Cruise to Murder (Z & C Mysteries, #2) (3 page)

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The crowd cheered, Zo whistled and Claire sat back clapping in approval.

That was the end of the show. Larry thanked everyone for coming and the lights went dim on the stage, while the lights in the room brightened.

Fifteen minutes later, music kicked up. A blond bombshell danced her alluring way onto the stage in a glittering, slinky dress. “Hello!” she breathed.

“Well, if that isn’t Marilyn, I don’t know who is,” exclaimed Zo.

“Mother, what do you say we get some dessert to relax over and get ready to retire? We have a big day at the island tomorrow.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

 

They managed to walk through the crowd and get on an elevator up to their suite.

Once inside their room, the two kicked off their heels and sat on a luxurious black leather couch. Zo grabbed for the TV remote while Claire grabbed for the phone.

“Yes, room service?” Claire said. “We would like a slice of tiramisu cake and a slice of key lime pie. Yes, and put a cherry on both,” she added, smiling. “Ten minutes? Thank you…”

Zo switched the channels until it came to one dedicated to
The Sunburst’s
daily and nightly activities. “This is the life, huh, daughter.”

“Oh yeah…” Claire couldn’t agree more.

CHAPTER THREE

 

You know that delightful little feeling, when everything is going right and you lay thinking on your bed about all the fun you are about to have coming up the next morning, if only you could get to sleep, so it would arrive faster? That was how Claire felt.

But her thoughts were distracted, when she suddenly heard the Belmonts enter their suite. There was some loud bumping and thumping around. She shifted in bed, sitting up and placing an ear against the wall beside her, to try and hear better. Voices that came across as muffles through the wall were completely unclear; not one word was discernible. She could only make out the tone of the conversation. There were sharp, short sentences—quick and angry. Claire picked up her cell phone and read the time—1:17 a.m. Pretty soon it was quiet and Claire started drifting…

In her dreams she was suddenly aware of something on her foot. It was a white dove, trying to hide its head under her big toe nail. It seemed perfectly reasonable. Then a loud pounding of drums started, disturbing the dove and it flew away, disappointing Claire.

“Claire… Claire.” Her mom entered her dream, wearing a gold Cleopatra costume with the neckline dropping immodestly.

“No, you don’t! You are not wearing that dress.”

“What? Claire, wake up! Let’s get going. We’ve got fun and food ahead of us today, and I already want breakfast!”

Reality came zooming in as her eyelids fluttered open. She stretched and said, “Hurray! Morning is here. Mom, you aren’t planning on any Cleopatra costume for Halloween or New Year’s, are you?”

“Heavens, no! I would want to go in the knickers and long coat of a colonial patriot. I rather fancy that tri-corn hat. If I pull my hair back and band it, so it hangs down my back, I think that would be a very attractive look.”

“Thaaat’s good.” Claire was off to shower and get ready for the day.

Zo called after her, “And your mother doesn’t look good in a black wig!”

“I know.” Claire giggled.

The captain came back on the intercom. “Good morning, guests. This is your captain again, Vladimir. We made it to Kinikiwiki Island at approximately 6:30. The weather outside is a perfect seventy-two degrees with a light breeze. Have a lovely day of play on the island. We are staying the night tonight, so stay on the island as late this evening as you wish. Please enjoy your day. And thank you again for choosing
The Sunburst
for your cruise getaway.”

Although the captain was speaking happy words, his voice came across as dull and uninterested.

“It is probably his bedtime now,” Zo commented.

Finally, they were ready, and were exiting their suite, when out from the suite to their left came Kathryn again.

“Hey, Kathryn! We saw you having fun last night.” Zo smiled.

“You bet. Did you get to talk to the Belmonts?”

“No, not yet,” said Claire.

“Well, I don’t think you could have had much of a conversation with them last night anyway. They were pretty well sloshed up in drinks, when I last saw them. I left the lounge before them, ya know. I know my limit.”

Zo and Claire leaned forward, ready to hear more details.

“Glad to see you girls again, but I’ve got to run. I’m late. See you around.” She hurried down the hallway.

“Well, I thought I heard them clankin’ around last night,” Claire remembered. “They must have been really, really drunk, like Kathryn said.”

“Well, on the ship is the best time for partying I guess. No drinking and driving.”

“Hm…” Claire nodded in agreement.

“But the Belmont’s seem like such a perfect couple. I can’t see them getting slap-silly drunk, unless they were alone I suppose.”

“That’s what I was thinking. Anyway, Mother, do you think that I will be able to see Mr. Belmont today? I would really like to talk to him about my experience in journalism, if not just to meet the man face-to-face and get a handshake.”

“I think you will at least get a handshake out of him during the trip.”

“The odds are good. But maybe I should just wait outside his door until he gets out.”

“Yeah right,” Zo said, then her eyes brightened. “But I have an idea!”

“What?!”

Zo opened her purse and fumbled through the mess inside until she came upon a piece of paper and a pen.

“What are you thinking , Mother? Write him a note?”

“Precisely!”

“No, Mom!” she whispered loudly with embarrassment. “We aren’t going to write him a letter. I’ll just run into him by accident like you said.”

Zo put the paper on the wall between the two stateroom’s doors and began to write.

“Please, Mom. I was kidding about waiting outside of his room.” She tried to grab the pen, but Zo moved and quickly finished.


I’m
writing him a letter, not you, Claire.”

“But you are my mother and that will look ridiculous and desperate. I’m begging you.” Claire clenched her fists, pleading.

“How are you my daughter? You have really got to loosen up, my dear.” She folded the note in half.

