Zak Yates

Crime & Thriller writer

Copyright © 2020 Zak Yates

All rights reserved.


CRUISE

A Blayze Carlson Novel


First edition. September 2nd, 2020.


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events and dialogue are either drawn from the author’s imagination or are used in a fictitious manner. Any similarity to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

ISBN: 9798666389157


Dedication

This book is dedicated to our eight-month-old kitten, Blaze, who sadly passed away while I was writing it.








PROLOGUE





On a warm, dark, rainy night in the middle of September, blue and red lights lit up the runway at Orlando International Airport. The case that the FBI had been working on for almost two years had gone stale, so they had brought in Special Agent Blayze Carlson from the New York office, as he had a reputation for closing cases quickly. It hadn’t taken long for him to catch his man, the international drug lord, Manuel Rudzinski, who had evaded capture for years.

Blayze’s new boss in Orlando, Assistant Director Stone, came over to congratulate him. “Well done, Special Agent Carlson. I heard you were good, but not this good.” She reached out her hand and he reciprocated.

“Thank you ma’am. It’s all about teamwork.”

“Well, they couldn’t have done it without your help. This is one of the biggest results the Orlando FBI team has seen in years, and it’s all thanks to you, Blayze.”

Rudzinski was not only wanted for the distribution of Class A drugs all over the world, but also for the murder of five people of various nationalities. He had been due to fly out to Europe that evening, but Blayze had intercepted the flight details and caught him just before he took off. They found ten million dollars' worth of cocaine on his plane and arrested three other men from his gang. Once Manuel and his men were in custody, and the police cars had dispersed, Assistant Director Stone called Blayze back over. “So I suppose you’ll be heading back to New York now this is over?” she asked.

“Well, I was thinking of taking a brief vacation while I’m down this way. I fancy the Caribbean.”

“I recommend Antigua,” she said. “Its beaches are exquisite.”

“Last time I was on a cruise it was for work. This time I’d like to soak up the sun and relax.”

“Well, you’ve earned it after this.”

They headed back towards the Assistant Director’s car and Blayze opened the door and let her in. As he closed it she wound down her window. “After your cruise, how would you feel about staying down here with us for a while? We could do with someone like you on our team.”

“Can I think about it while I’m away and let you know when I return?”

“Of course you can. Enjoy your trip.” The car pulled away, leaving Blayze standing there with an empty plane behind him and his car just a few yards away. He was the first man on the scene and the last man to leave. Just how he liked it.


The next morning, sitting in the temporary apartment that the bureau had found for him while he was there to help on the case, Blayze searched online for a cruise. He had been to most places before, so fancied a change. Remembering what his boss had said, he found one that, although it had more sea days than ports to visit, had places he hadn’t been to before. Antigua and St Lucia. They looked beautiful in the pictures on the website, and a day lying on the beach was just what he had on his mind. He didn’t mind the sea days as that was his time to relax, with a nice cold beer in hand and a vast open ocean between him and work. Every ship he had been on before had a gym, so he’d have a quick workout in the morning to keep fit, then sunbathe in the afternoon to tan his muscular body. What more could you want from a vacation?









CHAPTER ONE





Blayze had not been on this ship before, the Majestic Dream, but he had travelled with the same cruise company, Paradise Cruises, and knew that some things would probably be the same. This ship was a lot bigger than the previous ones he had sailed on, as he soon came to see when he arrived at the dock. It loomed over the pier building that he was about to enter, to join the queue for boarding. The large windows of the outside cabins were lit up by the sun shining on them, making the ship look radiant, and the royal blue writing of the ship's name made it seem grand and elegant. The queue moved quickly and Blayze headed up the gangway, the ship becoming bigger and bigger the closer he got.

The vast atrium that greeted him as he stepped on the ship was five decks high and had a large chandelier hanging down from the ceiling above, secured by attachments so it didn’t move. He was given a map of the ship by one of the staff as he passed by security after checking in, so he knew where to go.

