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I hate discovering dead bodies.
I shook my head and slammed on the brakes. While leaping out of the golf cart onto the smooth Cocoa Beach sand, I wiggled my fingers into a pair of nitrile gloves. A shiver of fear convulsed up my spine as a fishy dead-human stench wafted through the dawn. I tiptoed over to a bloated young black man face up in a drenched United States Navy uniform, matted with sand.
“Sir, do you need some assistance?” Please roll over and puke or something. “Hey, buddy, you okay?" Nothing. I gave him a little nudge in the ribs with my sneaker. He felt squishy. I shuddered.
The June sun rose pink on the horizon. Red sky was good luck for sailors or something like that. Not for this guy.
This is so not the way I want to begin my last shift before vacation.
I loosened his tie, unfastened a button and placed two of my fingers on his carotid artery. No pulse. He stared past me, big brown eyes with long eyelashes frozen in a peaceful expression. No, not peaceful. The curl of his lips looked as though he had been up to something mischievous. I lowered my face and put my ear to his nose to listen for breathing as I studied his chest. I didn’t see or feel respirations. Up close he smelled like chlorine bleach.
I wasn’t a coroner but it was obvious to me that this guy had been dead for quite some time.
I struggled with the gritty wet material, unbuttoning the rest of his shirt exposing his hairy chest and a gold Star of David necklace. I didn’t find the dog tags I was searching for.
“Rest in peace, unknown sailor.”
I whispered a little prayer for him and pulled off the gloves as I hurried back to the vehicle. After slipping them into the black plastic trash bag, I exhaled, flipped open my blue cell phone and punched nine on speed dial. I glanced at my simulated diamond Tinker Bell watch and wiggled my wrist to make the pixie dust dance under the crystal.
“Cocoa Beach Department of Public Works. What is your complaint?” asked Igor the grouchy dispatcher.
“It's Sandra Faire. I’ve found a military floater washed up in front of the Copacabana. He’s dead.”
Within ten minutes I was surrounded by three hotel security guys in gray trousers and blue blazers; Andres, the perpetually hung-over lifeguard; Eagle, the hotshot volunteer beach patrolman who always startled the sunbathers tearing around the sand in his ATV; Bicep Betty in the yellow polka dot bikini and matching support hose; six uniformed City of Cocoa Beach cops. And Lieutenant Hottie Hernandez, homicide.
Okay so his first name was William, and not that he was my type…anymore…but my temperature sure soared whenever he met my gaze. I needed to figure out how to reroute those errant hormones. I was through with hot uber good-looking alpha males. Especially this one. No man of mine answered his cell phone during a romantic interlude. Just because there was a category five hurricane looming was no excuse for him to run off to work and leave me panting on the kitchen table.
Well, yeah, we had some other issues. William and I weren’t compatible except when we were making out. His kisses sent me to nirvana. Perhaps it's just as well the hurricane interrupted us. I had nothing to regret.
We didn’t have anything in common. I was eighteen the first time he kissed me. And the last time. Now I’m twenty-three and he would be thirty soon. I didn’t like cops. They were paranoid, manipulative drama kings. Well, most of the ones in my family tree were.
Hottie was dressed in a black tee shirt, way too tight. I could see the outline of his chiseled abs and the ripple of his deltoids. A badge on a chain hung around his neck, a service weapon and handcuffs tucked into the rear of his deliciously form fitting Levis.
The lieutenant swaggered down and looked over the deceased from a distance as the tide lapped the sailor’s mucky dress shoes. He paced off an area for the uniforms to seal the death investigation scene. Hotel security assisted, offering hot pink umbrellas to shove into the sand to wrap the yellow police tape around.
The lieutenant stopped and squatted before approaching the body, shining his flashlight on the sand with a slow sweeping motion. He led the crime scene photographer to the areas he deemed important. After the initial images were shot, forensics arrived.
The CSI team deployed different colored lights and donned goggles. The photographer changed out the filters on his camera to match the colors the forensic team used.
The lieutenant had a lengthy conversation with the lifeguard then shook his head, scribbled on a notepad, ducked under the police tape and made a beeline for me.
I leaned casually against the umbrella rental stand, twisting an errant strand of pale hair around my finger, determined not to let his deep testosterone voice move me.
