As promised, I’m posting chapter two of my latest book Brink of the Blue. The cover will be revealed within the next two months.
Clyde Monday night and Tuesday morning
Clyde Pilley knew Death waited with open arms. Closing his eyes, he saw the ghastly figure astride a horse. It was the horrible image on the Tarot card his wife, Meg, liked to look at. And to prove him right, the grim reaper’s accomplice, the cruise ship, heaved through another wave. He groaned, rolled over in the bed, and clutched his stomach. Whose stupid idea was it to go on a cruise? It was Meg’s fault. She said a trip to the Pacific Islands would be relaxing. Relaxing! Ever since the ship had left Sydney and tackled the rough ocean his belly had been shitty: not to mention other parts of his body.
Not feeling at all happy with the state of things, he glanced around the cabin, their quarters for the remainder of the trip. The round porthole opposite the bed wasn’t large, and it was sealed. As far as he was concerned the best thing about the sea was the salty smell. None of that proved to be around on this cruise. Fresh air was shut out in the air conditioned closed off ship. Of course, if he wanted to go outside on the deck, he could. But who wanted to do that when looking at the choppy waves aggravated his sea-sickness?
According to Meg, most of the passengers had attended last night’s entertainment in the huge auditorium. The show had been on only five hours after they’d boarded. She’d raved about it when she got back: the costume changes, the choreographed dancing, and the familiar tunes.
Tonight she’d dressed in her finery and gone out again. The perfume she’d sprayed remained in the atmosphere. He’d bought her that cologne for her last birthday, and it seemed an insult she’d doused herself while she happily prepared to let his brother, Mick, take her to a night’s fun outing. A comedy routine had been promoted in the daily activity newsletter they got, and Clyde cursed the fact he’d missed out. He could do with a laugh – a good belly laugh. He moaned and rubbed his aching stomach, being careful not to apply too much pressure to his unfortunate body.
Of course, his wife and brother didn’t care he was absent from their celebration. They’d talked to him as though he were a mooching idiot, not someone in real pain. This was the second night in a row he’d remained in bed while they’d gallivanted. Yesterday afternoon the ship had left port soon after lunch. Within an hour of setting sail on the open sea his stomach had started its churning. He hadn’t eaten for the rest of the day. And that had continued since. He’d only left his bed to go to the bathroom.
Did that make any difference to his wife’s attitude? No! Meg had suggested if Clyde were to get dressed and go with them, he’d actually feel better. He knew his face looked green, but that didn’t mean he was a total idiot. How he’d let his wife persuade him to come on this supposed enjoyable holiday against his better judgement remained a mystery.
That was probably unfair. If he thought about it, he shouldn’t blame Meg entirely. When she’d suggested the three of them could go away together to help Mick get over the death of his wife, Enid, Clyde had agreed. It sounded like a good idea.
Five months had passed since Enid’s murder, and Mick remained down in the dumps. Hell, his spirits had plummeted so far Clyde wondered why Mick’s face hadn’t turned a bluish green with algae: just like the buccaneers in limbo between the real world and death Clyde had seen in a ridiculous pirate movie. Mick had loved his wife, not that Clyde understood that fact. He’d found Enid to be loud, silly and unattractive. But it took all sorts.
Moonlight struggled through the porthole opposite his bed, but he wasn’t tempted to try to see if the scenery looked appealing. Who wanted to look at the ocean anyway? His luck was in such a spiral he knew if he got a good deal on a cemetery plot tonight, they would discover a magic potion so people would live forever. The whole cruise situation reminded him of a disaster movie. And to make things worse, he wouldn’t have the strength to put on a lifejacket and fight for a place on a lifeboat if the ship were to go down.
Giggling and silly yahoo noises came from the corridor outside. Clyde clenched his teeth. He’d heard about the hijinks on cruises. Bloody hell! Wasn’t there all kind of nightclubs and other activities happening on another level? What the hell were they doing cavorting around with their nonsense in his corridor? Those twits out there better keep their ruckus down or they’d have to deal with him. Even if he had to get off his deathbed, he’d take them in hand.
The disturbance moved away, and Clyde closed his eyes. For some reason, the rocking motion of the ship seemed to settle, and he drifted off to sleep.
Soft buzzing from Meg’s hair dryer woke him the next morning. The small bathroom was separated from their bed area by a combined wall and cupboard. The room wasn’t large, but sufficient for their needs; they were to eat out every meal. Clyde stretched his arms above his head before tentatively touching his gut. He felt better.
Before moving, he lay still contemplating the ceiling, then looked at the sunlight filtering through the porthole. Something was different. Then the realisation hit him over the head. At the moment he felt as though a divine light shone from the porthole. It was his personal epiphany. Well, maybe there weren’t any angels with harps, but things couldn’t be better. There was no rocking! The ship was calm, so even, so lacking in movement, he thought perhaps it had stopped.