He walked a little further in, so he didn’t block the entrance, and placed his large rucksack, the only piece of luggage he had brought with him, on the ground behind a couple of seats that had people in them. Glancing around, he could see people all over, already perusing what the ship had to offer. There was a mixture of age groups on board, ranging from young families with their babies to the occasional old couple who looked like cruise aficionados.

Opening the little map, he saw that there were so many venues and things to do that he didn’t know if he would even have time to visit them all. There was a theatre, a shopping mall, two sports lounges, a piano bar, comedy lounge, jazz bar, gym, spa, indoor pool and outdoor pool, rock climbing, golf, basketball court, splash park, various restaurants serving a variety of cuisines, and a casino. Although not all of those interested him, he wanted to check out the gym and rock climbing. The casino was also on his list of places to see during the cruise, as he liked a good gamble, but only when he was on vacation. When on land, he hardly went out, as the job came first and he would spend hours and hours on cases, not really having time for a social life.

That was the biggest reason that Blayze was cruising alone. He had been single for almost five years, ever since he’d gotten promoted to Special Agent. He had focussed more on work than he had on his relationship and, one night after closing a case, he went home to find his girlfriend had left him. He loved his job too much and knew that it would come first, before anything else. Being single had made him free to move around the country wherever the bureau needed him, as he had no ties.

The first stop, though, was to find his cabin and get unpacked before going for a little stroll around to familiarise himself with his new surroundings for the week. He picked up his bag and set off to Deck 6. Cabin 6050 was the number on his booking form, which was only one deck up from where he was. He walked up the stairs and followed the arrows, directing him to his cabin. He had requested an outside cabin as he wanted a window to see where he was and to enjoy the view along the way. He opened his door and found a large double bed with a TV on the opposite wall. There was a bedside table at either side of the bed, each with a little lamp on, and a chest of drawers next to the double wardrobe. Alongside the drawers was a desk which had a set of stationery laid out on top and a chair tucked underneath.

He dumped his bag on the floor by the bed and went to have a look at the bathroom. A simple toilet, sink and shower, but that was all that he needed and it had all the amenities in it, so he didn’t have to buy anything. From cruising before, he knew that he would have a cabin steward who would be in twice a day to make the bed, leave fresh towels and take away any rubbish. He didn’t have to lift a finger for a whole seven days, which is what he was looking forward to. Now he had checked out his cabin and dumped his bag, it was time to explore the ship and see what it had to offer.


###


It was three-thirty and the ship's horn had just blown, signalling the soon departure from the port of Miami. For Simon, this was just another seven-day cruise around the Caribbean, and seven days closer to the end of his contract, which was only a month away. It wasn’t his turn to work embarkation or debarkation today, so he had spent most of the morning in bed and had popped into Walmart to buy some snacks for his cabin just after lunch. He enjoyed sail away and always popped up to the bow of the ship, where only crew members were allowed, for a cigarette and to sit and watch Miami fade into the distance. Although the deck wasn’t massive, and certainly would not fit all of the crew on it at the same time, it still had room for sun loungers around a small empty pool, which Simon had never seen filled ever since he had arrived. Behind a screen, were tables and chairs for people to sit and smoke at, covered from the wind and rain. Attached to the edge of the bow on both sides were lifeboats that were covered up ready to be deployed if ever needed.

As the ship pulled away from the port and started heading towards the open ocean, Simon looked through the gaps that the ropes went through and could see that dolphins had joined them, swimming alongside the ship. More crew had joined at this point and had scattered themselves across the deck, and as Simon looked back up towards the bridge, he noticed a crowd of new guests had appeared, leaning over the railings above. The random waves from guests, who had already been drinking since they came on board, made him feel like he was in a zoo. There were only a few places on the ship that were out of bounds to the passengers, and the bow was one of them. It was adjacent to the crew bar and one of the few smoking areas for the crew. You could be yourself there and not have to put on a fake smile, although you still had to wear your name tag at all times, which told everyone your job and which country you were from.

Laughs came bursting out through the door from the crew bar — the only entrance to the bow — which made Simon turn around. It was Laura, Rachel and Andrew, some of his cast members, dressed in their evening uniform and looking smart, as they had just finished doing embarkation duty. The entire entertainment department got on so well that during their time on board they had become like a family. He moved closer to them, now smiling from their infectious laughter as they made their way to a table near the doorway. Andrew noticed Simon and waved. “You should have seen them, Simon. You missed a right laugh there.”

