Story 101 Oct23


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Story 101

I look at my “List of Stories” and see that I have just written 100 Stories this year.  There were more in the past before I began to count them.  Those stories are much longer and there are maybe 10 or 12 of those.

Number 100 this year is called, ‘THEY SAY’… , a short mystery, 23 pages, featuring a lady named Pam and a fellow called Eric who together solve a mystery they discover about a Laguna hillside lake.  Some of those very short adventures into writing are far less than 23 pages, and might be called bed time stories.

Thus this is story 101.  Imagine that!  What shall it be about? I have no idea at this point.  Under my method it receives a Title and some People for a start.  It ends when it is over.   I really can’t guess how long each will become as I begin.

Let’s make 101 a Mystery also.  What names shall I borrow for this Mystery?  If I call the lady, Nancy, I can work the mystery round some art!  If she meets a guy named, Peer Swan, he could be a sailor and they could meet on a ship of some kind where Nancy has gone to paint scenes of the sea.

Okay, let’s try that and see where it takes me!  I can give her a good start on a calm ocean and let the trouble happen … when it happens.

You and I will meet again after I write, “The End”, and then we will all know what we think about story number101…  Goodbye for the next 50 pages!


It might have been a perfect scene if the sun would have only come out from behind the cloudy mist, because the Pacific Ocean was in a good mood with rolling swells and a clear horizon behind water that went slowly from the expected blue to some gallant greens and even muted purples and grays with enough creamy whites swirling through them all to challenge anyone’s box of water colors… even Nancy’s.

The sun could have added enough orange, red and yellow to almost complete a rainbow, but Nancy didn’t care.  This lady liked the overcast better, because it kept the sun out of her eyes and away from her back.

She didn’t even need a hat today though she had dressed a bit too warm in black slacks and a matching sweater for that early morning start standing out on the almost windless deck of the ship and let what was beyond the rails command her to use the brush to bring the paint to meet the water on the paper and watch it reflect what she saw.

She didn’t need to try to paint the misty air.  It would appear like magic when the colors she blended presented the completed Ocean scene.

Everyone who saw it framed and hanging would almost shiver with the cool water that seemed to spray up to surround the viewer.

In fact when it did come to the sun, her views of it were best when presented just as the yellow gold light was arriving early in the morning from behind a shadowy mountain, or leaving us after the day ends as an intense deep red glowing color behind another already dark mountain.

The Captain of the Cruise Ship, whose job, beyond that of making sure his Ship went to and returned from where he wanted it to, also tried to see that all passengers were enjoying the Cruise they had chosen and paid big bucks to take.

He especially liked to make the acquaintance of good looking ladies who seemed to always be alone. It would not do for them to return to the dock and tell others that it was a fun trip but rather lonely.

But Captain Swan was finding it difficult to be friendly with this single red haired lady.  He sent invitations for her to dine at his table, but so far she had never even attended a meal in the main dining room.  He inquired if she had food delivered to her suite, but she did not.  When did she eat? All that was left were the small Coffee Shops, one on each of the floors of rooms and suites..  Would anyone take an entire cruise snacking in the Coffee Shops? The Captain could not imagine it.

As usually happens he was soon caught up in a swirl of women of all ages who sought his attention, because he was not only the Captain, but he was a very good looking Captain.  When that happened he looked over the boarding list for single men and made sure they all got together.

The red headed Lady behind the camera and the easel was not part of one of those groups either.

This Cruise would take the Ship from its base in San Diego, out into the vast Pacific Ocean and go from one Hawaiian Island town to another with brief stops in Kauai, Oahu and Maui before heading back home by following the Equator East to those famous, mostly uninhabited, Islands of the Galapagos known as the Archipelago de Colon, property of Equator and then go north to Mexico’s cities of Acapulco and Mazatlan before returning to San Diego.

The way she was working, Nancy would probably have about a million photographs and if the paint and paper held out a million paintings to show for the round trip.

That did not look like an interesting trip to Captain Swan, whose cabins and suites were filled with partying passengers.  So in case it was his duty to give this lady more fun than she seemed to want, he kept an eye out for her.

Nancy did not seem to notice, but the time was coming when she would welcome his attention.

The very experienced Captain knew better than anyone that the Ocean was full of surprises and not all of them good… not even most of them.  He spent a lot of time going over the weather charts as they are constantly changing.  It was almost useless to print them out as the computer presented them for the ships at sea to keep updated, because they could change in a  wink.

A very good book about Extreme Waves by Craig Smith told of the large number of those ships that are out there constantly carrying passengers or freight over all bodies of Earth’s waters disappear completely for unknown reasons.  Many reasons are this side of being understood, but are still unpredictable.  There are no clues to add to the weather report for something as unbelievable as say a Rogue Wave.Everyone knows the Weather is important.  And one minute the Captain may change course to avoid bad weather, only to find that the weather had also changed course to meet him where he went.  It happens to them all at one time or another as documented in this book about Extreme Waves.

Even worse, are those merging storms that can trap a ship between two sets  of raging waters and winds, as they arrive together to beat the ship to pieces.

That giant Rogue Wave, of fiction used to be looked upon as a Tall Tale. But now enough survivors have come back with matching stories that they have begun to be taken seriously.  Some photographs are in that same book.

The problem was even the largest ships, oil tankers and cargo carriers went under never to be seen again, without any time to so much as send an SOS.  The ones that limped to a Port with a half missing bridge or the entire cargo swept clean from the once loaded flat deck, reporting a single wave from fifty to a hundred feet high coming up without warning and crashing tons… yes tons, of green water down on them, ripping hatches open to fill the hull with more weight than any boat can stay afloat under.  Many times every year hundreds of crews and passengers disappeared without a sign of where or when it happened.  The Rogue Wave has that name for a reason.

They have yet to explain exactly what causes them.  If they could they would be the Smith book.

In one reported story a single survivor found floating on a hatch door alive from a ship that had gone down under such a wave with several hundred passengers, carried the memory with him, when a couple of years later he found himself the victim of another.  Leaving one to wonder where he found the nerve to ever go to sea again.

However the ship and most of the passengers were lucky that he was there.  When the Rogue Wave came crashing down unexpectedly while he was below, he realized what had happened and organized the others to quickly begin to replace the broken hatches with anything that would hold back the rushing water. The others, not even aware what had happened, followed his orders and helped as fast as they could.

He decided to go above and quickly inform the Captain what they were doing down below, and when he reached the top, he discovered that the entire Bridge, Captain and crew had been blown overboard.  There was no one and nothing left on the top.

He returned and reported that to the men and passengers working to save the ship, He took charge and thanks to his knowledge, the ship and hundreds of passengers limped to a Port alive.  The report didn’t say, but I can imagine that he might have become a land lover after that second Rogue Wave.  They are, after all, considered very rare… so two?

Captain Swan knew they existed, but as they are unpredictable a Captain cannot go about worrying about things over which he has no control.  There is enough to do with the challenges that have thousands of people and even more equipment working around the clock to predict for them all.

So when he is not looking after the passengers, he pours over the weather again and again, just as a good well trained Captain should.

And now that I have told you of the dangers lurking out there in the world’s oceans, and the truth is they happen far more often that you hear about them, I will assure you that in this story nothing that dreadful will come from the sea and endanger these people.

I know because I am the writer in this case and I may have some very odd or crazy things happen to my characters, However I do not like to suffer that much.

Take the movie about the sinking of the Titanic for example; I could only sit and suffer through that movie once. I cannot watch the actors on the screen painfully cling to life, then give up and die, without myself suffering right along with them.

I feel deeply what they portray and even though I know they walked away when the camera stopped rolling and ambled off with a nice big pay check, I am left feeling the pain of hundreds of deaths.   So no thank you!  I would rather sit through hundreds of happy ending Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire movies which send me away humming a familiar tune.

Thus if I say that a Rogue Wave will not descend upon Nancy while she contentedly paints her lovely oceans, you know that it will not occur.  Even though I have told you about how frequently it does happen to others in real life, so you will be worried that one of those unexplained waves could hit this Cruise Ship at any moment and without warning.

Captain Swan stopped and stood behind the pretty painter at the West rail for several moments watching the plain white paper change into one of his most familiar sights.

Actually he thought he would like to have that one to hang in his cabin to look at when the angry sea was challenging him and his ship, with howling winds and waves, tossing them about like a toy boat.

He had sailed through many like that and sometimes could barely remember what he loved so much about that ocean.  But that painting brought him back to the good times.

“Where do I go to buy something like that painting?”  He asked quietly.

But deep in the process of blending colors for creating this painting, the sound of a voice behind her was startling and Nancy jumped, pushing the brush across the sky and somehow creating a storm cloud above the peaceful sea.

Nancy turned toward the voice and let out a relieved laugh.

“Oh good morning, Captain.”  She said still smiling. “I guess I get lost in what I am doing and begin to feel that I am the only person aboard this Ship.  I need to be brought back to reality now and then.”

“But look what I have done.”  He said, looking distressed at the cloud.  “I made you put a storm cloud above the most peaceful ocean I can remember.”  Nancy looked back at the easel surprised.

“Will you look at that?  That sky needed that subtle reminder that peace can be broken.  So I thank you.”  She took a tiny brush and signed the corner with a date, then walked across to an empty deck chair and sat looking at it from a distance.

