charge of Departure Camp and a man with a plan
Cliff and Chuck, guards of the Great Gate
Mason woke like he’d survived a stoning. The devil on his shoulder recommended another trip to the bar.
His head pounded harder as he peeled away the sweaty sheets. He sensed the claustrophobic confines of his tiny state room. Hangovers are generally bad, but on a cruise ship they outdo themselves.
He realized, once he summoned the strength to prop open his eyes, the pounding came from outside his head. He raised his chin enough to see a great white bird hovering outside the porthole. It thrashed the window as if demanding entry. When the ship rolled, it collided with the glass in a thick hollow sound. Then it disappeared from sight, circled out over the gray water, and hurled itself once more against the pane.
If birds in an airport are a good sign, what are suicidal birds on a ship? The thought frightened him. The sea frightened him. What was he thinking, taking a cruise to Europe? Why couldn’t he just fly like everyone else?
Two days at sea vomited the contents of his luggage across the room. He dug through a suitcase for a pair of binoculars, tossed on a jacket, and jogged up to the top deck. Were more birds doing this? Was it some kind of epidemic?
Sunset painted the ocean an angry crimson hue. The ever-present wind chilled him as soon as he stepped outside. Across an infinite horizon, waves danced their ballet of nausea. Gusts chiseled the rollers with infinitely smaller tools, torturing them until they blew their froth off.
That great expanse of water troubled Mason. He gripped the cold iron rail so hard he could feel paint chips bite into his flesh. The sea must be dealt with in small portions. It comforted him to close that immense, hostile space into one small circle of light.
Through the monocle, he followed his bird, alone, rounding the ship.
We’re two days from land. Where did it come from?
He tracked it, like a game, chasing it across the sky, focusing, panning. It narrowed each pass as it honed in on some hapless prey somewhere beneath the waves. The spiral tightened like a noose until the gull dove for the water, splashing behind a wave. It never resurfaced.
Mason scanned left and right. Instead of the bird, he caught sight of two dark specks on the horizon. He wouldn’t have seen them if he hadn’t been following the gull. He squinted into the cold rubber rings, trying to bring the specks into focus. They resolved into inverted triangles.
The specks traversed a perpendicular course to the ship, due South. The sea hid them from view when they fell into troughs and then exposed them again on the crest of the next ridge. He made out splashes of white on either side and a flat, wet gleam reflecting the sun. His grey matter pieced this together.
A toddler jolted him as it screamed down the deck. He panned the horizon for another ten minutes but couldn’t find the specks again.
The sun drowned in the West. Darkness would claim it next.
He gave up.
Sure. That made more sense. He blamed the hangover.
Failure requires action. A stiff drink in the ship’s casino would obliterate the whole miserable experience.
Same plan as every night.
Even at sea, it helped to keep to his usual routine. Routines are good, he thought, though he couldn’t shake the feeling tonight would be anything but.
I want to sleep with someone new.
Bailey lay awake in her first class cabin. Her husband snored beside her. Poor Eddie. She’d spotted a few promising men during boarding. One or two might be hanging around the casino right now.
She pulled her feet out of bed and swung up.
. Her head floated. Her stomach boiled. She froze in a half crouched position, touching two fingers to her forehead, then bolted for the bathroom.
The ship swayed beneath her. Six anniversary cruises in a seven year marriage and she’d never been seasick. She knew what it had to be.
Shit. What timing.
She needed a shower.
Warm recycled water coursed down her back. It filled her mouth and washed out the bile.
A fluffy white towel folded into a monkey watched her from the counter.
She snatched it by the arm and shook it until it fell apart, then toweled herself off.
She snuggled into a Forrest and Bob bra and panties, slid into a red Dior dress, and tilted on a pair of six inch Louboutins. Dressed to kill, she splashed on a Daisy lure. Those poor men didn’t stand a chance.
She stopped in the doorway. Seven years with this guy. That was enough, wasn't it?
"I still trust you" he said last week when he found out about one of her flings. "We'll go on a cruise, fall in love all over again." Would he say that if he knew about the others? A cruise wouldn’t fix their marriage. She knew better, yet here she was, out in the middle of the ocean and horny as hell.
Last chance for a happy life
, she thought, looking at him. He lay so peacefully, jaw struck sideways on the pillow, drool dripping over his stubbly chin. He snorted, shifted, and rolled away from her.
She hid her wedding ring in her suitcase.
Time to go hunting
The casino formed a horseshoe cradling a bar and restaurant. A few desultory senior citizens kept the slot machines ringing while lonely croupiers waited.
It was earlier than she thought. A few men hunched over the bar. A few more sat at the white linen tables, plucking the remains of a meal. Heads turned as she walked into the room. It was almost too easy.
An older gentleman at the nearest table stood up and hailed her. “Young lady,” he slurred. “Those shoes must be terribly uncomfortable to stand on. Come, join us, and let a glass of your choosing ease the pain.”