He looked down and rubbed his clean shaven chin. His eyes lingered on the finer parts of my anatomy as his gaze climbed to my face and he asked me, “You discover this one?”
I sucked in a deep breath trying not to remember his erotic whispers.
“Did you discover the body?" He repeated.
“Anyone in the area at the time?”
I looked into his smoldering brown eyes and shook my head.
“How long ago?”
I checked Tinker Bell. “About forty-five minutes now. I called in the find at six-thirteen.”
“Did you notice any footprints around the body before you approached it?" He cocked his head to one side and gave my sneakers the once over.
I kicked up one foot so he could see my treads. “Sorry, I forgot to look…”
He frowned and gave me that you’ve disappointed me again look. “Did you disturb anything?”
“I unbuttoned him with gloves on. He was all buttoned up to his chin. I felt his carotid artery. I couldn’t find his dog tags. Oh…and I kicked him in the ribs.”
“Left or right side?”
He scribbled in his note pad. “Have you noticed anything out of the ordinary on the beach in the last twenty-four hours?”
I shook my head. This was why I hated discovering dead bodies. It forced me to collide with the most inappropriate man for me in the whole darned universe. I didn’t want things to get stirred up again. I couldn’t get things stirred up again. On account of what I did during the hurricane.
“Do you know him from anywhere?” he asked.
I shook again, exaggeratedly slow with a wide-eyed expression.
“Thank you, Ms. Faire. I’ll be in touch.” And with that formal tone, he strutted over to the hotel security guards kibitzing near my golf cart.
I smoothed my bright white Department of Public Works tee shirt down over my red uniform shorts as I passed them. They were discussing the evangelical Christian service held last night in the Copacabana ballroom. Pastor Eugene Donaldson was a modern thinking, feel-good preacher very popular with the locals and tourists alike. He had led prayer breakfasts at the White House during both Slick Willie’s and Dub-yah’s terms.
I chimed in, “The sailor was Jewish. There is a Star of David around his neck. He wouldn’t have attended.”
William rolled his eyes and glared at me.
I hated when he did that. Just because I wasn’t a cop didn’t mean I couldn’t solve crimes…or sort out which leads were dead ends.
I climbed back into the golf cart and waved to Andres, the lifeguard. He smiled and waved back. I guess the guy was good looking if you liked suntanned guitar playing Euro-blonds without muscles. I didn’t. I didn’t like his sing-song German accent either. And I especially didn’t like guitar players anymore…because of Hurricane Alfredo.
I went on about my job, puttering down the beach, stopping to pick up a piece of petrified palm trunk, a glass grape juice bottle and a deflated football. I plucked them with a mechanical snatcher device. I don’t know if it has an official name but I called mine Monkey. After two years at this job I was pretty efficient. I could do it all from the driver’s seat. Snatch it and drop it into the trash bag and go along my jolly way.
The theme to “The Pink Panther” jazzed from my shorts. I stopped and dug my phone out. My mother’s picture smiled on the caller I.D. I inhaled and answered. “Hi, Mom.”
“Sandra, are you still intending to climb aboard that train of fools?”
“They aren’t fools, Mom. They’re very nice people.”
She sobbed, “You’re being kidnapped by that cult and I’ll never see my baby again.” She launched into one of her motherly speeches about how everything I do is inappropriate.
Mom was so disappointed in me. My four brothers were cops working under my dad, the police commissioner. But I toiled as a sanitation engineer and public relations specialist for the Department of Public Works. Translation: I picked up the trash left on the beach and told the tourists where the public restrooms were located. At least the uniform was cute.
What Mom didn’t know was by day I collected garbage but by night I was an infamous cozy mystery author. I wrote under the pen name of Dixie London. And I didn’t have a thing published. I had written almost twelve books…well, the first three or four chapters of twelve different books. Okay, so I was more like an infamous cozy mystery author wannabee. But I had fun. I belonged to the Global Order of Scribes pronounced “goose” for short. The international convention was transpiring in Morocco this week.
Rosemary Donaldson, wife of televangelist Eugene Donaldson, was the president of our local chapter. I couldn’t stand her, the snobby fakey flake. She arranged to have a little writers conference of sorts aboard three private railcars hooked onto the back of her husband’s crusade train, which was hooked onto the back of a regular North American Passenger Railroad train.