“Hey, guys. Come on, what happened?” Simon replied eagerly as he reached the table and took a seat.

“This couple were running late and were rushing to get on board,” Laura started. “As soon as they set foot on the ship, the guy dropped his bag by his feet and stopped. His girlfriend bumped right into the back of him and pushed him over his bag. He fell to the ground, and she landed on top of him.”

“Oh my God, no way,” Simon said with a chuckle and a surprised look on his face.

“The crowd of people, who were getting their drinks in from the bar, just roared with laughter, and started clapping as the couple got up. It was the funniest thing ever,” Rachel added.

As Simon put out his cigarette, he looked at everyone still laughing. “How embarrassing.”

“The guy just stood up and waved at everyone, but the girl put on her sunglasses and kept her head down. She couldn’t wait to get out of there,” explained Laura.

“Best way to end the four hours of embark, though.” Simon reached in his pocket for another cigarette.

Laura and Rachel stood. “Right, we’re off to get out of this uniform and get some of this glorious sun before tea,” Laura said as they made their way to the exit.

Simon and Andrew stayed sat down and waved to the girls as they left.

“You done much today?” asked Andrew.

“Same old shit, really. Slept in for a change, Walmart, and now here. Off to do next week's weekly duties soon so you guys can put your swaps in by tomorrow,” Simon replied.

“Cool,” Andrew said, nodding his head. “Listen, I’ll leave you to it and get out of this uniform myself. It’s too hot with this jacket and tie on. Catch you later.” Andrew stood up and left, leaving Simon sitting on his own.

Still with half a cigarette to go, Simon stood up and made his way back to the bow of the ship. The water was so calm that it was only the ship's movement causing any waves. The breeze that was now on Simon’s face was from the ship getting faster, and it was a welcome relief. There had been no wind all day, which had made him sweat while just standing still. As he looked out across the large open ocean that was in front of him, he noticed the distant ships ahead that had left the port before them. He thought to himself that he wouldn’t get that view again for a while, knowing his contract was nearly up and that this would be one of his last times. Twelve years he had been dancing on the ocean waves, and it was time to give the sea legs a break and move back to the UK to settle on land.

Simon stood there, looking out ahead for an hour, and then realised he still had the duties rota to get done, so he headed back inside, down the three flights of stairs to the crew quarters area. Walking down the main corridor, known as the I95, he passed the dancers’ area and grabbed last week's rota, which was still up on the notice board. While he was there, he tidied the board, as there were too many old notices up from previous events that had already been and gone.

He headed back to his cabin, which was further down the ship, just off the I95, and sat at his desk. As he waited for the computer to load, he peered out of his porthole as the water splashed up against it, thinking about how lucky he was to have a window. The other dancers had shared cabins with bunk beds and a bathroom, and when the light went out, it was complete darkness. Being the dance captain, Simon got his own cabin with a double bed and a view. Small luxuries, but luxuries nonetheless. Simon's duties were to maintain the production show's standards by holding weekly rehearsals and re-blocking the staging if anyone became injured or sick. He also produced the duties rota as the dancers performed extra duties each cruise, assisting the rest of the entertainment team.

The screen loaded, and it didn’t take long to rotate people along and print out the new rota, which he took straight down to the dancers’ notice board and then returned to his room to relax before tea. The dancers had a show on the first night, but Simon wasn’t in it, so he didn’t need to have tea early. He just had to watch it and take notes to make sure everything was okay and there were no issues.


After the show had finished, Simon was in the crew bar with a Bud Light in hand, waiting for any of the dancers to walk in. He knew some would definitely turn up as they never missed a drink before bed, while others who were not drinkers wouldn’t. They would only go out during the monthly crew parties that were always some sort of themed event. Andrew appeared and headed straight to the bar. Without even asking, he turned up to the table where Simon was sitting and handed him another Bud Light.

“Cheers, hun,” Simon said, raising the bottle he already had in his hand and nodding his head.