Captain Swan took the next chair and he too looked at the painting.  Finally he spoke again.  This time without causing the painter to jump in surprise.

“I came by to invite you to dinner later tonight, but if you are hungry now I can take time for…”  He looked at his watch.  “An early lunch.”  He finished.

“As a matter of fact I am very hungry right now.  I hate to admit how many meals I miss when I am behind that easel. Food just slips my mind.”

“Your work is very good.  I loved that painting you were doing when I came up, but now that one dark cloud has special meaning to me. I helped paint it!  So, I would like to hang it in my cabin here on the Ship as a reminder of the good days and a warning about what could come if I am not vigilant.”

“Wow!”  Nancy laughed, “You are a deep thinker.”  She now noticed his very light, sky blue, eyes and his dark blonde hair with a few grays below his hat brim.  “Then you may have it. But first, after it is dry, I must frame it, then I will send it to you.”

“I can get it framed.”  The Captain began to insist.”  But Nancy interrupted,

“Sorry but I like to frame my work myself.  I don’t always like the way someone else matts them.  It annoys me to come across something with my signature on it and the wrong frame job.”

“That is your privilege.  I guess.”  But he really did not understand what difference one frame or another would make.  “Then, tell me the price, so I may buy it.”

I’ll just put your address, where I am to send it on the back,” Nancy said, getting up to go do that.  Captain Swan followed and stood by to tell her the Dock Office address for his Ship.

“I’ve forgotten.”  Nancy explained, “What is the name of this Ship?”  Captain Swan had to laugh as he told her.

“It is named “The Stormy Knight!”  Spelled with a ‘K’,  like one of King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table… named for one of my favorite books.”

Nancy closed her paint box and  picked up the easel to return them to her room.

“Shall I meet you in the main dining room… or where?”  She asked.

“How about my cabin, up next door to the Bridge, you know, also called the Wheel House.”   At her surprised look he explained,  “I never get to eat anything, for people coming up to talk to me in the dining room.  I am just too obvious.  It must be the hat!”  He tapped the white Captain’s cap with the heavy gold braid and some stars on it.  Of course the White suit with gold trim and brass buttons were pretty outstanding too, Nancy noticed.

As she put the painting with the others and her easel in the tiny closet, she picked out a nicer dress and decided to change from the warm black slacks and sweater.

Lunch in the Captain’s own cabin.  “Humm,” she thought.  But she was very hungry.

Nancy pulled on the peach colored dress, dropped a long gold chain around her neck and brushed her dark auburn hair to a red shine.  She stepped into a soft pair of gold sandals, comfortable for traveling the long halls of the cruise ship then remembered the lip gloss in the pocket of her black slacks and after shining her lips, kept it handy in the small leather purse she tied at her waist.  Her cabin was on the second floor but she still took the elevator up to the bridge level and looked around for the Captain’s cabin.

“Captain was” black against a gold brass plaque in the center of the door.  That was easy.  She tapped lightly on the wooden door and waited.  No one came so she knocked a little heavier.  When there was still no reply, she went into the Wheel Room  through the wide open door where two sailors were busy keeping the ship on course.

“Have you seen the Captain?”  She asked the one who looked up.

“Not for an hour.  I think he is in his cabin next door.”

“I knocked there.  But no one answered.”  Nancy explained.  The Sailor just shrugged then replied,

“In any case he should be here starting… “  He looked at the big clock high on the wall.  “…starting a new weather check right now.  It has been an hour since he checked the Weather report.  He does that every hour on the hour… exactly. I can set my watch by it.”

“Obviously he will need to do that right away.”  Nancy answered, “So tell him I will be out on the deck taking pictures.”

“Who do I say you are?’  The sailor asked.

“Tell him a hungry artist is outside nearby , but in no real hurry.  The weather report is more important.”   She held her very small, but high quality,  camera up for him to see and walked back out to the  West rail.

Nancy is easily lost in her hobby of seeking good photo shots for use in her water color paintings.  Several small children were hanging on the rails looking out at the fast passing ocean water.  Some adults, clearly in charge of the youngsters stood watching them.  Their poses were very relaxed and natural so she asked if they would mind if she took a couple of pictures of them.

Too bad she had to ask, for they immediately stopped looking natural and lined up in a row and smiled at the camera.  She failed again to get the nerve to tell them to go back as they were, that really never worked anyway, so she failed to get that group leaning and relaxed watching the kids at play she wanted for use in her paintings where people never lined up and smiled at the artist.

At first she was surprised when a customer of the gallery would stop in front of a water color and say wistfully,

“That Beach looks just like where our family used to vacation when the kids were little.  All it needs is a boy and a girl with parents,  to be a painting of us.  Then Nancy would offer to paint them in and they were thrilled.

The back or side view of a child with long or short hair in the color she was given or a type of hat, maybe a little mutt at their side as they dug in the sand or climbed a rock and Nancy had a new satisfied fan.

That got her started photographing the public just being themselves.  This Cruise was her one chance to collect people on a Ship.

When she had some new interesting shots she stopped suddenly and looked at her watch.  She had just lost another hour.  Feeling guilty she hurried to the Captain’s door and knocked.  She had missed him again.  A quick peek into the Bridge did not turn up the Captain either.

One of the sailors looked like the one she had left the message with.

“Excuse me sir!  Has the Captain been looking for me?”

“Actually everyone has been looking for him!  When he didn’t return for the Weather check, I did it myself.  Fortunately no change of route was required, so we are okay, but… if you find him first, tell him to check in up here… post haste!”

“Who else is looking for him?” Nancy asked.  It occurred to her that whoever else was looking for him, found him.  She would go look there.  Maybe he ate lunch with that passenger.

“Two ladies from the sixth floor below your room, 620, I think.  They seemed to think it was important.  Maybe it was or still is.”

“I guess you didn’t get a name.”

“No.  I don’t have yours either.  I would have said, an artist, like you told me, but he didn’t arrive. You tell him that he missed a weather check and now it is time for the next one. I’ll do it if I must.  But Lady, remind him that I don’t turn this Ship to a new course, even if the weather requires it.  He is the only one qualified to set a new course.”  He repeated it to emphasize the urgency and ended with… you got that?”

“I sure do. And my name is Nancy Carroll.  Have you got that?”

“Yes Mam!”  The first sailor saluted.  The second Sailor just kept on adjusting the huge wheel to the course indicated by, she assumed, Captain Swan.

As she left to look for the Captain she was hit by the realization that she was incapable of searching the entire sixth floor.  She could look in all of the public places but not into a hundred rooms.  So Nancy took a quick tour around the deck, even standing and searching the heads in the swimming pool, then peeked into all four Dining Rooms and the small Theater.

“Okay,” Nancy said softly to herself. “Now it is his turn to come find me, or just forget the whole thing.”  She went to her second floor room to pick up a book to read out on the Deck.

It took her about ten minutes to face the fact that her purse did not contain her room key.  She was so sure she had placed it there as she left after putting her paints away and changing into this dress.  But it was not there.

Twenty minute later she found a bell boy or whatever those luggage fellows are called, to come with a master key and open her door for her.  He said he would send a Boy down with another key later… if he remembered.

But he opened it for her this time with a valiant push and stood back for her to enter.

Nancy was not the screaming type and that was the only reason why she did not scream loudly as she walked in and almost stumbled over the Captain.  Both hands went to her mouth and held there as her eyes slowly informed her brain just who was lying face down on the floor of her room.  Actually she wanted to do the same as the Boy did and rush right back out.

“Get help here fast!”  she shouted after him as he raced away.  Nancy knelt down and took one of his hands in hers to feel for a pulse.  This brought out a low moan and his hand was warm.  That much was a big relief.  He was alive.  She helped him to roll over onto his back and he groaned some more.  In case the boy wasn’t seeking help, she reached for the telephone and reported to Security that the Captain had been found unconscious in her room.  A woman replied that the Doctor was on his way.  Not being a medical person  Nancy was wondering what she should do now.  What would she do if it was a kid?  She went to the washroom and came back with a cold wet wash cloth and put it on the Captain’s forehead, like they do in the movies.  His gold trimmed hat was halfway across the room.  She sat there on the floor holding the cloth to his head and looked around wondering what had happened.

The hat could have flown there when he fell.  But did he fall or was he pushed, or even worse, hit from behind.  Why was he in this room in the first place?  Who else was here? She kept looking to see what was moved or removed.  She felt certain that it looked the same as she left it. Nancy was inclined to travel very light and carried only a few pieces of jewelry and not much cash but several credit cards..  Her heaviest case contained her paints and special quality water paint paper supply.  Another lighter case held the finished and dry paintings, in clear protective envelopes.


The Doctor and two male helpers, with a nurse all arrived together.

Nancy got up and out of the way.  The Doctor found signs of a concussion on the back of Captain Swan’s head and did what he could, then asked the two men to put him on the stretcher to be carried up to the Ship’s Hospital.  As soon as they were out the door he turned to Nancy and asked,

“Now tell me what happened.  Did he get fresh or something and you fought back?”

“ Oh no! Nothing like that! I really don’t know.  I just walked in and there he was!  Then the Boy ran out and I told him to go get help. But to be sure, I picked up the phone and called Security myself.”

“What boy?”