Of course I could set my feelings for her aside and grace the authors with my presence long enough for a two week free vacation aboard the private rail cars. The Donaldsons' were wealthy so I knew this would be a first class to-do. The Agatha Christie birthday shindigs she hosted at her mansion were always loaded with fat shrimp, alligator tar-tar and a white chocolate fountain. Maids and cabbage roses everywhere you turned in her gaudy museum. Even the ceilings were painted with rose murals. Last time I tucked two pieces of her toilet tissue into my pocket to show Mom. It was printed in full color, embossed and scented with roses. Mom wasn’t impressed. She told me it would cause bladder infections.
“Mom—Mom—Mom!" I finally got her to stop ranting. “I told you it's not a cult. I’m not going as one of the devout followers of Pastor Donaldson. Rosemary invited our mystery readers’ book club to tag along. We’ll be segregated from the fanatics. We have our own private cars and we’ll be reading and discussing books…and knitting.”
Mom loved knitting so I just threw that in.
“Uh-huh. A couple of the ladies are involved in the knit-a-scarf-for-a-serviceman charity. We’ll be knitting up a storm for those brave Americans.” I was great at making things up.
“Oh, well why didn’t you tell me? What time do we leave? I’ll need to finish the laundry—“
“No!" I cleared my throat. “No, Mom. You can’t go. The train is already filled to capacity. You needed to reserve a compartment ahead of time.”
“Nonsense. I’ll bunk-in with you.”
“No can do. I have a roommate. Dina.”
“Oh…Dina. How is she? Is her Aunt Beverly recuperating as well as can be expected?”
Dina Devers was the only friend I had who Mom approved of.
“Dina and Aunt Beverly are doing just fine. I’ll let her know you asked about them. I gotta go, Mom. Got to finish up by noon today.”
“Come see me before you leave.”
Yeah, right. So you can jump in the backseat and stow away. “I’ll try. Gotta run. Bye." I closed my phone and stuffed it back inside my pocket.
I drove along the beach. Two guys stood knee deep in the surf, fishing. An early jogger trotted by. I smacked my forehead and took my foot off the gas. If Lieutenant Hottie had any follow-up questions for me I wouldn’t be available. I should have told him I’d be leaving on the GOOS Express this afternoon. Could this be a dilemma? He didn’t tell me not to leave town or anything. And I just reported the body. I wasn’t technically a witness…or suspect. And besides, it was a routine death investigation. I was confident the autopsy would show he had drowned. Poor guy. He had looked so young and fun loving. I resolved to live like every day was my last and chase my fondest dreams.
The sailor probably was on shore leave, rented a speed boat with his buddies, got drunk and fell overboard. Yeah, that’s it. He seemed really happy by the smirk frozen on his face. I ought to open a detective agency. And I could hire my writing pals as operatives. An all woman force. Nobody would suspect us of spying on them. We’d make a killing. I giggled at my pun.
I peeked at Tinker Bell, shook up her pixie dust, looped around and did a U-turn. It was time to stop by the dumpster and then check-in with Igor.
A crowd of tourists had gathered at the crime scene as the police carted off the corpse. I sighed. Great, they were noshing donuts and drinking Starbucks. More trash for me to collect later on.
The lieutenant stood down along the shoreline running his fingers through his short dark hair. Perhaps I should stop off and let him know I’d be leaving town. I slowed down and threw my hand up. He didn’t notice me so I kept going. I decided to call him from the train.
Part of me was relieved not to have to talk to him face-to-face. If Lieutenant Hottie were to make a late night visit to my little studio apartment…to discuss the case, I wouldn’t be home to answer the door…wearing something entirely inappropriate.
* * *
At exactly 1:47 P.M. I checked-in at the Orlando North American Passenger Railway station and dragged my huge cerulean blue rolling duffle bag outside. Missing one wheel, it fought me the whole way. I set my chambray blue hard plastic cooler on top of it and looked around the platform.
The crusaders sported primary and pastel colored leisure suits and church appropriate dresses. The African, Asian and Cuban-Americans carried the style off well enough. However, the European-Americans who had baked thousands of hours in the Florida sun, resembled shriveled dates.
Rosemary Donaldson waved me down to the rear of the train. My tummy jittered with excitement. And hunger. I couldn’t wait to gobble the fancy food. I took a deep breath and plodded through the throng of elderly passengers.