Andrew sat next to him, wearing the tightest of vest tops, showing his skinny physique, and some tiny shorts. He loved showing off his legs, especially at the crew parties, when his alter ego, Miss Monthly, would come out of the closet. “No worries, lovely,” he replied. “What are we doing in rehearsals tomorrow?”

“Not much to do, to be honest, with only a month to go. I may just give everyone the afternoon off.”

“What’s happened to you?” Andrew asked in shock. “Are you getting soft in your old age or something? Or is it you have a new boyfriend you’re not telling me about?”

“Cheeky bastard! I’m only a couple of years older than you,” Simon said, smacking Andrew on the arm. “And no, it’s certainly not a new boyfriend. After that last one, I need a break from relationships.”

No one else turned up, which surprised Simon, but it didn’t matter as he didn’t want to be out too late. He made a quick call to Laura in her cabin and asked her to put a note up saying ‘No rehearsal tomorrow’ on the notice board and to pass the word onto the others. Simon and Andrew both sat and had one more drink each before heading off to bed.

With it being a full day at sea the next day, Simon checked to see if he any morning duties himself, which he didn’t. Having just cancelled rehearsals, he poured himself a large vodka and diet coke and lay in bed to watch a film, as he could have a nice long lie in.

The moonlight shone through his porthole, and the television was still on as Simon woke up. It was only two-thirty in the morning, but the need to go the toilet outweighed the need to sleep. In a dazed state, Simon looked out of his porthole. It didn’t look as though they were moving at all. The sea had been calm earlier, so he thought nothing of it and, after visiting the toilet, he turned off the television and got back into bed.


###


Blayze had been on many cruises in the past, some for work and some for pleasure, but his favourite thing about them was the peaceful nights. There was something about being in the middle of the ocean he found calming and relaxing and he tried to get on a cruise, that wasn’t work related, at least once a year to have time to himself. When on vacation, Blayze would get up early every morning to go to the gym before anyone else got in there. He would have something to eat and then find a nice quiet spot to catch some sun, before heading in for a siesta so he could enjoy his time alone on the top deck, just him and his bucket of beer, once everyone else had gone to bed.

He lay on a sun lounger under the stars with just the added glow from festoon lights that ran the length of the ship. There was no one else around, and the silence was just what he had wanted. He was dressed in Hawaiian style shorts, a white short-sleeved shirt which was unbuttoned halfway down, showing his pecs and the top of his abs, and flip-flops. It was a warm evening and there was no breeze at all. This was because the ship had stopped moving. Initially, this hadn’t phased him, as it wasn’t the first time a ship he had been on had stopped in the middle of the ocean. The times before were engine issues, or picking up a handful of Cuban men, who were trying to get to America on a raft, but those times were always during the day. He’d never known a ship to stop in the middle of the night before. This made him question what could have happened. As someone whose job it was to get answers, he finished the last beer in his bucket and walked around the top deck to search for anything which would assist his quizzical mind. Every few yards he stopped and leaned over the balcony to peer down below to see if he could spot anything, but it was quiet.

Having walked around for some time, Blayze was just about to turn in for the night when he heard his name called out from behind him. He quickly turned around as he wasn’t expecting anyone he knew to be on board. There stood Ananda, the chief security officer.

“Hey, man,” Blayze called out, recognising him right away.

“When I saw your name on the passenger list, I knew you’d be out here somewhere at this time of night.”

“Ananda! Bloody hell, great to see you.” They walked towards each other and exchanged a handshake and a brief hug.

“You too, you too. Been a while, my friend.”

“It certainly has. How long have you been on here for, then?” Blayze asked as he moved towards the rail close-by to lean against. Ananda joined, and they both looked out at the darkness in front of them, gazing at the stars above.

“Six months almost. Two more to go and then I get to see my family.”

“Are they keeping well?”

“Yes, yes. All good,” Ananda replied with a smile. “Is it work or play this time?” he asked.

Turning around with his back now to the railing, leaning back on both arms and looking extremely chilled, Blayze replied, “Very much play this time. Thank God. Feet up under the stars with a bucket of beer and who knows, maybe a pretty girl or two along the way.”