“The Boy who opened my door for me.  It took me half an hour to find anyone with a key who would let me in, when my key was missing.  He let me in and said he would send another boy down with a new key for me.  Then we walked in and there the Captain was  face down on the floor.  The kid turned and ran out.  Who did he tell?”

“You’re saying that you were not here when the Captain was struck.”

“I was not!  I don’t even know why he was here in my room.  And I have no idea who hit him or why.  Are you sure he is going to be okay?”

The Doctor took up the Captain’s Hat and slowly left the room.  You will need to stay here until we get to talk to him and hear his side of the story.”

“Are you saying you think I knocked him out?  Find the Boy who let me in.  He knows I wasn’t here when it happened.”

“No Boy has reported in with us and your key is right there in the door!”  Nancy looked at it and wondered… Did the Boy forget his or did he have someone bring me one already?

“Well get someone to find him.  I know he didn’t do it either.  We stood together to unlock the door.”

“Lock yourself in and order lunch and dinner sent down.”

“What good will it do to lock myself in, when someone has my key?  The one in the door must belong to the Luggage Boy.  Mine was on a little chain with a black fluffy fur ball attached, so I could find it easily in my purse and it has been taken, somehow.”

“I’ll send the lock smith down to make you a new, different, key.  But we don’t have any fur balls.”  The Doctor smiled for the first time.  Nancy smiled back with relief hoping it meant he believed her story.  Except it wasn’t a story.  It was the truth.  She would order some food sent down later.  Right now she was no longer hungry.

Poor Captain Swan.  Why had he entered her room when she was up supposedly to meet him?  He knew she was not here.  Who took her key?  And how.  She patted the purse on her hip. Not an easy thing to get into.  Nancy untied it and set it on the table.  She turned at the light knock.

The tap on the door must be the Locksmith.  She opened the door.  It wasn’t.

Two middle-age ladies shoved their way in and quickly pushed the door shut behind them.

“Oh good you’re here.”  The first lady said and the second woman continued her speech.

“We’re so glad we caught you.  We heard that the Captain got fresh and so you clocked him.  Is that true?”

“It is not!”  Nancy began.  “How did you get that misinformation so quickly?”

“What’s not true? He didn’t get fresh? or you didn’t hit him?”

“Wait a minute, wait a minute.” Nancy stopped them.  “Who are you? and why do you want to know? And even more important.  Who fed you that garbage in the first place?”

“Sorry.”  The first lady began again.  “I didn’t believe it, anyway.  I’m Virginia, and this is my friend Margo.”  Margo gave a sort of half bow as she concurred,

“I didn’t either.  But when the kid said you hit him and knocked him cold and he was afraid he’d get the blame ‘cause you were a rich top floor passenger and he was a stow-away.”

“A stow-away? So that was why he ran off so fast.  How did he get the key that let me in?”

“Oh he just goes around where no one is and picks up food on the trays outside of the doors and when you caught him with your key he had to pretend to be a Floor Boy and let you in. But seeing the Captain on the floor scared him off.”

“I know just how he felt.  I had the urge to run also.”  Nancy admitted. “But my key?’

“I guess you dashed off and left it hanging in your door.  He said it was on a funny fur ball key ring. And… He gave it to me.”  Virginia took it out of her purse. “Here you can have it back.  Where did you get it?  It’s kind of handy to reach in and find your keys so easily.”

Nancy smiled. “Yes it is… but keep it.  I can get another.”

“Oh thanks.”  Virginia dropped it back into her purse.  But Nancy still wanted to know why they thought she had hit and knocked out the Captain.

“I guess he knew you didn’t, but he thought he better say you did, so he would not get blamed.”

“We are regulars.”  Margo explained.  “We take this Cruise every year and the Captain knows us, which is nice ‘cause he has us to his table at least once each trip.  So if we backed the boy up, he would be safe.  We kind of feel sorry for the kid and so we help him hide and he brings us stuff from up top.  Like special tickets to shows and dropped poker chips.  He finds lots of those,  people are so careless with the ones stuffed in their pockets.  But he can’t cash them in because you must give your room number.  And since we have the cheap rooms on the sixth row, he offers to split them with us.

“Mind if I sit down.”  Virginia asked politely.  “We heard that you were a rich famous artist and just look at the size of this suite.  It’s huge.”

“I like it.”  Nancy told her as she waved her to sit down.  “But I sure think you are getting a lot of bad information from someone. Is that stow-away kid the gossip?”

“Yes and no.”  Margo replied.  “Down in the little cheap, bargain basement rooms everyone is.”

“People hear stuff up in the dining rooms and waiting in line for the shows and love to talk about what they learned about you upper crusts.”

“Upper crusts?”  Nancy repeated she had not heard that before.

“Oh excuse me.  Nothing personal. And sorry we were kind of pushy coming here to see what the lady who clocked… uh knocked out the Captain, looked like.  But you don’t look like you would do that, so I believe you.”  Virginia told Nancy.

“Me too.”  Margo added.  She quietly sat down next to her friend.

“Well I’m going to phone up and see how our Captain is doing, then order some food.  Can I get you anything?

Virginia straightened up with a smile.  “How about a piece of that good cheese cake and maybe a cup of tea.?”

“Can you make that two?”  Margo, who was about to say, “ Nothing, Thank you,”  said timidly.

Nancy spoke softly into the phone to ask about the Captain’s condition.

All she got back was a curt …”As well as can be expected.”  Which more or less said he was at least still alive.   Then she ordered the tea and cheese cake for her guests and tea and Eggs Benedict for herself.

“The Captain is doing as well as can be expected.” she told the ladies.  “I wonder who is running the Ship now?” she said almost to herself.

“Oh don’t worry about that.”  Virginia explained, “This big ship can run itself.  We see it every year.  The computer knows the course.”

“Yes,” Margo answered also.  “We think the sailors just stand there at the Wheel to make a good impression on the passengers.”

Nancy looked serious for a moment as she spoke her thoughts.

“You two ladies seem to know everything about what goes on in this Ship except… who knocked out the Captain and Why in this room?”  Then Margo saw something under the dresser across from her and went over to pick it up. But she suddenly backed up like it had turned out to be a rattle snake.  She looked at Nancy.

“Do you know there is a gun under your dresser?”

“You must be kidding. I don’t have a gun of any kind.”

This is a really big one.”  Margo told her.  They all watched as Nancy bent to scoop this big gun out.  She slid it out from under the furniture to the middle of the room with a light silk scarf from on top of the dresser, where they all sat staring at it, with not anyone knowing what it was called.

Just then the food arrived and Nancy placed a big bed pillow on top of the gun, before opening the door.  The man rolled the tray in and Nancy asked him to please just leave it by the door. So he did and left.

“What shall we do first?” Nancy asked the two women.  “Call Security to come take the gun out, or eat.”

Virginia had an answer, “If we don’t eat first, by the time Security is through quizzing us about the gun, probably one at a time, the food will be cold.  I say eat while it is hot.”

So they did, but it made a strange new type of lady tea talk, because as Nancy seemed to know no more than the other two ladies trying to figure out what the gun being there meant and what Security would believe, they were not even good at making wild, off the wall, guesses.  The gun could have burned a hole in the floor and dropped through, before even one of them could come close to guessing.

As soon as the uninvited but not too unwelcome guests had finished with their tea and cheese cake they stood to excuse themselves.  Virginia told Nancy how much she enjoyed the cheese cake.  It was not often put out when the Bargain folks ate and they really fancied it. “

Nancy told them that she enjoyed their company, she had very few guests as she spent most of her time painting. Since water color painting of water filled scenes of Oceans, Lakes, Rivers and Waterfalls  had become her favorite subject with her favorite medium, she traveled alone often, just to do what she called work and some might call a hobby.

“ But this trip has just begun, so next time you fancy some Cheese cake, find me out there by a rail, painting, and we can go in for tea and cake. But hurry away now and save yourself from answering questions that we know you have no answers for when Security gets here.

As soon as the ladies left, Nancy wheeled the food cart into the hallway and left it, then phoned Security to send someone down to answer some of her questions.

Last time they had sent a doctor and a nurse plus two helpers.

This time she explained that she’s the one looking for answers.  So please send someone who might know what is going on here.

A man arrived who had been with Ship Security, he said , for many years.

She explained first how she had met the Captain for the first time up on the deck and he had suggested lunch.  She left to change clothes then went to meet him.  However she did not find him, so had returned to her suite to discover her key missing.  A half an hour later she found a person who could let her in and even order her a new key.  But as soon as they opened the door there was the Captain on the floor.  This presented many questions.

Starting with why was Captain Swan in her room and not up in the dining room or even doing his Weather work on the Bridge.  And second, who on this Ship… because how could it anyone else, but someone on this Ship… was either already in my room or followed the Captain in.

Unless the Captain actually came with this person, who then knocked him unconscious and left him there.  There has to be an answer to these questions.  How can I continue this trip not knowing who can enter my room at will? and who would want to harm our Ship’s Captain?  And Why?  Am I in danger in this room?

“I wish I could answer all of your questions.” Mr. Art Crane explained, “But I have no answers to any.  True, unlike a City Police Department, who must find answers to those same kinds of questions, for it’s citizens.

My Ship City is still very large and finding answers very difficult.”  He tried to sound sincere.  “I am looking though you may be sure.”

