My name is Patricia Fisher. A few days ago, I took up a new post on board a giant cruise ship to act as the onboard detective. How that came about is a story in itself. If you are interested, there’s a reporter called Steve Higgs who has been recording my escapades. Chances are there’s a link to my adventures at the end of this short story.
If I’m being honest, I would rather I hadn’t agreed to that because much of what I have done has been embarrassing. Kind of like this latest episode. I’ll let you get to that in a minute, but to finish my introduction, just in case you haven’t yet heard of me, I’m a fifty-three-year-old women with a divorce in the bag – catching my husband in a compromising position with my best friend was the catalyst for everything that happened since.
I find myself constantly debating whether my luck is good or bad and for very good reason. I am dating the captain of the cruise ship, a man who fell in the handsome end of the swimming pool and chose to stay there until he’d absorbed as much as he could. On top of that, I have a Maharaja as my benefactor which essentially means I have a never-ending supply of money at my disposal.
Sounds good so far, doesn’t it? Ok, now throw into the mix some clumsiness – I fell off a stage at the Maharaja’s coronation and showed the entire world my knickers, and then the real cherry on top – people keep trying to kill me.
See? Not so rosy now, is it? I could probably get a job at a library, and someone would blow it up. I’m just that kind of a person. I see a mystery and I have to poke my nose in. It rarely ends well, and my friends call me a trouble magnet.
I have a butler, and two miniature dachshunds, a gym bunny BFF, and a team of four security experts who work for me on the ship. I also have an assistant called Sam Chalk who is an absolute treasure.
Despite all that support, I still manage to get into trouble by myself. The tale below is just one small example of how weird my life can be.
Coming to the end of my daily, morning run, I was on my way back to my suite on the top deck of the Aurelia when I heard a squawk of alarm. It sounded like two, or perhaps three ladies had just cried out in horror.
I was already running, and though feeling fatigued, I accelerated to get to the source of drama.
Just around the next corner, as I neared the upper deck sun terrace, I found precisely what I expected – three women in their seventies, all looking shocked and jabbering at each other in a panicked manner. What I did not see was anything that might have caused their alarm.
‘Is everything all right, ladies?’ I enquired, forcing the words out as I tried to regulate my breathing.
They hadn’t seen me approaching, but looked my way now, their excited conversation pausing so they could gawp at me.
‘A flasher!’ the first said.
‘He just showed us his wotsits!’ claimed the next.
‘He reminded me of my George,’ sighed the third in a wistful tone.
As if pre-agreeing their outfits for the day, the three were dressed very similarly in summer dresses that fell below their knees, and they had matching sandals on their feet – the expensive type with memory foam in the sole. The dresses were pastel colours, each lady picking a different hue. Their wide-brimmed straw hats all had a ribbon to match the colour of their dress.
Grasping hold of the situation with both hands (metaphorically, of course), I introduced myself.
‘I’m Patricia Fisher, the ship’s detective. You say a man exposed himself to you?’
‘That’s right, he did!’ exclaimed the first, clearly the most horrified of the three.
‘I need a description,’ I cut in quickly before anyone else could speak.
The second lady replied, ‘Well, bigger than average,’ she searched her memory. ‘But thin – no real girth to it. Hairy too. Very hairy and he wasn’t circumcised …’
‘Yes, he was,’ argued the third lady. ‘Just like my George.’
‘Your George wasn’t circumcised,’ stated the first lady firmly.
‘Yes, he w … hold on,’ the third lady was frowning at the first now, her attention swinging away from me. ‘How would you know whether my George was circumcised or not?’
My cheeks reddened as they continued to discuss the flasher’s nether region and the discussion turned into an argument.
‘No, I meant the man,’ I had to shout to get them to pay attention. ‘What did he look like? How old? How tall? Did he have facial hair?’
A scream of shock lit the air to my left, the sound coming from another woman I could not see.
Abandoning the three ladies to continue their argument, I started running again.
This time the scream had come from a young woman in a bathing suit. She was claiming a sun lounger near the pool – out of sight from where I had been with the three ladies, and she looked thoroughly shocked.
‘A man just flashed you?’ I guessed, closing the distance between us, and hoping I might get a description I could use this time.
‘Is he with you?’ the woman snapped at me, her face a snarling grimace. ‘It’s disgusting. Wandering around with his tackle out like that. I thought he was going to attack me. You should keep him on a leash.’