“Well, man, you enjoy, and I’m sure I’ll catch you again soon. I’ve got to do my rounds, but great to see you,” Ananda said, as he pushed himself up from the railing.

“Before you go, can I ask why we’ve stopped?”

“I’m not entirely sure. We will know more in the morning.”

Ananda walked away. “Cheers, man, you have a good night,” Blayze said as he waved him off.


Making his way back down to his cabin, Blayze thought it best to unpack, as he had just chucked his rucksack down on the floor by his bed. He put his clothes in the wardrobe and chest of drawers and sat on his bed. It was late, but he was still hungry and he knew that room service would still be available, as it was a 24-hour service. He looked at the menu that was on his desk, and noticed they did his favourite sandwich, the Monte Cristo with ham, crunchy on the outside and tender in the centre. He phoned to order one, knowing it was just what he needed to soak up those few beers he had earlier. The food arrived quickly, but that didn’t surprise him as at nearly three-fifteen he knew he would have been one of just a handful of people that would still be awake. Cutting open his sandwich and seeing the cheese ooze out from the centre made his mouth water, so he tucked straight in. Food eaten, it was time for Blayze to get his head down. He wanted to be up at six and in the gym so he would be ready and focussed for the afternoon of gambling he had planned.









CHAPTER TWO





Simon woke up early because of the sun beaming through his porthole. The lie in he had wanted didn’t happen, so he got out of bed and into the shower. When he got back into his room, still drying himself off, he headed straight for the porthole to see if what he had seen in the middle of the night was still the case. And it was. The ship was motionless, just sat there. It was like they had docked there for the night, which they had never done before. The ocean was calm and picturesque, and the sun glistened over the tiniest of ripples.

He sat at his desk and powered up his computer so he could check his work emails like he did every morning in case there were any changes to the day ahead. He wanted to see if there was any news about what was going on and why they were not moving. Once it had loaded, he noticed he had quite a few unread emails, but there was one from Antonio, the staff captain, labelled ‘IMPORTANT’, asking all the heads of department to join him in a meeting in his office at nine o’clock sharp. It was still only six-thirty, so Simon had plenty of time, and yet the message seemed urgent. It was a good job he had woken up early, he thought, otherwise he would have missed the meeting. The only emails Simon used to get from Antonio were ones for unacceptable behaviour. They weren’t regular emails, but he had had to take two of his dancers up to Antonio’s office at the start of their contract for having a cabin party until the early hours of the morning, even after security had told them to stop. Luckily, because they were new to ships, they got off with a warning.

It was still too early to call Robert, the cruise director, to find out if he knew what was going on. As with any full sea day, it was to be a long day ahead for all the cruise staff on board, with a host of activities planned to keep the guests happy and entertained. In fact, it was a long day for all the crew members on board, as the bars and restaurants would be busy with many hungry mouths to feed. A full cruise, which this was, meant that there were 3525 passengers on board and 1598 crew members. After going through the rest of the unopened emails that he had received overnight, he deleted most of them as they were not important to him and just generic ‘send to all’ emails, which he hated getting. He got dressed in his cruise staff uniform and was ready for his usual morning routine.

Grabbing a cup of coffee from the crew mess hall, which consisted of two coffee stations, a juice machine, hot and cold buffet style food, a cleaning station, and many tables and chairs, he took it up to the crew deck. He was ready for his first cigarette of the day. On the open deck at that time of the morning, very few people were about. It was a warm morning, but not too hot. Just how Simon liked it. The sky was clear with not a cloud in sight, and there was no breeze at all. The sea was tranquil, perfectly still, looking like a sheet of blue glass. Two cabin stewards arrived on the deck shortly after Simon, ready in their uniform for their morning rounds. Simon waved to acknowledge them and they waved back, but it was too early for conversation, so Simon turned away and kept drinking his coffee, lighting another cigarette. A black coffee and two cigarettes was Simon’s breakfast. It was what he called a dancer's diet. Not that he needed to diet at all; he was in great shape for his age. At thirty-two, he could still perform just as well as he did when he was twenty, which his cast admired. The only things that gave away his age were the odd grey hairs that kept appearing and the occasional aches he sometimes felt. Nothing a good massage in the spa didn’t cure.