“Then maybe you can tell me this.  There is something here in my room that was not here yesterday.  I found it a few moments ago.  Tell me if you can.  Is it gift from someone who wants me to be able to protect myself or a warning to prove someone else may get to me anytime they wish to.   She reached over and lifted the pillow from the large fully loaded automatic machine gun which she had pulled out from under her dresser.

The Security man looked at it without touching it, just as she did.  Nancy forced a smile as she asked,  “Is this from a friend or a foe?”

“Let me take it away in either case, Ms. Carroll”  Art Crane, The Security man for the Ship, suggested.  Tests might tell us something.  I can try to find out how it came aboard this Ship.”  He watched Nancy look at it and hesitate.  ‘Do you feel safer keeping it?  Do you know how to use a big gun like this?”

“No, no. nothing like that.  In fact it gives me the creeps.  My mind was somewhere else after you wondered how it came aboard.  Could it have belonged to the Captain?  Did you  know him before he was Captain of this ship?  Was he Military?”

Nancy began to share her thoughts.  If he came into my room carrying that thing and was struck from behind, it might well have slid under the dresser where it was found.  His Captain’s Cap was right next to it.”

“Now that you ask, I heard that Captain Swan was a helicopter Pilot in the Army in his youth. “  Then he smiled and told her, “ He is getting better now, you might like to know.  But he only recalls being knocked out without warning, by some unknown person.”

“Thanks for telling me.  When I call, they only give me that standard reply.”  Nancy shook her head.

“It is very strange that every new bit of information only raises another question.  Why would he come to my room carrying that monster gun?   He knew I would be up in his Control Bridge waiting for him.”

“If it is his gun, I can tell him I have it.  If it is not his, we may as well begin to try to learn who it belongs to.

Meanwhile I will take you to a different room.  There is a guest room next door to the Captain’s cabin.  It is unmarked and you might feel more secure up there.  Just take a few things… so we don’t make it obvious that you are moving.”

“I’ll put my paints and some paper in a pillow case with some undies and a little handful of things from the bathroom under my jacket.

The rest can stay here for now.  I really will feel safer somewhere else. Even though I don’t understand why I should.”  Then she looked down at the Machine Gun.  “ How will you get that thing out of sight?”

Art Crane wrapped the gun in his suit coat under his arm and they went up to the guest room, looking like casual tourists.



The guest room was lovely.  Art explained that it was reserved for Royal type guests,

“You know movie stars and foreign leaders.  I heard you were a famous Artist, so you qualify.”

“I’m qualifying way ahead of my time, but thank you just the same.  You will let me know when I may visit the Captain, won’t you?  Don’t forget.”

“I know you were to meet the Captain for lunch.  Have you had that lunch?”

“I had it sent to my room.”  Nancy decided to leave the lady guests out of the conversation.  Though wondering if she was making a mistake.  He was Security after all.

“What time would you like me to take you to dinner?”

“Oh you don’t have to do that.”  Nancy smiled.

“But I do.  It’s my job.”  Art returned the smile, making Nancy wonder if he was ordered to stay by her or just wanted to.  But with a sigh she decided that…  oh well, time will tell and so told him seven P.M.

Time sure was going to be very busy telling her all of that stuff she still didn’t know about everything going on with this strange vacation Cruise.

Art didn’t have Captain Swan’s problem of being interrupted all through dinner in the big dining room, so that was where they went to dinner at seven.  As one of the Ship’s Security Agents, Art was always under cover and anonymous, and Nancy was eating there for the first time since boarding the Cruise Ship.

“By the way you can completely erase that picture in your mind of the Captain entering your suite with a machine gun under his arm.  He has never seen it before.”  A few bites later he added,

“He said the only way that gun could get on board is when they were in Port.  While  the rooms are all open, being made ready for the next sailing and the ship is taking on tons of crates of food and supplies.”

“That is one thought I will very happily forget.” Nancy told him. Art continued to explain.

“I can tell you that almost everything slides by the Explosive Detector on the way on.  How ever they came on with this gun, they must have hidden it in your suite at that time.

We have a sheet of new rules to follow ever since the Terrorist War began.  For example we must be on the lookout for stowaways now more than before.  Just like every City and Town is beginning to discover.”

“Have you found any stowaways?” Nancy asked, now that she realized she had been dealing with one herself. She should mention him.  But he was busy explaining how he was handling those new rules, so she listened.  Later she will mention that fellow who had her key.  Suddenly the gun was, in her mind, his.  He could have easily hidden it there after she left the key in the door. She would tell Art about that, too.

Then Art began to talk about the job of being a plain clothes-man and she forgot about the stowaway by the time they were on to a great tasty desert, something she didn’t always allow herself to enjoy.  During the second cup of coffee, Art said let’s walk it off on the top deck.  Great idea so off they went.

The moon was high so the ripples of white gleamed on the black water. This was not the sort of beauty Nancy sought for her painting and yet as she looked out over the water she began to wonder, why not?

It would be unusual to paint a water so dark.  But she could see the greens and blues behind the purple black sea and the sky was different with that bright gray shadowed yellow moon.  She simply must try it.

“Excuse me Art but I would like to go after my easel and paints now before that terrific moon fades away.”

“But your easel did not make the cut.”  Art reminded her.  Nancy looked distressed for a moment then handed Art the guest room key.

“Then you go bring me the paint box and three sheets of the water color paper and I will run down and collect the easel.

Something about the arrangement bothered Art as the Security Man, but he took the key as asked and went quickly to the guest room knowing just where she had stored the paint box on the pad of paper.

The guest room was close by and he hurried.  Nancy wanted, well, needed, her easel and only she knew where it was in her old suite and off she dashed.

Nancy was the first to be surprised as she opened her old second floor room door and found Captain Swan sitting there behind the tray table, laden with cups and saucers and everything.  He was holding a cup of coffee in hand looking as if expecting guests.

She let out a little squeal at the unexpected sight and her eyes went around the room searching for the reason for his being there but found none.

Captain Swan stood up fast and dropped the cup with a splash of black coffee to the carpet from the nearly empty cup.

“You are supposed to be moved.”  He told her crossly, as if she were a naughty child.

“You are supposed to be in the hospital!”  she shouted back. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m waiting and watching for someone to return to the scene of the crime, you might say.  A gun was planted here and I want to know by whom and why.  You are lucky that you dashed in so quickly that I didn’t hear you.  If I hadn’t put my gun down to drink the coffee, I might have shot you.”

“Well you are not very good at this then are you?  Can’t you keep your gun at the ready and drink coffee at the same time.  I certainly would if I had to.”  Nancy was giving him what he gave her, which was a put down for being there at all.

“Why were you here back when you were hit from behind? That is what I want to know.  You had me looking all over the place for you while you in my suite getting attacked!  I can’t help but wonder if that was supposed to be me?”

“I’ll admit I’m out of practice at this stalking business, but this is my Ship and I have to attend to things that have not been needed for many years.  Back in Nam I was a helicopter Pilot.  That kept me busy enough and others carried the guns and looked for the enemy… not me.”  Captain Swan sat back down.  If this lady was the enemy… he just lost. But he did not believe she was, so he continued to explain this new found fight to her. He wasn’t at all happy abut it.

“ This Terror War is a new and different kind.  I got notified that all Cruise Ships would be responsible to watch for unknown and unexpected dangers from a cagey enemy who wears no defining uniform, like in past Wars, but is just as determined to cause damage or even kill.”

‘They have assigned me an added Security man, But after that the Captain’s are responsible.  That’s me! Ready or not!”

“I’m sorry.”  Nancy said softly.  “I’m like you. I was expecting a relaxing vacation Cruise not to be a pawn in the War on Terror.  Somehow I thought it was being fought in the Middle East or something.”

At that the door burst open and Art entered quickly with his gun drawn ready to shoot.  Seeing the two of them deep in conversation he dropped the gun into his pocket.

“I thought Carlson was going to be watching this room from across the hall?” He told the Captain confused by seeing him there

“He was.  But a rumor of a stowaway down in six changed his orders, so I  took this one again.  I wish whoever was in charge, would get into this War for real and WIN it!  Let’s get it over with.  This being in a war half way is not working.”  The Captain complained. “I’d far rather come right out and fight these guys to an end, than spent the rest of my life just dodging them.”

“I agree with you Cap, but unfortunately I am not the one in charge either.”  Art told him.  “So for now we both have to play dodge ball.”

Nancy had now gotten the picture.  Some people were standing around in foreign Counties just keeping an eye on things.  Others are reading the internet to keep an eye on things, while the rest of the world was forced to go about the business of looking out for themselves.

She took the easel out of the coat closet and asked Art where her paints were.

“I left them out in the hall.” He replied.  “I’ll take over this duty and wait for whoever put the gun in here to return for it while the Captain takes you up to the deck to paint.”

“Paint!  In the dark?”  the Captain asked in surprise.

“I thought I might like to try it.” she admitted, “But first let me tell you something else.  When I came here to get dressed for our lunch.”  She looked at Captain Swan.  “I hurried and left my key hanging in the door.  I didn’t miss it until I came back.  Then I couldn’t get in, so I walked all over the halls looking for someone with a key to let me in.  I grabbed this boy who I thought was one of the young men who carried the luggage down and asked him if he had a key.  He turned out to be a stowaway who had taken my key out of the door and off of my key ring, so I didn’t recognize it and he used it to let me in.  When we saw Captain Swan on the floor, I almost fainted and the boy ran away as fast as he could.