We fake kissed the humidity near both cheeks. I tried not to cough in the perfume haze engulfing the raven haired, liposuctioned, botoxed pastor’s wife dressed in white patent leather boots, striped over-the-knee socks, a ruffled plaid fuchsia miniskirt and an orange low-cut sweater. She had the body for the outfit but at her age and considering her husband’s holy profession…jail bait tart was not a good look.
“We can board any minute now. Here’s our itinerary,” she said in her high-pitched nasally voice and offered me a floral motif pocket folder with a thick stack of papers inside. I let go of my suitcase handle and accepted it. The suitcase plopped down onto the concrete with a resonating thud. The cooler’s lid didn’t dislodge, thank goodness. I squatted to pick them up.
“Sandra, I’m so glad you talked your mother into joining us,” said Rosemary.
I shut my eyes tight, scrunched up my face and clenched my fists, hoping I hadn’t heard correctly. Before I stood I asked, “Pardon? What did you say?”
“Your momma stopped by my house this morning with a trunk full of yarn and knitting needles. She volunteered to teach the crusaders to knit.”
As I rose and repositioned my belongings the crowd of writers and crusaders parted. Mom propelled her luggage cart toward me stacked with a green steamer trunk, a three piece Pepto-Bismol pink luggage set, travel ironing board, portable DVD player and a box of groceries. She was dressed in her signature over-sixty-Floridian-chic: a knit twin set embroidered, beaded and sequined with flamingos; matching green Capri's with bugle beading at the hem and pockets; wedge-heeled lime leather sandals; wraparound sunglasses and a lime green visor. She had pulled her blonde hair into a ponytail.
I looked just like Mom with the only exception being she carried a voluptuous extra thirty pounds. The outfit would be very cute on her, if she were over sixty. But she was only forty-six. She had married my dad when she was eighteen and they had five kids in five years. Two sets of identical twin boys then singleton me.
I couldn’t think of anything to say that wouldn’t get me sent to my room so I just smiled really big.
Mom blew me a kiss.
I turned my head to see my brother Andy dressed in a navy blue conductor’s uniform. He was a member of the Central Florida Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society. I had forgotten he had volunteered for this adventure. Out of all my brothers, Andy was the kindest to me so at least I wouldn’t have to worry about our sibling bickering drowning out the train whistle.
I was sure he wasn’t any happier than I that Mom had tagged along.
New York Times bestselling horror author, Hazel Hatchet, a.k.a. Hack ‘em up Hazel, shoved past me, her ample hip bumping my arm as she adjusted the straw cowgirl hat over her close-cropped afro. Her long amber and sterling silver earrings swung heavily to and fro. Hazel grabbed the handrail on the green iron steps and grunted. Andy gripped onto her arm and hoisted her aboard.
I stepped back closer to the station and took my first good look at the train. The last three cars were painted or more likely wrapped in a cabbage rose print. Pink orange, yellow and white everywhere. In front of them were several cars plastered with Pastor Eugene Donaldson’s toothy face. “The Crusade of Peace” was painted in gold leaf.
Ahead of those cars were tired brown and gray North American Passenger Railway baggage and passenger cars. I couldn’t see the diesel locomotives.
I marched toward the train dragging my duffle bag.
“Hi, Sandra,” sniffled Weepy Wendy, an anorexic trauma nurse practitioner who had wallowed in the throes of woe the entire time we’d been acquainted. She wrote romantic comedy. “I had such a bad night at work. There is this really mean Dr. Fruiterman and he kept yelling at me. I knocked over a tray of sterile instruments and–”
“Hi, Wendy! I’m so sorry you had a rough night. Life is just not fair. Can’t wait to hear all about your latest work-in-progress.” Oh shoot! Why did I say that? I always found it very uncomfortable conversing with her. I never could come up with the right words to help her feel better. Some people must want to be miserable.
Staring at her hair, my brother helped Wendy up the steps. Once she had boarded he shook his head. Wendy’s frizzy locks were dyed black with thick stripes of white woven in. Think Cruella DeVille on a bad hair day. I shuddered, imagining accident and heart attack victims opening their eyes to see Nurse Wendy standing over them.
I was so excited and anxious to ride the rails again. Andy always invited me along whenever there was a special steam train excursion in the region. He invited the whole family but they all were too caught up in their own egos and imagined troubles to be transported to a gentler time. Even his twin, Matt. They were identical in looks but not personality. That’s how I told them apart. Matt was the 5’10” blond with the sneer. Andy was the 5’10” blond with the twinkle in his eye.