The door opened to the crew deck and out walked Robert. Simon waved to call him over.

“Morning, Simon. You’re up early,” he said as he sat in the chair opposite him. “Did you wet the bed again?”

“Swimming in it, as usual,” Simon joked back. “Hey, what’s with the email from Antonio?”

“I’m not sure, to be honest. We’re in the same boat, pardon the pun. I felt the ship starting to slow down last night, but no one has given me any answers yet. I’ve been awake since one o’clock and I can’t get back to sleep.”

“I saw we weren’t moving when I got up to pee, but I was that knackered, I fell straight back to sleep.”

“Must be something,” Robert said, “they normally tell me everything straight away.”

“Well, I was going to ring you when I read the email this morning, but I know what a sea day is like for you and thought you’d be asleep.”

“Wish I had been. I need to know as soon as possible before guests start asking questions. I hate not being able to give an answer. Even if it’s a little white lie to divert them, at least it’s something. I’m in the dark here.”

Andrew appeared in the doorway looking a little worse for wear, hair all over the place like he’d just rolled out of bed. Usually he was extremely well groomed, and wouldn’t be seen dead in public looking anything but immaculate.

“Bloody hell, look at the state of you,” Simon said, staring right at Andrew’s hair, which was pointing in different directions. “Who dragged you through a hedge backwards?”

“Don’t ask. He booted me out this morning for farting on him. Well, that was what he said. I don’t remember doing anything at all.”

Simon and Robert looked at each other and burst into laughter.

“Fuck off, you bastards!” Andrew said as he pulled up a chair and joined them. “He just can’t handle my beautiful aroma, obviously.”

“We all know your aroma after a few beers, mate,” Robert added. “Cleared an entire section of the crew party once, if my memory serves me correctly.”

“That was the curry night too, though, it always does that to me. It just slipped out,” Andrew replied.

“I bet it did,” Simon said with a smirk on his face, followed by a slap on the arm from Andrew.

Andrew looked around and looked confused as he noticed the stillness and the lack of movement. “Hang on a minute, have I missed a couple of days or something? Why aren’t we moving?”

“Erm, we don’t quite know, we’re finding out soon,” Simon replied while looking at Robert to see if he would say anything.

“I hope we haven’t broken down. I’ve got an excursion planned in Antigua and I’ve been waiting ages for it. Got to do it now before the new cast come on as it will be non-stop rehearsals.”

“Don’t worry. We’ve a meeting soon to find out what the problem is and then we can let you all know,” Simon replied to Andrew. He looked at Robert, who had stood. “See you up there shortly.”

“Catch you guys in a bit,” Robert replied as he pushed his chair under the table and walked away.

Andrew watched as Robert walked through the door and then turned back to Simon. “He’s up bloody early, isn’t he, for a sea day?”

“So are you.”

“Had no bloody choice, love. He pushed me that hard that I fell out of the bed and onto the floor. Thank fuck we weren’t in my bed, otherwise I would have fallen off the top bunk.” Andrew was dating the male singer who had his own cabin with a double bed, near to Simon’s cabin. “I will catch up on sleep later when he’s in the gym.”

“Good plan. Like I said, we don’t know what’s going on, but you know what it’s like, we’ll get the brunt of it and have to come up with some extra duties to help keep the passengers occupied.”

“True that, but please, I beg you, babe, don’t put me on ping pong duty if you have to add anything, I fucking hate that shit.” Andrew put out his cigarette and walked towards the door. As he reached it, he turned back to Simon. “Let us know what’s happening after your meeting, boss.”

“Will do,” Simon replied, waving his hand to say goodbye.

Still having some time to ponder what the meeting was all about, Simon went back downstairs for another coffee. Knowing this could turn into an even longer day than normal, he needed extra fuel. While down there, he decided he should break his routine and get some breakfast. The thought of food instantly made his stomach rumble. As he walked into the crew mess hall, he bumped into two of his dancers, Tammy and John. “Hey, you two, up early aren’t you?” he asked. “Why is everyone up so early today? What’s happened?”