I phoned for help and got it.  You know what happened next, but I’m not finished.

The next day two ladies came up from six to my room and stayed to talk awhile.  I invited them to stay for tea while I ordered lunch.  They were very nice.  Virginia and Margo are their names.  They told me that the stowaway they were helping to hide had given them a key chain which turned out to be mine. She liked it, so I told her she could keep it and promised not to tell on the boy.  Now I wonder if he put the gun in my room while he had the key.  You see he didn’t really give it back to me.  He just opened the door for me, then he left it in the door by mistake when he ran away.  The doctor handed it to me before he left.  He seemed to think I had knocked out the Captain, but the boy was not around to back up my story.  I didn’t hit you, you know.”  Nancy looked at Captain Swan. He just nodded, “I know.”

Nancy then looked at the window and seeing that the moon had disappeared put the easel back into the closet with a long sigh.

“I’ll look for that moon another night.  I think I’ll join the War on Terror and help you two for now.  What do you want me to do?”

She picked up the coffee pot and finding it full and hot she picked up the Captain’s cup from the floor and then poured three cups full and sat down with a smile saying,

“It’s a good thing the two ladies from 602 can’t see me now.  They would be so envious.  They have already called me the privileged “Uppercrust!”  Imagine me with the two most desirable single men on the Ship in my room… You are both single are you not?”

“I am.”  They both said in unison.

Maybe I can round up a third man if I went into the hall like last time looking for help from a Luggage Boy.  Better yet, I will simply go down to 602 and ask my friends Virginia and Margo where I can find that stowaway so you can look him up yourselves…”  then she frowned, “If you are very careful.  He may be just a boy.  But as Captain Swan just explained, the enemy has changed and we are the ones who need to dodge them.”

“You be careful!”  the Captain warned.

“I will, “  Nancy promised as she left the room. Still Art followed from out of her sight.

The two women Nancy was looking to see were not in.

“They went to the Coffee Shop on the third floor.  That is their favorite.” A third lady told her.  Nancy lowered her voice as if being secretive.  “You don’t know where I might find the Boy they were helping hide do you?  I have something for him.”

“I’ll give it to him. “  She offered.

“No, but thanks,  I owe him for finding my room key and I would like to thank him in person.”   The lady whispered back.

“He spends most of his time in the Engine room talking to the Engineers.  He’s a bright kid and might become an Engineer someday.”

“Well thank you,  but I have no idea how to find the Engine room.” Nancy looked disappointed.

“It’s just two more decks below us.”  The woman replied promptly. “and don’t ever book a room on that floor below this one, because those big engines will keep you awake all night.  No wonder those rooms are cheaper.”

Nancy turned with a smile and went to the elevator. She stood for several minutes trying to decide between the clearly marked Engine Room button to see if the boy was really there, and the second floor, back to her old room to give that information to the men.

“Oh what the heck.  I always wanted to see an Engine room.”  Nancy said softly aloud to  herself.

But before she could tap the button an arm came around her and pushed it.  She turned startled and there was that same boy.

“So you are curious about the Engine room are you?’  The Boy she was looking for said right next to her ear.

“Come on down and I will give you the tour.  I know all about it now.”  Nancy impulsively drew back.  Then she laughed. “Oh it’s you!  Thanks for getting me a key after I lost mine.  The Doctor showed me that it was in the door lock.  Or was that my key and you just ran so fast you forgot it?”

The boy looked squeamish,  “Sorry I ran so fast.  I know I should have stayed and helped you.  Is that man okay?”

“That’s what I hear, but they don’t tell one any real news on the telephone.”

The elevator door opened and they both stepped in.  Nancy stood close to the door while the boy leaned against the back wall.

They got out together and the noise told Nancy that it was the Engine room.

She stepped out and he took her arm with one hand and his other firmly around her waist and led her around a corner away from the Engines.

“Right here.”  he said,  “ First stop for first time tourists,  follow me.”  He tugged her around the corner and into a much quieter, smaller room.  Then the boy shut that door and turned the key, locking them in the new small room with four single beds.

“Now, what are you really doing down here?”  he asked.  “I know you found my gun!”

“Oh was that yours?”  Nancy acted surprised.  “I never for a moment thought it could be yours. I sure did wonder who could have put it in my room though.  So why did you?  I didn’t even touch it.  It kind of scared me.  Say! what are you doing with a big thing like that anyway? You look way too young to be a soldier.”

“Which question do you want me to answer?”

Nancy smiled like it was a game. “Let me think.  First… Why my room?”

“It wasn’t your room when I put it there.  I, uh, was helping to clean the rooms that day, so I put it in a room close to the top.  Then you moved in and I went to get it back and it was locked.”

“You cleaned rooms?  Imagine that! You are useful aren’t you.  Then you got promoted to Luggage Boy?  But then why do you bring a gun like that to a job like this?  I don’t understand.”

“It is a very good thing that you don’t.  All of you old ladies are the same.  You think I am just a kid, a dumb kid at that!  But if you didn’t, I would have to put you away, if you know what I mean.  So just keep being stupid.  It is safer for you that way.”

Nancy pretended that the serious meaning went over her head.

“Well… aren’t you the one acting stupid?  Just how old are you anyway to be making crazy threats like that.”  She faked a little laugh.

“Age doesn’t matter.”   So Nancy looked very serious… school teacher serious and asked him,

“Do your Mom and Dad know you are here and that you have that gun. Is it your Father’s? Is he going to be mad when he finds out you took it?”

“Listen Lady I am 18 years old and not a kid and you are not my boss.”

“Then who is?   Because you need a good spanking., and I hope your Dad gives it to you.  Maybe you will learn to treat your elders with more respect.”

Nancy heard a key enter the door lock and took a chance to move him around.  She turned her back on him acting disgusted and sounding half angry folded her arms across her chest.  The boy moved to face her. That was when she saw the door crack open a tiny bit and Art peek in.

Nancy turned back quickly and slapped the boy hard across the face knocking him off balance. “There! She shouted, “ I just hope your Daddy finishes that for me.”

With that, Art came in and took the boy into handcuffs.  Without a word Art led him off and Nancy didn’t even ask where.  She had run out of questions, trying to keep the boy off course. So she forgot about the Engines in the Engine Room and took the elevator to the very top and her elegant guest room.

Art would let the Captain know what had happened and she was tired.  The kid tried to make it clear that he was not above killing if he chose to. In this new day and age when kids aren’t children anymore, it seems that even women had better be looking out for themselves.

Captain Swan would soon find out if the boy was alone or if other “Kids” were armed and waiting to make trouble on this Ship or where ever they could, for a cause she would never understand.

Perhaps it was now time to relax and have that peaceful Cruise.  But maybe not.

There was a knock on her door and she forced herself to go open it.  For a passenger with no family or friends onboard, she was sure kept busy.

The Captain entered.  Nancy smiled. Now, he was one she was happy to see.  He entered in a serious mood and she could understand that.  He must have been questioning the Boy.

“Can I get you a cold or hot drink?”

“No just a soft chair.”  Nancy stood back and with a cheery wave told him,

“They’re all yours.  Take your pick!”  Captain Swan sank into a stuffed leather arm chair.”

Nancy took the one next to it for easy conversing to ask,

“How did it go.  Does the boy admit to buddies?”

“No, but It’s hard to believe he’s alone.  Nor can I assume it’s another kid.  We have 2500 passengers and half again that many workers to take care of them.  Another enemy could be any one of those.  I have gone over the lists of each, drawing lines through the regulars both on the passenger list and the employee credentials.  So I have narrowed it down to unknowns, and I must assume that the regulars are not Terrorists until I learn differently.

Thus I only need to find the bad apples among the 1500 new passengers and 900 first time employees. “

“Here I was hoping we were free to enjoy a relaxing vacation.”

“I hope you are, but I must tell you that Art had a lot to tell me about picking up the boy.  His name is Mohammad Magic, obviously not the name on his birth certificate but he actually had it on his Passport , so that must not be real either.

“The most interesting was what Art told me about you.”

“Me?   I just did as I was told to do by that kid.”  He caught me at the elevator and the rest was what he said to do as he dragged me into that little room.

Art said he stood outside of the door the boy locked you behind and listened to try to decide if he could get in, in time to protect you.  He said you treated that dangerous kid as if he was just trying to act big.  You talked down to him like a parent or a teacher scolding a wayward child.  You said he needed a spanking!  Art almost laughed out loud at that.  Even when he went so far as to hint that he might have to kill you.  You pretended he was just being disrespectful of his elders. And to distract the kid so Art could go in and take charge,  you actually slapped the boy hard across the face so that he was handcuffed before he came around to understanding what had just happened.  The Captain wanted to suggest something and explained,

“I just talked to him and he still thinks you are in the dark.  I let him keep believing that,  so if you are willing, we three can work to find out if there is anyone else still on the Ship, or possibly ready to join him from one of the upcoming Ports in Hawaii.