He sat up and lowered his legs over the side of the bed, and then rose into an upright position, taking his weight on shaky legs. The whole process seemed to be in slow motion, but he felt so good about being vertical he almost let out a cheer. Yep! He would be able to walk. It was truly some kind of divine intervention, proving his prayers had worked. For the past couple of days he’d felt he was close to passing into that other world Meg liked to visit when she was having one of her visions. But yes, he’d escaped death again.
‘You missed a great night.’ Meg stood, clad in her dressing gown, at the end of the queen-sized bed, her light brown hair shining around her smiling face. ‘As well as the comedy act, they did some beautifully choreographed numbers from Singing in the Rain.’
Clyde grunted. ‘Thanks for that titbit. What time did you get in?’
Shrugging, his wife turned back towards the wardrobe area. ‘I don’t remember. It wasn’t too late. You were snoring. Why don’t you have a shower and we can go get a buffet breakfast? I’ll put your clothes out for you so you don’t have to worry.’
Clyde let her know he’d do what she asked by making another noise that could pass for “Yes Dear”, and made for the shower. Surprisingly, once he’d enjoyed the warm water and pulled on his shorts and T-shirt he felt so much better he looked forward to venturing to the breakfast area.
‘Is Mick coming with us?’ he asked Meg, who stood before him, now dressed in a pink and blue sundress. He had to admit she looked years younger. Even though she hadn’t been in the sun much, her skin glowed with a rosy pink flush of good health. At least this holiday was benefiting one of them.
She shook her head. ‘He didn’t know how you’d be feeling this morning, so he told me not to wait for him. We’ll probably see him at the buffet.’
They locked their room and started up the narrow corridor, knowing that the staff would be in later to do their bit, tidy up, and change the linen. Already a trolley full of cleaning equipment sat against the wall further up the hallway. A small Filipino woman bent over it, reaching for something. Clyde watched her for a few seconds. She seemed friendly, nodding and smiling at another couple that passed by her. Winning the customers over, Clyde thought. They’ve all been well trained.
Even though Clyde had been in bed yesterday, the little brown-skinned man who’d come into the room had twisted a towel or two into a cute dog shape and sat it on the window sill. Clyde had been puzzled as to what made a young man think that would be a useful job, or even necessary, but he’d been too sick to start a conversation to try to find out. Naturally Meg thought the blue and white striped pseudo animal was cute and had taken several photos.
It made him a little nervous to think the young man, plus other cleaners, had access to their room while they weren’t there. Perhaps he could consider coming back and surprising them sometime just to see if they were looking through his belongings?
‘We’re here,’ Meg said, interrupting his thoughts. He realised they’d walked up one snug wooden walled corridor, and around to another area where the lifts were situated.
‘I can’t remember which floor we need to go to.’
‘I think you mean deck,’ Meg said, pushing the button. ‘I’ll get it.’
Although Clyde felt he’d never eat again, once they reached the appropriate level and had strolled past the swimming pool and deck chairs, which were already occupied with sun-tanned people of every shape and size, his stomach began to growl. It felt good to take in a couple of breaths of fresh air and he did so. It seemed as though half the ship’s population were there to enjoy the open air. Briefly clad people were splashing and diving into the pool. Hopefully that meant the breakfast hut wouldn’t be too crowded, and he wouldn’t be held up as he waited to be served at the buffet counter.
Clyde peered towards the side of the open deck where the horizon met the sky, and the ocean seemed smooth enough. The old expression “get your sea legs” came into his mind, and he realised it must be true. They moved from the sunshine into the air-conditioned breakfast hut, and he adjusted his eyes to the apparent dimness. Looking around, he found the line-up wasn’t too bad. Just as well! He was bloody starving!
Clyde grabbed a tray and lined up. Then began the tantalising inspection of lush fruits, cereals, pancakes, bacon, egg, sausages and more, before he asked to have his plate piled high and looked around for his brother. Her hands full, Meg inclined her head towards his food selection before whispering, ‘You still have to watch your diet, you know.’
That was something he didn’t want to be reminded of, but he supposed she was looking out for him. ‘All right, okay, I’ll do better tomorrow. I’m starving. I didn’t have anything last night and for most of yesterday, if you remember.’
He promised himself he would do what his wife demanded and watch his food intake. After having heart problems and nearly losing his life, he didn’t want to go anywhere near nurses or doctors for a while. He mentally shrugged. All nurses weren’t bad eggs, but the last one he’d had looking after him had been a doozy.
‘I can see Mick. He’s over near the window,’ Meg said.
‘Well, there’s no room near him.’ Clyde glanced at his brother and then took a second look. ‘He seems to be doing okay.’ Mick’s face was animated, and no wonder. The woman he was speaking to was leaning towards him, exposing full breasts. And, Clyde noted, finally focussing on her face, she wasn’t bad looking either.
‘Hmm,’ Meg said. ‘There’s a space over there.’ She indicated a table near one of the two exits.
‘What does that hmm mean?’ Clyde knew his wife too well. She obviously had an opinion.
Before Meg answered, they sat down at a table and unloaded their trays. ‘She manoeuvred herself to sit near us last night. Josie, her name is.’