A North American Passenger Railway employee sashayed by with a big brown take-out bag from the Olive Garden. I wanted to mug her. I was so hungry. Maybe I could chat her up and she’d offer me a breadstick.
A loud whistle and thunderous roar sped by on the other track. Must’ve been a freight train though I couldn’t see it because our train was blocking the view.
It was my turn to climb onboard but I backed up and beckoned the next writer to go on before me. I didn’t want to be caught in the aisle behind Weepy Wendy and have to hear about her latest bad luck. She’d make a perfect mate for Matt. What was I thinking? No, please no. I didn’t want to have her sniffling around at every family gathering.
I rolled my eyes as Andy turned on the charm for exotic Matilda Irwin, a.k.a. Tabloid Tilly, an Aussie photo journalist here on some kind of youth working visa. Matilda was of Chinese, Aborigine and probably English prison camp origin. Men seemed to find Matilda irresistible. I couldn’t stand her. I’ll think up a reason later.
I enjoyed an evil grin while she flirted and finally wiggled aboard.
Andy shuffled luggage around, shoving it further away from the door. I was fascinated by the stacks of crap people brought with them. Suitcases and snacks I could understand. But the step ladder, potted Norfolk Island pine tree, fireplace tools, bird cage, litter box, cushioned toilet seat, laundry detergent and chlorine bleach were a bit quirky.
“Sis, why didn’t you tell me Mom was coming?”
“I didn’t know! Honest! She just showed up. This is going to be a miserable trip.” I whined.
“Why? I mean other than the obvious.”
“She doesn’t know I’m a writer,” I whispered. I left my luggage with him and climbed the three steps.
Everyone made a right so I followed them and took a seat midway down a highly polished cherry conference table. I counted sixteen leather chairs.
As the remaining passengers flitted in, no one sat next to me on either side.
Elderly body builder Bicep Betty, of yellow polka dot bikini fame, reposed directly across from me snapping her black bubble gum. Every book she wrote was full of kink and husband homicide. No wonder she was an old maid…and had a cult following.
Most of the faces were familiar to me and I looked forward to becoming acquainted with the newbies.
My best bud, Dina Devers, a moderately successful eBook author, stumbled in last. She wrote steamy romance. I found her books to be hilarious but didn’t dare let on.
The story around town was that Dina didn’t get enough oxygen at birth and as a result, while her intellect was normal, she was freakishly happy and strangely giddy at inappropriate times.
Dina tripped over the hem of her long leaf-green broomstick skirt and grabbed the back of a chair to catch herself. It rolled out and spun to one side. She plopped down in it and giggled, finger fluffing her cute strawberry blonde curls.
I thought it was so weird to find free rolling chairs on a moving train. Somebody might be seriously injured.
“Welcome to the GOOS Express,” Rosemary announced. “I’m so delighted we all could take this little working vacation along the rails.”
The ladies applauded and thanked her profusely. Very excited about the chance to interact with other writers, learn from the speakers and pitch my books to agents and editors, I smiled and clapped.
The whistle tooted twice and the train lurched forward. The chairs jerked sideways. Some of the ladies gasped. I stuck my arms over my head and enjoyed the ride.
A voice broadcast over the public address system: “Good afternoon, ladies. This is your conductor Andrew Faire. We have departed exactly on time at 2:57. Our scheduled arrival in Washington, DC is at 8:46 tomorrow morning barring any unforeseen glitches. You’ll notice the train stop from time to time to allow freight traffic to pass through or to make a regularly scheduled stop for the North American Passenger Railway. Please do not place anything in the toilets but the supplied toilet paper as the plumbing system is very sensitive and if one clogs then all toilets in the car will back up. In the evangelists’ lounge there are over-the-counter pain relievers, sleeping aids, cold and allergy formulas and motion sickness medications available for purchase as well as a limited selection of toiletry items. If we can be of any assistance please don’t hesitate to contact me or my fellow volunteer crew members from the Central Florida Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society: Big Marc Clinger and Jimmy Tamales. Enjoy your conference.”