“Dude, don’t ask,” John replied. “We’ve been hooked on the series ‘24’ and we’ve only got four episodes left. As soon as we saw your sign for no rehearsals, we thought, why the hell not try to finish the box set off? We need something to eat before we finish.”

“It’s been a long night, and we ran out of snacks hours ago,” Tammy added.

“Fucking hell, you two. I don’t know how you do it,” Simon said while following them into the queue by the food counter.

“Give me one night with Kiefer Sutherland any day,” Tammy added, taking a plate from the top of the pile.

“Well,” said John, who grabbed a plate and pushed past her. “We all know you like it rough and within a time limit, but twenty-four hours, really? More like twenty-four seconds.”

“You cheeky fucking bastard!” she snapped, slapping him around the back of the head.

Simon and John started laughing as they knew the reputation Tammy had for having a quick one now and again, and when they said a quick one, they meant, ‘wham, bam, thank you ma’am’. Simon didn’t know what her secret was, but somehow she could make a guy orgasm on cue. It was like she clicked her fingers and there it was.

They sat down, ate their breakfast, and talked about various scenes from ‘24’, with Tammy and John trying not to give too much away as Simon hadn’t seen it all yet.

“Shit, it’s ten to nine. I need to go,” Simon said after having a glance at his watch. “See you both later.” He jumped up and took his plate to the trays near the door, putting his plate in one and his cutlery in another; it was something every crew member had to do to help out the kitchen staff. He headed to the elevator and pressed the button. He watched as the numbers got lower and lower, finally reaching his level. He got in and hit the button for Deck 9, where Antonio’s office was situated. It was time to find out was going on.


###


Blayze woke up at six o’clock and freshened himself up before getting his gym gear on. Wearing a pair of black shorts, a tight black vest top, trainers and his gym gloves, he grabbed a water bottle out of his fridge, took his mp3 player out of his case and headed upstairs for his morning workout.

As he entered the gym, it was just how he liked it: empty. He was the only one there, so could do whatever he wanted. He had a brief walk around to see what equipment this ship had, as it seemed much bigger than the last ship he had been on. The windows were facing the front of the ship and arced around the entire gym, bringing in the morning sunlight. He hopped on a treadmill that was by the windows and did his warm-up on there. Putting his headphones in, he flicked through his music and found his rock anthems. “Perfect,” he said. He pressed play and started the machine. As he looked out ahead it felt like he was walking on the ocean. He was only on there for fifteen minutes as he wasn’t much of a cardio lover, but he knew he had to keep it up for work. No good chasing after suspects and having to give up because you’re out of breath.

After finishing his warm-up, Blayze headed over to the free weights section of the gym. There were five benches to choose from, so he took the middle one in order to be central in the mirrors in front of him. Before starting, he lifted up his vest to check out his abs in the mirror. He had an eight-pack and a well-designed V-shaped body that he had been working on every morning for the past three years. Knowing his days in the office could be long and tiring, he always did his gym workouts in the morning beforehand, as they gave him the energy to last him the rest of the day. After doing his chest workout on the bench, he stood close to the mirror and moved onto his arm workout, watching his muscles grow with each repetition.

Two ladies entered just as he was finishing his last set and made their way towards the bikes that were next to the row of treadmills he had been on before. He noticed them staring at him as they walked past and just smiled back at them.

The last part of his workout was his weighted squats, which he knew would grab the girls’ attention. He moved away from the wall so that they could get a splendid view of his buttocks as he squatted. It worked. Every time he went down, he looked into the mirror towards their direction and caught them watching him. He honestly thought one of them was bound to fall off her bike at some point, so he stopped and finished, taking one last look at his body in the mirror, then headed back to his cabin.