Of course I will.  May I keep my cover as an Artist?”  Nancy wondered with a smile.  The Captain had to laugh,

“At least until you finish framing the painting you have promised me”

All the next morning, the Captain sat at the weather report desk on the Bridge and looked over the names of the newer workers.  Among the strong young men hired to carry on the Ship’s supplies and all of the food and kitchen supplies ordered by the Chefs then followed on at boarding time by toting the luggage to the rooms, there were eleven named,  Mohammad.  What was he to make of that?

A quick check proved that there were two more than that on the regular worker list.  Just because a traitor was named Mohammad, didn’t prove to be a useful tool for finding another.  He continued over the list.  There were five just hired a day or two earlier.  The Traitor Mohammad in the Ship jail was one of those.

Captain Swan put the list down and picked up the latest weather report instead.

The Calm seas were predicted so far all the rest of the way to the closest of the Hawaiian Islands.  Good, good.  He didn’t want to have a weather problem to deal with while he was looking for a possible Terrorist.

Art had located a small tablet computer in the life boat where this Mohammad slept.  He was going into it searching for a name of someone on board this  Ship as a worker or a Passenger.  Or as a stowaway like the first.

“Captain!”  It was one of the Officials from the rarely used Ship Jail.  Captain Swan turned from the weather chart to hear the man who wore a Badge with the name, Van Eggers.

“ The young man incarcerated in our Jail wishes to speak to the lady who slapped him.  “Is that permitted?  Do you know who he is asking for?”

“Indeed I do.  Tell him I will see if she is willing to see him.”  He stood to go find Nancy, but paused.  “Have you any idea why?”

“He seems to think she may be able to help him.”

“In what way.”

“He says he has not been truthful and she can vouch for him in something…if she will.”

“I will phone down to you Van, if I am bringing her.  But warn him that I do not plan to leave her alone with him.”

“I will. Thanks.”  The man left to return to his jail duty.

Captain Swan knew just where to look for Nancy.  She liked the light on the West rail of the Ship for her Painting.  Nancy was just finishing with a very different painting of the same Ocean scene.  He wondered how she did that.  He knew that the Ocean had hundreds of changing looks to him, but he didn’t think they were enough to show up on paper.  She turned to fold the easel and saw the Captain approaching.

He began at once to explain the visit.

“It seems that the Young man you helped us put in our jail wants some further help from you.  Are you willing to go see him?  I will insist on staying with you while you do… if you choose to visit the jail.”  Nancy was not hesitant, but curious.

“I can’t think why he would.  I was very hard on him, but I am willing to hear him out.”

“You can put your things in the guest room; while I phone down that we are coming.”

The elevator took them down to the floor above the Engine room.  Nancy remembered what the lady had said about trying to sleep on that floor and remarked to Captain Swan.

“I guess lack of sleep has given the kid time to think.”

“We’ll soon know.”  The boy wore a big smile at her arrival and nodded politely to the Captain.

“You wanted to see Me.?”  Nancy asked him.

“Yes.  I know I should have stayed to help you when we found the Captain lying injured. But more than that I owe you an apology for the crappy way I talked to you.  I deserved that swat across my mouth.  My Mom would have done the same if she heard me.”  Nancy had to smile at the apology.  The Captain listened with interest

From the first I have been lying to everybody.  And now they think I am a Terrorist!  I am not a Terrorist and you may be the only one who might believe me.  Even when I tried to talk tough,  you saw through me.  And… you were right there when we opened the door and found the Captain on the floor.  So you…”  Nancy interrupted,

“Let’s go sit at that table and then you should start at the beginning.  Van Eggers let the two visitors enter the jail room and sit facing the prisoner across the table.  He stood against the wall observing.

“Now that is better.  Let’s get at the truth here.  What is your real name?

“My name is Wes Langley I’m 17 and my parents think I am on a camping trip with friends.  Lots of guys working on the Ship have the name, Mohammad.  So when I swiped a Passport out of a back pack, that is what I got and have been using.

The kid who owns it doesn’t even know it’s gone and he won’t until he wants to go ashore in a foreign country.  By then I would have put it back, but that guy has it now.”  He pointed to Van Eggers.  Van stepped up and told them that they had returned it to the owner.  Wes just shrugged.  It was at least one thing out of his hands now.

Nancy moved on to the next question.

“Whose gun were you claiming?”

“I found it inside a life boat. But after looking it over, I didn’t want to get caught with it, so I put it under your dresser after I spotted your key in the door.”  Now the Captain was curious.

“Why did you stowaway onto this Cruise ship?”  The Captain broke in to ask.

“Well I got to the dock too late to take the boat going to the Camp I was expected at.  So I was hanging around on the dock and looking at this beautiful, huge, impressive Cruise Ship getting ready to go.  Two old ladies were just standing there waiting to get on.  They told me it was a lot of fun to travel on a Cruise like this.  It was a floating city with good food, movie theaters and even live shows with an orchestra.  Then they told me that if I would carry their suitcases on, they would hide me down on the sixth floor where no one would ever bother me.  I could go around and pretend to be one of the young workers.  “They all look alike… those young boys do,” one said.  They even said they could get me a name tag to hang around my neck.  But they never did. Not even after I showed them a real Passport.”  Then he turned to Nancy, “But you thought I was one of them and asked me to open your door, right where I found the key, so I did.  Too bad I gave your nice key chain to one of my ladies who helped me get on.”

“She offered it back and I gave it to her.”  Nancy told him and he kept on with his new story.

“Once the Ship went to sea I felt safe, then, after I found the gun in the boat, I was trying to act tough… but I didn’t fool you.  That’s why I asked to see you to apologize and hope you will vouch for me as myself.”  Then the kid got serious with his new plan.

“See if you call my parents and explain that I accidently got on this ship and if my Dad will just give the office a Credit card to pay for a ticket, then I can have my own cheap little room and eat in the dining room and most important, get out of this jail.  But I won’t be 18 until the boat docks back in San Diego, so I need someone…an adult, to well… you know, be my sort of an acting parent.  And you are so… well, respectable, that they might let you do it.  If you are willing.”  He leaned back in relief having asked.  Now he had to await her reply.

Captain Swan was already shaking his head…No.

“You can’t ask a stranger to take a chance on sponsoring a possible Terrorist!”  The boy jumped up shouting, “But I am not a Terrorist!”

“You have displayed all of the written descriptions of one, as sent to us by the FBI.  Now you say we should believe you over the Government?”

“Call my parents.  I gave their number to him over there.”  He pointed to Van and sat down looking and feeling defeated.

“Parents have no idea what their wayward children are up to these days.”  The Captain informed him.  “Yours will say you are away at Camp.  We will be in Hawaii in three days.  We will give you to the Law there and the Courts will appoint you a Lawyer to try to prove that the stories  you now tell are the truth.”

Nancy reached across the table to take the boy’s hand and try to calm him.  I am very flattered that you chose me to be your substitute Mom, but the Captain has rules to follow. Everyone has rules to follow.  You must begin to follow yours right this minute.  You may call your parents and explain that you are not at Camp and tell them where you are and where you will be in three days.  They will decide what they want to do about that.  Perhaps they will fly to Hawaii to stand by you.  Only you know if you have been honest enough with them to warrant that.  You sound as if you think your Dad could afford to buy you a Cruise ticket.  Is that true?

The boy nodded, yes, but added.

“The Camp they paid to send me to cost as much as this Cruise, but they already lost that when I didn’t catch the boat on time.”

“And why didn’t you?”  Nancy asked.  The boy turned his palms up with an I don’t know look.  “I was just goofing off I guess.”

“And right now you are paying the price for that goofing off. You do understand don’t you?”

The Captain was getting convinced that the boy was being truthful now.  He was trying to decide what he could safely do about it.  Then he made a suggestion.

“Are you willing to work?  And I mean work hard.”

Wes Langley nodded yes then answered with a bold, “Yes I am!”

The kitchen work is the hardest of all that we have on this Ship. They have so many people to feed. I could assign you to the kitchen staff and they will work you four straight hours at a time.  Then you will bring yourself down here to your room, called jail, but not locked up, for four hours of rest, reading, and eating what you bring down from the kitchen.  Then you will return to the kitchen for another four hours of work.  Every four hours you will do whatever work the Kitchen Chief tells you to do.  Peel potatoes, or apples, fill the dishwasher, empty the dishwasher, whatever.  Is that better than being locked up here?”  In two days I will decide whether or not to turn you over to the Law in Hawaii. We will talk first and I hope I am not making a mistake.”

“You are not.  I will work.  But I had better call my parents before the Camp gets around to it. And thank you, Captain! Thank you.”  Nancy smiled at both.  Even Van was smiling.

“We will visit again in two days.”  Nancy told the boy then as she left she said,

“Wes Langley is very nice name.  Don’t lose it anymore.”
“I won’t… Mom.”  He laughed.

“It’s Nancy, Wes.  But thanks for the compliment.”


Nancy was sitting in her old room going over some of the photos she had collected in her camera since arriving.  They decided that since there didn’t seem to be a danger lurking she would move back.  Especially since the newly assigned Security man, by the  name of, Greg Smith, an official trained to handle Ship high-jacking and that sort of thing had claimed the gun hidden in the lifeboat had been placed there by him.

Greg explained that they had found that having a weapon far from the main Bridge gave them an outside advantage against those pesky ship high jacking kids from West Africa, who went straight for the Captains and crews then forced them to take their huge loaded freighters into their own African port, where they could hold the people and the freight, even the Ship for millions in ransom.