“Ladies, if you will open your folders you’ll find the packet with our speaker schedule,” said Rosemary. “Unfortunately, our keynote speaker Tony O’Rourke, the New York Times bestselling author of sixteen police procedurals including The Naked Detective, has been unavoidably detained. He hopes to join us later in the trip, although that shall pose a problem with sleeping accommodations. We only have allotted room for two speakers per day. They each travel with us until the next big hub stop.”
I perused the schedule: Orlando to DC to Chicago to Albuquerque to Los Angeles. I couldn’t wait to dip my big toe in the Pacific Ocean for the very first time.
Rosemary opened a cardboard box and passed hardcover copies of Tony O’Rourke’s latest release down the table. I nearly squealed. My favorite author. He was the reason I became a writer. I took one and flipped to the back and searched the last few pages then the first few. No photo or any about the author page.
I envisioned a white-haired portly recluse clad in a golden smoking jacket with leather patches on the elbows. He relit his pipe as he navigated the narrow path to the desk through a jungle of ceiling-high crumpled white paper. He hunted and pecked on an old Remington typewriter in his family’s dank Irish castle. Tony O’Rourke, gifted genius. My idol.
“Nevertheless,” Madame President Rosemary continued, “Our first speaker is aboard, Anna Deerstalker. A science fiction author and online writing coach. She will present a workshop on the richness of conflict, precisely at 6:00 P.M.”
I glanced at Tinker Bell. It was nearly 3:30. I shook the pixie dust as I flung my hand in the air and waved.
“Yes, do you have a question?” asked Rosemary.
“When is dinner served?”
“There is not time to prepare and serve a formal meal this evening. There will be hors d’oeuvres available throughout the trip in the parlor car at the end of the train. Feel free to indulge yourselves.”
My stomach burned. I hadn’t ingested anything today but the three Hershey’s Kisses I snatched out of the candy jar on Igor’s desk. That’s what I get for skipping breakfast, and then the darned floater set me behind schedule so I didn’t eat lunch. I should call the lieutenant about that soon…
“Ladies, we have a few rules here. No smoking, alcohol or recreational drugs allowed. No wireless internet devices. No cell phones,” said Rosemary.
Dina raised her hand.
“Yes?” asked Rosemary.
“What about our portable word processors?”
“Of course you can keep whatever technology you use to write. Laptop computers, electric typewriters, word processors, etc. Just be sure you disable any wireless connections. We have much work to do.”
She held the cardboard box up. “I’ll pass this along. Empty all banned items into the box.”
I watched incredulously as the ladies sucked up to her and thought it such a good idea to help us focus on our craft. No way would I store my phone in the box. I’d just pretend I didn’t bring…
The Pink Panther jazzed from my shorts pocket.
Everyone looked at me. I sighed and pulled my phone out. I missed the call. Mom. I switched it off and gingerly placed it in the box. Just as well, I didn’t need Mom pestering me.
Then I remembered what had happened that morning. Waves lapping the happy corpse crashed in my mind. As the box slid down the table past me, I said, “No, wait. I need my phone. I discovered a dead body today and the police may need to contact me.”
The business car fell silent except for the chug-a-chug of the train.
Bicep Betty blew a big black bubble, popped it with her pen then whispered to Tabloid Tilly. Tilly locked eyes with me as she fondled her camera. There was something witchy about that girl from down under and I didn’t trust her. I kept my composure, glanced down at Tinker Bell and shook some pixie dust.
“Sandra, you really do need to get a proper job and stop cavorting with the underworld.” Rosemary voiced what some were no doubt thinking.
“That poor lost soul. I’ll bet no one stops to think about how terrifying it must be for the victim in the horrific moments before being murdered,” Weepy Wendy boo-hooed.
“Of course we do,” Pat-the-Pirate squawked. “We all do. We’re writers."
Pat was a popular historical adventure novelist with a ruddy wrinkled face, wooden leg and a glass eye.
Dina kicked back her chair and clopped over to me. “Who, what, where, when and how? Do tell!”
“I discovered him washed up on the beach this morning. In front of the Copacabana—”
“It was Ricco!" Dina blurted.
“Ricco?" I asked.
“You know, Tony shot him because he was jealous Ricco had made a move on his girl Lola at the Copacabana.”
I grinned and shook my head. “I didn’t find any yellow feathers in the sand. You should audition for the show where you need to know the correct song lyrics.”