Another cry of surprise echoed out from within the ship’s superstructure, and I just kept running.
I shoulder barged the door to get into the upper deck passageway, almost knocking over a woman who was running to get out.
‘There’s a naked man!’ she blurted. ‘I almost walked straight into him!’
‘Did he attempt to grab you?’ I asked, spitting the words out and making it clear with my body language that I was chasing him, and she needed to answer in a hurry.
‘No,’ she replied, seeming surprised by her own answer. ‘Actually, he didn’t even look at me. He looked … I dunno, stoned or drunk maybe.’
‘Which way?’ I demanded. Another cry of alarm rang out. ‘Nevermind.’
I was running again, but this time, when I rounded the corner, I found the man I was after. There could be no doubt I had the right person because I could see his bottom.
He had on the top half of a pair of blue cotton pyjamas, but the bottom half was nowhere to be seen. He was in his mid-thirties, with a day or two of stubble, shaggy, almost black hair that fell to his shoulders, and he was athletically built, much like someone who went to the gym regularly but wasn’t a professional sportsman.
The man was looking at a couple, a man and woman who were dressed for breakfast and probably on their way back from the upper deck restaurant. The woman had a hand to her chest, the unexpected shock of finding a half-naked man enough to give her a start.
Her husband – I guessed – was pushing himself in front of his wife to create a shield and his hands were balling into fists.
‘You’d better clear off, weirdo!’ the man instructed, his voice filled with venom and threat, ‘or you’ll get what’s coming to you!’
This is why I was supposed to carry my radio with me whenever I went anywhere. I could have crew running to get to where I was by now, but no, Patricia chooses to leave it behind whenever there are crazy situations to deal with.
Running along the passageway, and coming up behind the naked man, I made my presence known.
‘No violence, please,’ I gasped between laboured breaths. ‘I can take care of this. I am a member of the crew. Thank you, please go about your day.’
I got to where they were, giving them my best smile of reassurance: everything is fine here, no need to punch anyone.
‘Come along, dear,’ the man pointed his wife down the passageway. She went with him, but couldn’t help looking back over her shoulder at the spectacle she was leaving behind.
Suddenly I was left alone with the half-naked man and questioned if that was the most sensible thing for me to do.
He still hadn’t spoken and was looking at me with an odd expression on his face. His eyes were half-closed, and he did indeed look kind of stoned. I was having trouble focussing on his face because a little voice at the back of my head was insisting I needed to know which of the ladies had been right about the presence or not of his foreskin.
‘Do you speak English?’ I asked the man, hoping he would because unlike most of the crew, I was not bi or multi-lingual. ‘Can you tell me your name?’
He wasn’t trying to attack me, and assessing what I could see, he didn’t look to be with it at all.
When I got no response to my first two questions, and the same for my next half a dozen, I decided the man was probably harmless, but I needed to cover him up. I was wearing sweaty running clothes, so taking anything off to cover him up would just mean there were two partially undressed people to shock the next unwitting person to wander our way.
Looking around, I spotted a tall plant just a few yards away. I yanked a couple of broad leaves from it and attempted to convince the man to hold them.
‘Can you cover yourself up with these?’ I asked him, wondering where on earth all the other members of crew had got to this morning.
He looked down at my hand and at the leaves, but did not move to take them.
I grabbed his right hand, attempting to put the leaves into it. He took them, but when I released his hand, it fell back to his side. Abruptly, he turned to his left and tried to start walking again.
I darted around to block his path.
‘Whoa! You’re not going anywhere, mister,’ I assured him. Since he wasn’t talking and clearly didn’t have any ID about his person, I was going to have to wait for someone to come along before I could get any help. I could have shouted, but that would have drawn attention my way and the last thing I needed was a crowd forming.
I needed to deal with this problem quickly – there was no telling who might happen along next, and I already had two complaints registered against me. The last thing I needed was a family showing up who might then feel a need to report it to the cruise line because their six-year-old daughter got an eyeful of something she ought not to be seeing.
With that in mind, and blowing out an exasperated breath, I reached up to start unbuttoning the man’s pyjama top. I could tie it around his waist and at least cover his … cover him up.
‘Oh, my goodness!’ the shocked cry came from my right as another couple returning from breakfast came across a woman standing in front of a man with his meat and two veg on display. ‘Harold! Harold, call security quickly!’ the woman demanded. ‘There’s a couple here having sex!’