She surveyed the field. She couldn’t stomach old men. The smell of death clung to them. Rich ones were worse. Too forward, too obvious, they made the game no fun to play.
Beside him, a fat man surrounded half the table, sipping a scotch and picking hopelessly at a salad. She shuddered at the image of him on top of her.
Beside the fatty, a young man with devilish good looks perched on his chair as if ready to pounce. His eyes couldn’t stop violating her. Her skin crawled.
Nevertheless, she needed a warm-up drink. She’d get one free at this table.
Smiling gratefully, she faked pain and bent toward one ankle, exposing her hip. “Thanks. I’ll take you up on that.”
The Fat Man scooted his chair sideways so she could sit between him and the Gentleman.
The Gentleman spoke first. “I’m Eldridge. Ron Eldridge. This is Howard,” indicating the Fat Man, “and our good Steward, Carter. Carter was just thrilling us with tales of those lost at sea. It’s not the kind of talk for a lady, at least a sober one, so what will you be drinking?”
“I’ll have a Maker’s Mark, neat.” She hesitated, thinking of the cells dividing inside her. “Make it a double. And I’m not a lady. I decide what I want to hear. Did someone die?”
The Steward shifted forward as a hobbyist reacts to an interested tyro and replied,
, “You have no idea.”
“Now I’m interested. Tell me.”
“People die on cruise ships all the time. You never hear about it. Bad publicity. I’ve been at sea for over three years now, and I’ve seen some myself.”
“What’s the most common death?”
“Common? Well, a lot go overboard. Usually involves drinking. Their bodies are rarely found. Two years ago on the Princess Bell somewhere off the coast of Costa Rica, a 16 year old girl had a few too many drinks in her stateroom with her boyfriend. She said she needed some air. He took her to the upper deck, where she immediately felt sick. She threw herself against the railing to toss it into the sea, but over she went. It was night. They never saw her again.”
“Oh my god! Does that happen often?”
“Sure, happens all the time. Last year a passenger on one of my cruises wanted her picture taken against the rail. She thought she looked cute on the top rail. They never did find her body. People are stupid like that.
“When the seas are rough, it’s even worse. Big waves wash passengers overboard. Abrupt shifts knock people into walls, pipes, stairs. In the trough of a big wave, gravity ceases to function. Televisions float across rooms, plates fly like discus. People levitate like astronauts on the moon. Last year a swell lifted an old man off a stairwell and tossed him right to the bottom. Broke his neck and spine in four places, killing him instantly. The Captain won’t even warn people. He doesn’t want to start a panic.”
“Yeah, yeah. Terrible. But, seriously, that’s
common.” He bent over the table in a whisper, glancing about him. “What you
to hear about is…”
Carter stopped as a waiter brought Bailey’s whiskey. The waiter loitered a bit, his eyes fixed on her chest. Carter caught the waiter’s eye with a dark look. They knew each other. Grudgingly, the waiter wandered off.
“What I was saying, before I was so
interrupted,” Carter shouted at the retreating waiter’s back. Then, quietly, conspiratorially to Bailey again “What you really want to hear about … are the murders.”
“People get murdered on cruise ships?”
“Usually murders result from casino winnings.” He waved his arm at the poker tables and slot machines surrounding the bar, “Somebody drinks a little, wins a little. He celebrates with a few strangers – everyone’s a stranger here. He brags about how much he wins… We had a case last year, an American guy who won ten grand at the tables. He celebrated with three Eastern European men and three beautiful Slavic girls. They suggested they retire to his room with a bottle of champagne to continue the party. No sooner do they reach his room than they brain him with a lamp, slice him with his own razor a few times to be sure, and take the cash. They never even faced trial. What happens in the room is invisible, purely circumstantial. You can get away with murder.”
“Think about it. Little private rooms, soundproofed, with an entire ocean to dispose of the body. Lover’s quarrels, jealousy, crimes of passion, accidents in the heat of a fight, money, sex, drugs. Everything that plays out on land takes place here, without the meddling of relatives, neighbors, even police. Most shipboard murders are never solved. The house detectives are reject cop wannabes who couldn’t get work landside. We don’t even have security cameras.”
“Jealous husbands?” Bailey shivered. Her ring finger tingled with a conspicuous absence.
“Sure. A man takes his wife on a cruise. Kills her. Dumps her out the porthole. Without a body, there is no crime. He’s free to get on with his life.”
A lump formed in the back of Bailey’s throat. Was that why her husband appeared so calm? She saw him smuggle his gun on-board, but he did that every year. She could never figure out how he did it, but he never left home without it.
Bailey wanted to lighten the mood with a little banter. “Would you kill someone for ten thousand dollars?”
Carter sat back. “That’s a complicated question.”
“No it isn’t.”