But those Ships never had stowaways sneaking around, so when they needed that weapon to capture the kidnappers they were ready to go.

Greg said he would look for a safer place to keep it.  Being on a Ship that was overrun by curious children was new to him.  But he had to admit much more fun.

Nancy paused over one of the earliest pictures.  She had been taking shots of the different kinds of people who were arriving to Cruise on this Ship, when a big black limo pulled up she readied her camera to photograph a movie or TV star, or whatever type took a limo instead of being dropped off by a relative or came by Taxi or one of the small vans hired by the Shipping Lines.

But the two women who stepped out to stand by the luggage which the driver had removed from the trunk surprised her.  Before she even clicked the camera she remembered the driver handing each woman an envelope and they had looked in and appeared to be counting the contents.  Not a scene she had anticipated.  But it became even stranger as she looked at it now.  The women were Virginia and Margo from the cheap rooms far below.  The women who carried the gossip to her and said they were regulars Cruising on this Ship often.  She decided that something was not as it appeared to be and decided to talk to Art about it.

There in a later snap was young Wes in the back ground, leaning against a lamp post watching it all.  His relaxed and rather envious expression as he looked up at the ship had caught her attention. She went back to photographing the kids chasing up and down the dock.

Later she dragged both Cap Swan and Art down for coffee to take a look at the arrivees she had photographed.  Wes seemed to be just as he had said, but the two women were not.  They came into the conversation again later when the Captain and Nancy went down on Wes’s off time to see how he was doing.

Nancy was thinking how she might ask him about them, but then suddenly he mentioned them himself.

“Oh my two nice old ladies were on the elevator with me this morning and they were so surprised to see this Kitchen worker tag on my neck that they asked about it”

Nancy wished he would quite calling them “old ladies” they must be her age.  But then what does middle age look like to a teenager?

“What did you tell them?”  Nancy asked,

“That I was caught and the Captain was very nice to give me this job. That’s all, because, well, you know, the rest is embarrassing.  But they were funny because they said they had heard from the Engineers that I had come down with you, they said the, artist lady, and I had my arm around you and we were smiling as I took you into the Engine Room’s Sleeping Room and who knows what was going on there? when this tourist guy came down and dragged me out.  So Virginia said…  If the Captain finds out about you and her, he might fire you from this cushy job.

I was going to tell them it wasn’t that cushy, when one lady handed me a twenty, I still have it see?  He pulled the twenty dollar bill from his shirt pocket.  And they told me any time I had something interesting to tell them about the Captain and any of the ladies, if I knew what they meant, they would give me another one.”

The Captain and Nancy looked at each other puzzled.  They would discuss this later.

But Wes was thinking also.  He looked embarrassed at Nancy.

“Do you suppose they gave a twenty to the Engineer who told them about me bringing you down here?  Boy they sure get their stories screwed up.  I’ll bet they would pay two twenties to the guy, if that Engineer told them I was put in jail as a Terrorist. And why do the old ladies care about that stuff anyway?  They are supposed to be having a good old time going to the movies and having fun.”

The Captain told Wes he was getting good reports about his kitchen work.  So keep it up.  Then Nancy had an idea.  She walked the Captain away for a minute then whispered it to him.  He nodded and okay, so she came back to Wes and she told him.

“The next time you happen to meet those nice ladies, tell them that the Captain and I had a loud fight and I told him to leave me alone or I would report him to the main Office.  They will surely pay for that and then you stay quiet.  I want to see how long it takes that gossip to spread back to one of us.”

“But you’re not really mad at him, right?”

“Certainly not and he has always treated me respectfully and all of the other ladies too.  It’s his job to get to know the guests on his Ship and see that they are having fun on the Cruise, but that is not what they seem to want to hear.”

“I understand.”  Wes told them. but he wasn’t sure he did.  “Why would those nice Ladies care about what other people do?  It didn’t make sense.”

They both left,  letting him wonder… just as they were wondering the same thing.

It was the day before docking at the Port of Kauai in Hawaii. A good many of the tourists were ready to put their feet on solid ground again and were making plans to leave the Ship for the day.

When Nancy answered the knock at the door, she was not totally surprised to see Virginia and Margo standing there wearing giant smiles.

“Well at last!”  Virginia said “We have tried several times to catch you, but you are one very busy lady and never in your suite.”   They didn’t know she was in another guest room and Nancy didn’t want them or anyone to know. Margo completed the statement to explain,

“We both had our heart set on a nice tea with cheese cake once more before we arrived in the first Port, and tomorrow we arrive!”

“Do you plan to go ashore?”  Nancy asked casually, as she lifted the phone to put in the order.  The sooner the tea arrived the quicker the visit would end.  Even so she was wondering if this visit would reveal anything about the two of them.  At least she could toss some off hand questions at them.

“Hearing the kitchen order, they both sat down and began the conversation with their own off hand comments.  As usual Virginia began and Margo finished each thought.

“We imagine that big new boy friend is taking up much of your time.  Do you go to his suite?”

“I would if he was one of mine, a fine looking hunk like that!”  Margo smiled.

“Oh we won’t talk about that to others,”  Virginia wanted her to know. “We know you wouldn’t want the Captain get upset about the competition.”

“The Captain?  He is nothing to me.”  Nancy told them firmly.  Both ladies laughed, and Virginia let Nancy know that they were not fooled.

“It’s alright, we are women too, so we understand.  That little argument was staged to pacify the big guy.  After he caught you with the kid.  Of course he is much too young for you.  But my goodness he was smitten and went after you with a childish pass.  Don’t worry we don’t believe you encouraged him.  The big boy friend sure moved that kid out fast.  The Engineers said the big man looked furious and the kid was scared witless, as he was being pushed out of your little meeting room.”

Nancy sat wondering how to handle this gossip.  Finally she put the Captain back into the picture,

“Captain Swan was very kind and gave the boy a job to keep him busy for the remainder of the trip.  I thought that was very nice,”

“Well certainly.  He will jump through hoops for you.  The kid was lucky that you have so much influence with Captain Swan.  But don’t be fooled because all of the good looking women do.  He’s quite a playboy from what we hear.”  Margo said with mild indignation to warn Nancy about him.  Then Virginia added

“When you get to know him as well as we do, after years of traveling on his Ship, you will understand what we mean.“

Nancy smiled and explained,

“I can’t afford to take more Cruises.  Artists don’t make much money until after they die.  That is how it has always been.  We do our painting for the love of it and let fate give the money to others.”   Virginia was wide eyed looking around the room.

“But this top of the line suite?”

“Well, I was given a small inheritance from my Uncle and decided if I was going to take but one Cruise, I should live it up good.  I don’t have any more Uncles, so this is it for me.”

Nancy saw that they were buying her story by the pity in their faces as she walked to the door and let in the food cart.  Both of their attentions went immediately to the cart and the cheese cake.  It didn’t take them long to forget that ‘poor little me’ was paying for it.She watched as Virginia took over and began to pour the tea without noticing that there were only two cheese cakes.  ‘Poor me’ was not having anything.  The greedy pair ate without ever noticing.  They had so much to say about the Ship’s short comings, like not having the expensive foods available to the later diners just to save the money.

Nancy sipped her tea deep in thought, as they did all of the talking.  They slipped in good remarks about her great looking new boy friend and were so sorry that the boy they brought on board had given her so much trouble. Maybe he would leave the Ship tomorrow at Port.  Staying would probably mean keeping that terrible kitchen job, unless maybe, they looked up full of hope.

“Maybe you can make-up with the Captain and get our boym an easier one.  He is such a nice kid and if he could stay on by working less maybe he would.”

So they thought she faked the fight with the Captain that Wes was to tell them.  Either he wasn’t convincing or they were less gullible.  What could she say to be believable?

“I hate to make up with the bastard just to help the boy.  He is somewhat of a nuisance too.”   Then Nancy smiled that hopeful look to suggest,

“Maybe you two can help him out.  If you took up a collection from the other sympathetic travelers down on the sixth floor, you could pay for him to have a room like one of yours and then he could stay without working.  What do you think?  I’d help but I’m strapped.”  She carefully did not look at the empty cheese cake plates as she said it.

“We can ask around.”  Margo said looking doubtful.  Nancy wondered how much having the envelopes full of twenty dollar bills to pay the boy for reporting to them was worth.

Did they already have other kids that she didn’t know doing the same.  Certainly the Engineers were on their dole… and why?  That was the curious part. Not that some people passed the gossip for the ready cash, but that the women had a use for it.

Who drove them to the Ship in the Limousine and handed the envelopes out?  Wasn’t it also odd that the truth seemed the least important factor?

After watching the smaller boats arrive to take passengers ashore one after the other Nancy decided to go..  She had mixed emotions about wandering about alone on an Island town where she didn’t need to buy a souvenir or anything else for that matter.  But when Art appeared by her side and suggested they go hunt for water fall for her to paint, she was sold.  She took her box of equipment and Art volunteered to carry her easel, but she had a small one in her case that would hold the paper for her if she located a nearby rock to set it on, so off they went.

The sixth floor ladies had squeezed into the very first boat and thank goodness didn’t see them going together.  She didn’t mind passing false information to them, but she simply hated to hear her actual activities being reported.