I turned toward the others. “Anyhow, he was a good-looking young sailor and I’ve probably revealed more than I should have.”
Clear packaging tape screamed like fingernails on a chalkboard as Rosemary sealed the box. Chico, her Cuban-American pool boy/hairdresser/paid companion, carted it off. With my phone inside. My plea hadn’t impressed her.
“Ladies, please begin your daily writing. If you did not come prepared, or if your writing apparatus is packed in your luggage then help yourselves to one of the journals on the credenza. Pens and sharp pencils, too. No more chit-chat please. We need a silent and peaceful atmosphere for our muses to run wild and free.”
I plodded over to the credenza and selected a very high-end journal bound in pink leather. I decided to use a pencil so I snatched a metallic gold number two. I gazed out the window at the cumulonimbus clouds layering themselves in the sky. It looked like rain.
I returned to my seat, opened the journal and wrote on the inside of the cover:
The Case of the Adorable Plumber
By Dixie London
At the top of the first page I wrote:
It was a dark and stormy afternoon in Fredericksburg, Virginia. More American lives had been lost here in the Civil War than in any other town in any other war. As I climbed out of my old brown pickup truck, thunder exploded like a Union soldier’s cannonball…
I was surprised how easily the words spewed forth. I had no life-long interest in the Civil War and had never visited the battlefields and cemeteries of Fredericksburg, but I had done my homework. I loved learning new things, which I passed along to others through my books. Well, I would pass them along once they were published. But I had to finish one of them first. Perhaps The Case of the Adorable Plumber might just be my break-out novel.
The clickty-clacking of the train, the white noise of the air circulating system and the sound of some of the other ladies typing orchestrated a very stimulating melody.
I was way into chapter three when my stomach began growling out loud. I really needed to get to those hors d’oeuvres. I glanced at Tinker Bell. 5:41. I shook her pixie dust as I stood and pushed my chair under the table. “Do we select our own rooms?" It felt good to stretch my legs. I wiggled my toes inside my sneakers.
Rosemary and the other writers looked up and then checked their watches. “My, how time flies when you are lost in your own little personal writing bubble. All right, ladies, I think we should wrap it up now." She sorted through some papers on the table. “I have a list here. The crew has delivered your luggage to your compartments.” Rosemary shuffled papers. “Sandra Compartment A. Wendy is in B. Betty you get Compartment C. Pat…”
Great! We each get private rooms. Or broom closets. I wondered how large and opulent they were. As Rosemary droned on with our room assignments, images of fairytale castle bedchambers danced in my mind. Yeah, I knew we were on a train and only so much can be done in limited space but still I had high hopes.
“Your rooms are right through the door near where you came in.” Rosemary motioned toward it. “Make sure you grasp the handrails in the vestibule between the train cars. We don’t want anyone getting injured here on the GOOS Express, now do we…?"
When she finally finished, I blurted, “Where are the hors d’oeuvres?”
“They are in the last car. In the parlor area next to the restroom. Help yourselves. I do hope you like the selections." Rosemary flashed her porcelain white teeth stained with fuchsia lipstick.
That was the cue for everyone to give her their deepest gratitude. We did. Then we headed for our compartments.
I stepped into mine. Darn. It wasn’t a fairytale castle bedchamber. But the retro Art Deco opulence was very tasteful.
It had mahogany paneled walls, a brass sconce and a little oscillating fan up in the corner near the ceiling. There was a small wash basin and mirror near the pocket aisle door. A wall-length oval window on the outside wall was flanked with a plush red velvet arm chair and a large red velvet sofa which apparently converted into a bed at night. The light scent of roses wafted in the air. Rosemary was great with details.
My duffel bag was stuffed almost under the sofa. I noticed an unfamiliar tapestry carpet bag stowed upon a shelf above the chair my cooler was tucked under. A newspaper stood crisply folded in a vertical holder on the window and two bottles of water glistening with condensation beckoned in the cup holders.
I counted three doors.
I smiled and tried the door apparently leading into the next compartment. Locked. Good. I didn’t need Weepy Wendy boo-hooing in at all hours. I opened the closet door. There was a stepladder folded inside. I shut the door.
I rubbed my arms and glanced up at the little fan. I’d have to figure out where to switch it off.
I pivoted and opened the bathroom door. And screamed.So did the lady sitting on the toilet.
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