Meg shook her head. ‘Nothing. I didn’t get good vibes from her.’
Clyde raised his eyebrows, giving his wife a speaking look. ‘Bloody hell, Meg, you wouldn’t get anything good from anyone you thought might replace your friend, Enid.’
Before meeting his eyes, Meg took a sip of her orange juice. Then she lifted her face to focus on him, and he wished she hadn’t. ‘I thought you knew me better than that. At first I worried we were doing the wrong thing, bringing Mick on a cruise when the last holiday he had with Enid was a similar trip. Then, when he agreed to come, I realised it was probably the best way for him to move forward, to deal with his memories.’
Clyde gulped a mouthful of creamy scrambled egg. ‘You’re not telling me anything about the blonde.’
‘The dyed blonde, you mean?’
‘Holy mackerel! I can see the claws. What’s going on?’
Meg turned her head to look in Mick’s direction. ‘I wish I knew. I don’t trust her and I don’t know why.’ She gazed thoughtfully at her food, as though she expected an answer to pop up from her grilled tomatoes.
Clyde took another quick look at his brother and saw he and Josie were getting to their feet. It seemed they were planning to do something together; they began to weave through the tables coming Clyde and Meg’s way. Meg had her back towards them, so Clyde whispered a warning in case his wife made another remark about the sexy blonde.
‘Clyde, it’s good to see you back in the land of the living.’ Mick stood near their table, grinning like a schoolboy.
Taking the hint, Clyde got to his feet and waited, his eyes focussed on Josie’s face, making sure he kept Meg happy by not allowing his gaze to wander.
‘This is Jocelyn.’ Mick’s voice came from deep within, sounding as though he was presenting an award at the Oscars. His face beamed. No doubt his whole body was a ball of fire.
Clyde held out his hand towards Jocelyn, wondering if she had a second name. She answered his unspoken question while placing her soft, manicured hand in his.
‘I’m Jocelyn Tarrant, but please call me Josie. It’s lovely to finally meet Mick’s brother.’ She leaned forward and Clyde remained still, expecting a kiss. He was disappointed. Although she was close enough for him to take in her flowery perfume, she maintained her distance and blew an air kiss inches away from his cheek. He thought he heard Meg sigh.
‘So what are you two up to today?’ Clyde said, after sitting down. He flinched, as Meg’s sharp sandal made contact under the table. Obviously she didn’t want him to put them together as an item. Pretty silly of her, when they were already keeping company. And a bit more than that, if Mick’s expression was any indication.
A silly smirk remained on Mick’s face. ‘We’re going back to my room to look up the activities. Probably go for a swim or to an art auction we heard about.’
‘Have fun,’ Clyde said, before turning towards his food.
Meg sat sipping her tea and watched them walk away. ‘Now you’ve met her, what do you think?’
Clyde chewed slowly, thinking carefully before answering. ‘I think she’s a dish, and Mick is lucky to have met her.’
‘Oh, Clyde, can’t you see through the charade, the pretence, the falseness?’
‘Has she had a boob job? They looked real enough to me.’
‘Bloody hell, Clyde, now you’ve got me swearing. I didn’t examine that part of her body too closely, and I don’t care if the double D’s are real or not. I think her face has had an uplift or two. She’s trying to look forty, and I think she’s closer to sixty.’
‘Holy mackerel, Meg! I wished I looked that good when I was sixty.’
‘Don’t you mean you wished I did?’ Meg frowned at him.
Clyde knew he was digging a pit, and it was getting deeper by the minute.
‘I’m feeling so much better. What would you like to do today?’ he asked, grinning at his wife and quickly changing the subject.
‘I haven’t given it much thought yet. I didn’t know if you’d be up. I think we need to have a look at what’s on as well.’
‘I might leave this. I think I’ve taken too much.’ Clyde poked at his food and pushed his plate away.
Meg raised her eyebrows. ‘You really are turning over a new leaf. I’ve never heard that from you before.’ She started to get to her feet, before reaching out and grabbing Clyde’s arm. ‘Don’t turn around suddenly. There was a man sitting across from Mick. Before I sat down I noticed him staring in their direction, and I thought it might have been Josie’s boobs on display. But he’s followed them. He kept his turned away as he went out, and I didn’t get a good look at him.’
Shaking his head, Clyde stood. ‘That’s not a bright statement from you. I expect more.’
‘Where else would someone go if not out the exit?’ he said, exasperatedly.
Meg closed her eyes and Clyde took in a breath. She was going off into one of her trances. He didn’t want to attract attention, so pretended he was searching for something in his pocket. Although his wife was probably only standing still for two minutes, Clyde could see more latecomers loading up trays and looking for a free table. It was becoming a little embarrassing. He cleared his throat and Meg opened her eyes.
‘I didn’t get much,’ she said, shrugging. ‘But I do know we’re going to have to watch Mick with that floozy. There’s something dangerous, or maybe just deceptive, about her. Whatever it is might even threaten his life in some way.’
‘But what a way to go,’ Clyde muttered under his breath.
Dutifully he followed his wife back to their room.