Harlowe didn’t know what woke her. A sound? A smell? Where was she anyway? What was moving?
Ah, now she remembered. She was on a cruise ship heading…? Where was she heading?
Her eyes felt glued together when she tried to open them. After several tries, she finally managed with one.
She cracked it open and saw Penny in the bed next to hers in the stateroom. She looked fine. Sleeping like a baby, which was more than Harlowe could say for herself.
She made a face and tried to scrape the night off her tongue. The taste made her grimace and gag. She needed to brush her teeth, got up and weaved her way to the bathroom.
What she found made her gag more.
Evidently she’d vomited and missed the commode. The smell was overwhelming and she grabbed a hand towel to cover her mouth and nose.
Air, she needed air. She staggered to the window and opened it, breathed deeply before she began the laborious chore of cleaning up after herself between going back and forth to the window for great gulps of oxygen.
The cruise ship was moving right along, the waves lapping against the hull as it sailed over the ocean. The wind felt wonderful against her skin.
Once the mess she’d created had been cleaned up, she brushed her teeth and washed her face, brushed out her hair and twisted it up, securing it with a clip.
She peered around the corner of the bathroom door at Penny who didn’t seem to be moving. She tiptoed over to her bed and listened intently to see if she were breathing then saw the slight rise and fall of her chest.
Deciding if she couldn’t sleep, neither could her personal assistant. Harlowe waited until she showered to roust her out of bed.
“Penny, get yourself up and let’s get out of here for a while. It’s too stuffy in here.”
Penny groaned an objection and covered her head with a pillow. “Go away. I’m sleeping.”
Harlowe yanked the covers off her and Penny curled up into a ball. “C’mon, girl, you can sleep when you’re dead.”
“I don’t want to get up and go traipsing around this floating barge with you.”
“Don’t be a spoilsport, love. Come with me.”
“No,” Penny refused. “We’re on vacation. I’m sleeping in. What time is it anyway?”
She raised the pillow off her head, opened one eye and stared at Harlowe. “In the afternoon?”
“No, silly. Three a.m.”
Penny groaned again and drew the pillow over her head. “You’ve got to be kidding!” she said, her voice muffled.
“Not at all. I got one of those feelings that something’s wrong.”
“Not those again.”
“Yes, those again. Now come on.”
Harlowe dragged Penny out of bed, laughing merrily. “Hurry up. I want to see who else is up at this hour.”
“Everybody. This is a cruise ship, you know. Nobody sleeps or wants to except me.”
Dressed now, the pair went exploring on one of the lesser known decks located at the front of the ship and is quieter and more secluded. Harlowe just wanted to watch the moon on the water without distraction before she continued on to a food and drink area. She needed quiet.
Ten deck chairs were set up facing the front, six of them occupied by sleeping bodies. She placed a finger over her lips for quiet when she glanced at Penny, not wanting to disturb anyone.
Glancing sideways at the sleepers, something about the way they lay seemed off to her. On closer inspection, what she found was disturbing. They were all laying wrong, too straight, too much sameness and were too pale, a paleness not caused by the silvery light of the moon.
Suspicion had her circling each passenger, taking a tissue from her pocket to avoid any chance of her fingerprints ending up on the glass and picking up each one setting on a small table between them and taking a whiff. There was no odor but there wouldn’t be if they’d been drugged elsewhere as she thought they might have been.
While Penny stood by, her hand over her mouth, Harlowe checked each person for a pulse and found none.
“They’re dead, aren’t they?” Penny whispered.