“At least tell me what it said.” Claire followed her to where she was about to slide it under Belmont’s door.

“It says, ‘Your neighbors, Zoey and Claire Kane—in room 202— are inviting you to a small midnight party in their stateroom. Hope to see you there!’” She quickly pushed it under the door.

“How silly,” Claire said. “Do you think they’ll actually come?” Her voice became serious with hope.

“You never know unless you ask.”

“You said ‘party.’ Who else will be our guests?”

Just then a group of ladies in red hats came out of two other suites across from them, promptly followed by a group of young ladies wearing pink hats.

Zo’s golden brown eyes looked keenly at them. “Oh, ladies!” They turned to see her. “There’s going to be a midnight party in our stateroom. You’re all invited.”

“Really?” They chirped and commented amongst themselves cheerfully.

“Are there going to be games?” one, most elderly, woman asked.

“Absolutely,” Zo said.

Claire’s face became hot. She could barely look the women in their faces.

“So, I hope to see you all tonight. Mr. Belmont and his wife are invited also; so, they may show.”

Their expressions deepened with interest. “Oooh…”

“Then we will definitely try to make it,” one young woman said.

Claire buried her head in her hands and stood behind her mother, her sleek brown hair covering her face completely.

“Oh, and if any of you see Kathryn from room 200, let her know she is invited, too!” Zo added.

They thanked her and then quickly scurried off to go play shuffleboard on the deck.

“Oh my goodness,” Claire exclaimed. “This has just become even more complicated.”

“No, it hasn’t.” Zo grabbed her hand to lead her along down the hall toward the elevators. “We will just order room service. Why have money if we don’t use it?! All we have to do is figure out some games… and I’m sure they’ve got some great shops on the ship and Kinikiwiki Island. Maybe we’ll find something while we’re shopping.”

The two went down to the elevator to get a breakfast buffet to start their day on the island with lots of energy. Then they would go back to their stateroom, get their giant beach bags, bathing suits and matching straw-yellow sun hats for the island.

The two rented a golf cart which was customary transportation on the island. It was nothing like either of them had imagined, even though there were pictures at the customer service desk aboard the ship. It was very lush with greenery. The beach accented the fact by its white sand. They zipped around the curves of the narrow roads, feeling the wind in their loose hair. The volcanic mountain had the appearance of having aged into a tropical temple.

They soon spotted two waterfalls. One waterfall that was very tall looked like it was coming out of the mountain where they would have rather expected to see lava bubble out from, near the top. The two took in as much of the breathtaking scenery as they could, switching places as driver along the way, giving the other moments for drinking iced mango drinks.

“Mother, what do you say we take a dip in the bottom of the little waterfall?”

“Sure. And I can hardly wait for our snorkeling appointment tomorrow at three o’clock.”

“How could we forget?” Claire said. “I am so excited to do that!”

“So am I!”

Zo was driving this time and quickly took a turn around toward the small waterfall. She stopped their cart and they removed their wrap-arounds, revealing their swimming suits. Zo was wearing a black, draped-bosom, one-piece suit, sprinkled with a cherry pattern. Claire had on a velvety mauve two piece.

The two both carefully pointed a toe into the water.

“Oh! I thought it would be cold water. This is actually warm,” said Claire.

“Probably warmed someway by that ‘dormant’ volcano there.” Zo smirked.

It
was
nice and warm; perfect on the skin. Claire went down to submerge herself completely, feeling the water wrap around her hair and against her scalp. She opened her eyes for a moment seeing her mom’s legs extend down to the bottom where there were many pebbles among large stone-like rocks. She came back up, taking in a deep refreshing breath and slicking her straight wet hair off her face. “It’s perfect. Let’s swim a little.”

“Oh, that’s ok, dear. I don’t want to get my hair wet.” Zo’s hair was wrapped up into a high thick bun. “I want it to look nice for tonight’s party. You know how difficult long hair can be. Yours was once long.”

“Yeah, when I was in the sixth grade,” Claire said. “What about snorkeling?”

“I have a special swim cap saved for that.”

“Okay, and it can’t be used now?”

“No,” she said simply with a smile.

Claire continued swimming in the rocky pool and even went right under the water that was falling down like a ribbon into it. Zo piddled around, walking around up to her chest in the water, having simple fun.

It wasn’t long before a couple with two children, about eight and ten, came into the pool, taking away the luxury of having the place to themselves.

Zo looked at Claire. “It’s more children from the cruise, who should be at home playing on their tricycles,” she commented quietly.

“Mom, what has gotten into you? I was a child once.”

“But I took you out to Chuck-E-Cheese for fun, not an island resort.”

“Mom…” She eyed her with that look that meant
don’t be ridiculous
.

The kids brought with them a football, that they could soak in the water to make it heavy and wet for some fun throwing. Zo and Claire watched as the youngsters walked further and further apart from each other, to catch the ball from more exciting distances. The parents sat on the rocks watching them play with smiles on their faces and a basket of goodies.

“Hi…” The parents waved to Zo and Claire to acknowledge their sole presence.

“Hello,” Claire said and Zo added, “Hi.”

“Go long!” the older boy called for his sibling to get ready for a super throw.

The younger one went right up next to the other side of the rocks, as far as he could go.

“I’m ready,” the little one called.

His brother threw the ball with full force. It spun in the air. The little one jumped and missed as the ball was too high over his head.

“Oh no!” the mom called out as they all saw the ball go up and above some rocks out of sight.

Claire looked at the boys’ fallen, sad faces. “It’s ok. I’ll get it,” she said.

Zo just stood there in the water, watching every moment of her daughter exiting the pool and climbing up some rocks.

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