After a nice long shower, Blayze went up to the Lido deck for some breakfast. He didn’t want a lot to eat after just finishing his workout, so grabbed some fruit and some orange juice and headed to his quiet spot that he had found the previous night to get some sun. It was already hot, and it hadn’t even turned 8:30 yet. The spot he had found was unfortunately not as quiet as it was late at night, and more and more people turned up as the morning went on. He lay there for a while soaking up the morning sun, but as the surrounding noise got louder and louder, he decided it was time to head back in. Putting his top back on, he headed to the gift shop. He didn’t want to buy anything; he just wanted to have a look around to see what they had. He was killing time until the casino opened as he had already planned his day ahead.


###


The elevator opened and Simon could see a crowd of people standing outside the staff captain's office, awaiting the nine o’clock meeting that he had scheduled. Robert emerged out of his cabin, which was on the same deck, just a few doors down from Antonio’s office. He gestured for Simon to come and stand by him. All the heads of department were there, as per the staff captain’s request, plus he had also invited a few more staff members who held senior positions. As soon as the clock struck nine, Antonio’s door opened, letting the crew in.

The room quickly became crowded as it was not a large office. It only had enough room for a desk, two chairs and a filing cabinet. The staff captain was sitting behind his desk and waited for everyone to enter. The chief engineer and safety officer both took a seat in front of him. The food and beverage manager, staff engineer, environmental officer, chief security officer, hotel director, and doctor stood close together against the wall, leaving just enough room for Robert and Simon to squeeze in. They closed the door behind them.

“Good morning, everyone,” Antonio began.

As people started saying good morning back, all Simon could think of was how nice the Italian accent was, remembering an old boyfriend he had from there many years back.

“Sorry to squeeze you all in here, but this is the only place that no one can hear what I have to say.” Taking a deep breath and looking around at the inquisitive faces before him, he continued. “I’ll get straight to the point. The captain is missing.”

Everyone in the room looked at each other in disbelief at the news, and the whispers got louder as people tried to work out what he had just said. Robert looked at Simon. “Holy shit. Missing.”

Antonio gestured for the chatter to die down so he could carry on. “He was due to be on board the bridge last night at 22:00 for his last checks, yet he never showed. They called me to the bridge after the officers could not reach the captain in his cabin or on his mobile. So as not to alert anyone, I did all the checks myself, and told them I would check on the captain after I had finished, which I did, but there was no answer then, either.”

“He was okay at eight o’clock, as we had a cigarette together on his balcony,” the chief engineer added.

Antonio noted the time mentioned on a piece of paper in front of him. “I’ve been awake all night searching the ship myself from top to bottom and there is no sign of him at all. I stopped the ship in case of the worst scenario.” People in the room looked at one another. “I’ve called his number every ten minutes, in case I had missed him while searching, but unfortunately there has been no answer every time. I wanted to wait until now to say anything in case he turned up, and if not, to see if any of you could shed some light on his whereabouts.” Antonio gazed around at the faces in his office who just looked blankly back at him, with some just shaking their heads.

“No one?” he asked. “Right. Here is the plan I have come up with. No one outside of this room is to know what is going on. As far as anyone is concerned, the captain is in his room suffering from a back injury, and I will take over for the time being. Everything must look normal to the crew and passengers, but I want every one of you here to search every section of your respective area every two hours, and report back to me with an update. Keep your eyes and ears open and report anything. I will make an announcement to tell the crew that there has been a malfunction in the engine room and that it is being fixed and we should be on our way shortly.” He turned to the staff engineer. “Make something up and get them to inspect things.”

Turning back to address the entire room, Antonio carried on with his plan. “To make the search easier for everyone, I will move up the scheduled bomb drill to 11:00 today so we can get a look in all the crew’s cabins while they are searching too, not knowing that this time the bomb is actually Captain Argenti. Is this clear?” He was met with silent nods from all. “Okay, thank you, everyone, and like I said, this is between us for now.” As they all made their way out of the office, Antonio shouted, “Robert, just one moment, please.” Robert stayed where he was and Simon waited in the doorway.

“Listen, Robert,” Antonio started. “I want you to make all of today's announcements to the passengers. They will want consistency and you are just the man. You will be the face of this, so add in as many distractions as necessary and we will get through this.”

“No problem, sir, will do,” Robert replied and left the office, closing the door behind him.


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