“Which question are you really asking? The moral question - would I kill someone? The corrupt question - would I do something reprehensible for money? The social question - would I commit an illegal act? You’re asking me three questions.”
“So what’s your answer?”
“My answer is, ‘Yes.’ But you’ll never know which of the three I’ve answered.”
“Oh, I get it. So you mean, perhaps you’d kill someone but you’re stopped by the fear of prison time.”
“Or perhaps I’d love to kill someone for free, and ten grand is just a bonus.”
An uncomfortable moment of silence followed. Eldridge broke it. “That reminds me of a joke.” His alcohol soaked mind hadn’t followed the thread of the argument anyway. “The joke goes: A man asks a woman ‘Would you sleep with me for ten million dollars?’ She says, ‘Of course!’. Then he says, ‘Would you sleep with me for ten dollars?’ ‘No!’ she says. ‘What kind of woman do you think I am?’ ‘Oh, we’ve already determined that,’ he says. ‘Now we’re just bargaining on price.’ Ahahaha!”
No one else laughed. Bailey could see where his mind drifted. Eldridge was just a horny old man. Carter was sadistic. Howie hadn’t spoken a word all evening. He seemed lost in his own thoughts. He didn’t even seem to care that a drop-dead man-killer like herself sat beside him. Maybe he didn’t think he had a chance.
The silence lasted so long that it startled her when Carter spoke again. "If I were a serial killer, I'd work on a boat.” That conversation had long passed, but he must have kept it up inside his head. “There are all these little rooms where no one can see what you're doing. Lots of drunk people or people with cash. Everyone is friendly and trusting. Best of all, you can get away with it.
“The tragic ones are the people who won a cruise, or saved up their whole life to go on one. I knew one woman who did just that. At 42 she won the chance to take her first voyage. The second night at sea, someone attacked her and threw her overboard. They never found out who.”
Bailey had enough small talk. She would sleep with no one here, and the conversation was getting a bit dull. She tossed back the rest of her whiskey and stood up. “Thanks for the drink,” she said, without explanation, and walked away. She heard Eldridge groan and castigate Carter for his morbid storytelling. “You brought it up,” the Steward reminded him.
At the very next table, the Captain sat with two women, a young girl, and another man. A half-eaten dinner lay before them, the tablecloth stained with food. Here lay a harmless refuge for a girl to get her drunk on. The Captain smiled at her and indicated a seat across from him. “You’ll have safer company here,” he said paternally as she sat down. He admitted to watching her progress at the next table.
“I’m Captain Grissom. I’m off duty. I have cocktails with the guests three times each cruise. I’m so glad you could join us.” Bailey introduced herself and flagged the waiter for a drink.
“Your husband’s name is Eddie?” the Captain continued.
This took Bailey by surprise. “Yes! Have you met him?” She didn’t feel comfortable trolling in front of a man who knew her husband.
“I met him briefly yesterday. He told me a few sailing jokes. A very funny man.”
“Yeah,” she said, rolling her eyes. “He kills me.”
“My name is Emily”, interrupted the woman next to her. Emily did not extend her hand, only nodded. Bailey noticed that Emily sat with her back toward the wall, facing the door. Every few seconds she glanced toward it, as if expecting something horrible to come through. Her eyes were wide as if long used to surprises. She dressed conservatively. Petite and young, she must have been someone’s trophy wife in a rural area. “I’m from Minnesota,” she continued.
Next to offer a hand was the other gentleman. “I’m Max.” Boring. The word flew so quickly to Bailey’s mind that she would associate it as his real last name for the rest of the evening. Max Boring. He was decent enough looking. His argyle sweater vest hid a budding paunch. A trim goatee begged for youth, betrayed by errant gray hairs. He was too safe. He must have a job that pays well but doesn’t require a great deal of risk. “I’m a dentist. Decided to treat the family to a little of the High Seas.”
Two for two.
She’d have to be extra drunk to take an interest in him, so she swept an appletini off the tray of the approaching waiter. She lifted it to her lips with one hand as she shook his limp hand in the other. “This is my wife, Sharon, and my twelve year old daughter, Ashley.”
Sharon glared. Stumbling over forty, she wore a floral print top and too much makeup. Pink slacks restrained a once-shapely but now doughy posterior. She looked like a woman concerned about her ability to attract even her own husband, for good reason. Bailey guessed this couple hadn’t had sex in, well, twelve years.
I’m not your competition
, Bailey thought,
I’m the Dominator. I could take him away like that. But you can keep him
. She smiled politely, projecting that thought into Sharon’s mind. She got it.
“You have great tits,” said Ashley by way of introduction.
“Ashley!” Sharon’s face went red.
“Wow. Thank you.” Bailey grinned.
“I just got my first training bra and I have high hopes.”
“That’s really not appropriate…” Sharon continued while Max Boring fidgeted, looking for a way out.