‘No! No, it’s not what it looks like,’ I stammered. ‘But, yes, please call security,’ I agreed that having some more crew around to help me would be a capital idea.
Harold, a rotund man in his late sixties was shouting anyway, raising the alarm to be rewarded later with the sound of thundering feet.
People were coming our way at speed, and I prayed the heavy footfalls I could hear would prove to be members of the security team. I turned around to face the way they were coming, positioning myself between the man and Harold’s wife who was glaring at me with a scornful expression.
‘You ought to be ashamed of yourselves,’ she snapped.
Pleading my innocence wasn’t working on her, but mercifully, from around the corner, Harold reappeared with two lieutenants on his heels.
‘There they are,’ he jabbed an accusing arm in my direction.
I waved at the lieutenants, a man and a woman pairing who would have been in the upper deck restaurant where there would be too much noise for them to have heard the earlier cries of alarm.
‘Hi, Chris, hi Melina,’ I was thankful to have learned their first names some time ago. ‘I have a bit of a situation here. Can one of you give me your hat so we can cover this man up?’
‘You can have Chris’s,’ said Melina, getting in first and clearly not wanting her hat – an item of uniform that had to go on her head – anywhere near the naked man’s junk.
Chris frowned but knew he’d been beaten.
‘She was taking off the rest of his clothing,’ Harold’s wife barked.
‘So that I could cover him up,’ I replied, taking Chris’s hat when he reluctantly handed it over.
‘A likely story,’ she snapped.
‘Mrs Fisher is a member of crew,’ Melina commented.
‘Then I shall be making a formal complaint about her!’ Harold’s wife had a real bee in her bonnet.
‘Oh, my goodness! Robert!’ gushed a voice to my rear.
We all looked at a woman coming from the opposite end of the passageway. She had her hands to her face as she rushed to get to us, and her face bore the conflicting emotions of panic and relief.
‘Robert how did you get out?’ she asked him.
He looked her way, but didn’t answer.
To eradicate any doubt that the lady knew the man, she held in her left hand the bottom half of his pyjamas. Seeing me, Harold and his wife, and the two lieutenants in their white uniform all gathered around Robert, she started talking.
‘That’s my husband,’ she explained. ‘He’s a somnambulist – a sleepwalker. It’s a real medical condition,’ she added, obviously believing she needed to head off whatever doubtful comments were coming her way. ‘I keep the door to our cabin locked – at home I have to lock the house at night – but I guess he got out. I’ve been looking for him for over an hour. Can I get a hand here?’ she asked, flapping his pyjama bottoms at me.
I stepped smartly to the side. ‘Lieutenant Charleston will be happy to assist you,’ I nominated Chris again.
He rolled his eyes and helped the poor woman get Robert dressed. Robert was as compliant as could be, obeying his wife’s instructions so when Chris stepped back the exposure issue was a thing of the past.
‘I could do with a hand to get him back to our cabin,’ Robert’s wife phrased her request in such a way that we could not deny her. ‘It’s best not to wake him when he is like this.’
I didn’t get to pin this one on Chris though.
‘We need to get back to our post at the restaurant, Mrs Fisher,’ he announced, meeting my eyes with a look that said, ‘Ha!’
I flipped my eyebrows, accepting my fate. Rita – I gave her my name and learned hers in return – was staying on deck nine. Robert had wandered pantless up through eleven decks and might have been strolling around the ship for more than an hour.
I saw them safely back to their door, wishing Rita luck and telling her to call ship’s security if it happened again.
As she thanked me and shut the door, I turned to head back to my suite. I needed to get dressed and ready for the day. The view from the ship was filled with Gibraltar, the giant rock rising from the sea to fill the sky as we came into dock.
I wanted to go ashore to explore – it was my first time here – but my team and I were aiming to catch some passport thieves first. They had been preying on passengers since we left Turkey a week ago, and it had taken me that long to identify them.
Now we were ready to pounce, but had I known what the day held for me, and about the secret about to be discovered in the ship’s hold, I might have locked the door to my suite and refused to come out.
Want some more? Want to know what happens with the passport thieves and what mysterious secret lies hidden in the ship’s hold? Of course you do, but if you are new to Patricia Fisher, you probably want to go back to the start and read how this all got started.
There are twenty-one Patricia Fisher books in the first two series, and the event above occurs just before book one of series three starts. There is a link to that one embedded in the cover picture just below. To find my other books in this series, click this link right here – Patricia Fisher