A golf cart was rented for following directions from the natives about where to look for special waterfalls. Since food was always last on her mind when she was off to paint,  Nancy had not planned for it.  But Art was not the same, he had picked up a picnic along with the golf cart, so they would dine on Hawaiian food when they eventually got hungry.

In the distance she spotted the two women on a cart going in the opposite direction and silently gave thanks for that.

Nancy wanted to stop and paint every water fall she passed, but Art was bent on finding the recommended fall.  So Nancy settled for snapping a photo of the lesser falls as Art drove the cart.

Between picture taking she listened to Art tell her about a conversation that had taken place at lunch yesterday.  Since it was gossip from the same two women she was not too interested until what he heard began to sink in.

“They were unusually quiet and acted like they were very dear friends of Captain Swan’s and wanted him to know something for his own good and I may as well be aware too, although it was up to me to look out for myself.”

“Okay what did they tell him?  I can’t even guess after all of the talk I had to listen to yesterday”

“They simply wanted to warn him about a woman on this trip who was here to hunt for a man with lots of money to take care of her.  This ruthless lady was posing as rich, staying in an expensive suite, with expensive clothes and stuff, even though she is penniless, flat broke.  The Captain should check that she is not charging up a large bill that he might get stuck with.”  Nancy was now attentive.  This sounded familiar.

“Did they mention a name?”

“No.  They seemed to think we could put two and two together and figure it out. They mentioned that she stands around outside and pretends be taking pictures of people as an excuse to get to know them and find out if they are wealthy enough for her.  The Captain and I …“

“Wait a minute don’t tell me.  You two think they were warning you about me!  Right!”

“Well it certainly sounded like it.”  They admitted as Nancy laughed.

“I am happy that at least you can take care of yourself Art.  But poor Cappy, I might take him for a bundle.  I told those women I was broke, while we had Tea yesterday, they were feeling me out to pay for a ticket for the boy Wes, so he won’t leave the Ship for good today.  But if I was really his mother, I would want him to come home, go back to school and get some goals.  Instead of being taken advantage of by some dishonest women.

“When I saw him last, he was trying to get the Captain to find him a job with less hours.”

“Was he willing?”

“I really don’t know.  I decided that whatever the Captain does was fine with me. Except get taken by you… you little fraud.”

“Is that what you think?”  Art laughed at her version of what he meant.

“Aren’t you?  Haven’t you heard that I am your new boy friend?”

“Since when have those two women spread a rumor that is the truth?”  Nancy sat thinking then finally decided,

“They are right about one thing though.  I am conniving, just not as they would have you believe.”  She smiled at him about to tell her secret.  “It’s this way, when I get home I am going to look for a nice little house with the most wonderful ocean view I can find.   Maybe up on a hill with a wide open ocean scene from a big picture window.  Then I will invite the Captain to dinner and when he comes he will stand at that window, then go out and sit on the deck to breathe it in and he will say,  If I lived here I would never get anything done. I would just sit here all day.  That is what everyone says who visits my parent’s ocean view house.  Then I will let him know that my house and I will be waiting for when he gives up the Ship and takes a land job.”

“He will never give up the Ship.  He loves sailing too much.”  Art said with authority.

“Why not?  He used to fly in the Army and he loved that too, but he gave it up for this job.”  If he can run that Ship he can run any kind of a Company he gets interested in.  So I will mention to him that as a land owner, he can buy a little sail boat for weekends and we can book Cruises to faraway places like Greece, Alaska or even Hawaii.  He can see them as a tourist instead of needing to worry about weather and terrorists.”

“Well Nancy, good luck with your pipe dream.  I can only hope the Captain sees it your way.  I will if he doesn’t.”  Nancy looked at him surprised and felt a pang of sympathy.

“Oh, Art, you are wonderful.  But I was a goner from the very first time the Captain came up to me and made me slop a brush full of paint into my clear sky.  I turned to see the unexpected voice that had startled me and looked into those sky blue eyes.  I have never seen eyes that color of blue before and I was mesmerized.  I am a sucker for colors, you know.  If he could sing, we would all be swooning.  But the gossip ladies are right.  I have set my cap for Captain Swan… but not until he quits being a Sea Captain.  In my dream we live in a house, have a couple of kids a boy and a girl and spend our retirement traveling the world on other people’s Ships.  If I can get it… it won’t be because I didn’t try.”

“If you don’t get your wish look me up.”  Art answered.

“Then tell me your dream.  What are you aiming for?”

“ I have a house, but the view is very different from what you seek.  My view goes off for miles, well it looks like miles, but it’s only a couple of hundred acres with fields, woods,  a river and a pond for swimming and fishing.  Horses running free.  Cattle grazing lazily and kids, someday, to ride and fish with me.  This government job has me helping with this damned Terrorist War, but nothing lasts forever.  One of us will win eventually and I sure hope it is freedom.  My house is waiting for that to happen.”

“Where is that house? And who is watching it for you?”

“ North Texas up near the New Mexico border, my brother is there with a wife and a  child, the lucky guy.  He is designing a house on a hill not far away.  We will share the land when I come home to stay.  If I ever get this job done and… “  Art looked at Nancy to finish the thought,  “bring home a wife.”  Nancy smiled and began to put away the paints.  She told him honestly that,

“Some woman will be very lucky to share that dream with you.  I might even look you up in north Texas if mine fails to come true.”

“Yours won’t.  I just know it. I know you and Captain Swan, so I better get to looking around.”  He laughed as he joked,  “I’ll tell those old gossips to find me someone else.”

They rode around on the cart for the lovely views than went to turn it in.  Nancy saw that the two women were turning their cart in also and she nearly suggested to Art that  they look around some more, but the same man who took them to the Ship in the limo was standing right there.  Here in Hawaii!  She took her camera out and snapped his picture then explained softly to Art why.

“We’ve got to find out who that man is and why he pays for those women to take that Cruise with Captain Swan and make trouble.  They say they have been on this Cruise several times.  Does that make sense?  If they were spending their own money would they go to different places?  Someone must buy them the Cruise, then give them cash in twenty dollar bills to buy information from staff.  Also to spread unflattering rumors about the Ship’s Captain.  Why?”

That’s easy.”  Art told her.  “It happens all the time.  It’s called, Industrial Sabotage or Fraud, where a competing Company plants someone into a competitor’s business and causes problems they can use to undermine the competition’s reputation for their own gain.

If it’s another Cruise Line wanting the business this Ship is attracting and they can undermine the reputation of the Captain, Crew, food, rooms, or anything about the one, to sell more tickets for the other.  Who is this line’s competitor?”

“I have no idea.”  Nancy tried to remember what her choices had been.

“Even the fuss about a possible Terrorist could cut down on their business.  Sometimes a disease is discovered and people cancel by the dozens.  Even if it is just a rumor or a real sick person planted on purpose.  They usually have a Doctor conveniently on board to verify the terrible sounding, but not serious, problem.”

“What a lot of work to go through for a few more passengers.”  Nancy could scarcely believe it was that simple.”

“It sounds like a lot of work but it really is simple and the simpler the more effective.  I still have to find out who knocked out our Captain.  Most likely another Kid who is on the pay roll, and when he just saw him going in, he took advantage.  He probably got two twenty’s for that one. ”  Art walked over to the counter to hear what Company paid for the two women’s Cart rental.”

“There you are!”  He said when he returned, “They charged their rental cart to the Acme Cruise Lines.  Captain Swan works for the Classic Cruise Line.  So the lovely ladies with the Twenties to pay for gossip and mischief, are working for Acme.”

“They get to travel free, if they bring back or send ahead, lots of bad news about Captain Swan’s Company.”  Nancy added.  “I’d demand First Class where the cheese cake is.”  Nancy declared adamantly.

“The what? “  Art asked,

“I’ll explain later,  Its an inside joke.  Let’s get back and talk to the Captain.”  They were almost there when Nancy thought to ask Art.

“Can the Captain deny the ladies’ boarding rights?”

“He could, but they could use it against him.  It would be better to just talk to the known informers.  You can convince the kid to go home and face the music.  He’d do almost anything for you, if you just promise he may come and visit you to tell you about college and what else he is doing”

“I can do that.  He is a nice kid, just a little mixed up.”

“I’ll check on the limo, too, if we can read a license plate from one of your photographs, it will add to the proof.”

“If it is the same Company what will Captain Swan do?”

“File a complaint.  His Company must have Lawyers.  It would be unbelievable to have 3000 passengers and 1500 employees and not have a large staff of lawyers.”

“Maybe when it is all over my Captain will be ready for a land job.” Nancy smiled.

“I’ll probably be on a Train or a Subway looking for you know who!”  Art told her.

“I will feel much safer with good guys like you doing that difficult job for us.”  Nancy answered.  “Then when you win, I will bring our kids to visit your kids on the Ranch and you can bring your kids to visit us on the Beach.”

“You got it!”  Art smiled.  As they cheerfully boarded the Ship smiling, Captain Swan was standing at the top of the steps wondering what made those two so happy.

“How did it go on shore?”  He asked, as they stopped next to him.

“Great!”  Art told him.  “Between the two of us we have planned the whole world.”

“Really?”  Captain Swan looked puzzled.

“Don’t worry about a thing, Cap, you will love it!” Art was absolutely sure.