By Derek Maldonado
The boat docked at 2100. I stared beyond the eastern sky as the moon reflected off the silent sea. A look back down at the clipboard in my hands showed a list of every passenger on the cruise, all 37 of them. The Karnival Platinum Express had finally finished its maiden journey. I stood in front of the crowd of passengers and spoke.
“As I said prior, please form a line in an orderly fashion in alphabetical order. Starting with Madam Ashton and continuing onward.”
One of the passengers, the one that had beckoned me onto this raft, came sprinting towards my position the best she could. Her heels clicked in a chorus of despair.“Sir, it has been two days and I cannot wait any longer for this mystery to be solved. Please make it quick!”
She stood in front of me dressed with a look of scorn and not much more. There was no sunlight upon us yet we all were covered in the body’s liquid excretion. The thermostat on the bow presented the temperature as a blistering 36 degrees Celsius. Summer in the Florida Keys, what a place. Missus Eidith Borne stood there in clothes barely covering her intimate skin, panting and pacing about.
“Madam please, if I am to solve this caper, I need to remove all doubts during my investigation, and that means we will have to work in a cooperative manner. As you have informed me, someone on this boat has stolen the Kryptonian Crown and I will not stop until I unmask the culprit.”
“Of all these others upon this ship who could’ve come away with my prized possession? Was it you?” She pointed across the deck towards a young dark-skinned man standing alone. She continued to preach and prance about. “I know nothing of this young man, though I will admit he seems rather suspicious.”
I advanced between them before she could step forward towards him. I took her arm and I could feel the muscles expanding and contracting. She was angry, though she had every right to be angry. Her family’s most prized possession had been taken from right underneath her nose, and at our final docking point, it was my last chance to find the culprit. I pulled her closer to me and spoke into her ear.
“Milady, we both have more than enough information to ascertain this young man is not the culprit. Instead, after two days of gathering information, I now have reason to believe this crime may be the work of the infamous Phantom Thief.
”Eidith nearly collapsed in my arms, appalled at the revelation I lay upon her feet. It was one that in the early moments of my hypothesizing shocked even me, but let me go back to the beginning to explain how I came upon this supposition.
The phone rang at 0600, rousing me from my slumber. Across the theoretical wires was a voice calling himself the captain of the Karnival Platinum Express, and he explained they were partway through their inaugural voyage. I asked the man why I would care about such a thing and there he explained.
“Detective D’andrèzy, I do not mean to sully your vacation that I was recently informed of, but part of that provided information was that you are on a recess in the Florida Keys.”
“Why yes friend. I am currently seated upon a waterfront with an exquisite mixed drink nestled in my fingers. Now once more, what is the reason for this call?”
“Well, see. Our voyage concludes in said keys you are currently residing upon, leaving us mere miles out from your location, and we are in need of the assistance of the great detective. One of our fine patrons has been robbed blind of a storied family heirloom. We must call upon the world’s finest detective to assist us with the capture of the thief. Please! We can arrange travel by helicopter to our vessel giving you nearly two full days to investigate the crime.”
The captain knew how to get me out of my seat by appealing to a man’s desire to be the very best. Even I understand that we men are all egotistical beings of chaos. With that, I took his offer.
Within three hours, I was met at my hotel by a young woman. Her hair hung low down her back. It was shaded a very dark brown, so dark it seemed to absorb the sunlight, preventing it from seeping into my sleeping chambers. She stood taller than I, at least five foot nine and her caramel-coated skin sparkled in the bright morning light. She looked intimidating yet soft, strong yet sleek.
“Warrant Officer Dominguez, reporting for duty.” Her voice was deep, almost gentlemanly in its delivery.
“I’m guessing you will be my pilot, young lady?” I asked.
“Yes sir, by request of Captain Blaqstoke of the — the uhh,” she squinted down to the cell phone in her hands and waved it around in her hand. “May I?”
“Of course, please come in. Can I interest you in any tea? It’s an old family recipe. Difficult to scrounge up the necessary ingredients on this row of isles, I must admit.” I watched her walk into the home and saw her eyes dart across the room. Just through her first motions, I could see she was an insightful one. One very aware of her surroundings. I could only wonder what caused her to join the American Military in the first place.
“I’m fine, thanks. I’m just here for business. Specifically the business of Karnival’s Karosal and Kruises. I suggest you pack some clothes. We have been requested to join the final days of their journey.”
Upon hearing her words, I ran to the room’s closet and picked up my burgundy hold-all. In it, I placed only the necessities: a camera, a recorder, two notepads, and enough clothing to assure I would not need to shower on the boat.
“I can see why they called you,” Officer Dominguez said while she walked out of the hotel beside me. “Often a thief’s only worry is a prepared detective.”
“Yes, but how often do you find a prepared detective?” I replied.
The heli sailed over the water for what had to have been an hour before we gained sight of the colossal and oh so extravagant craft. Even in the midday’s light, the luminous floating island below was clearly visible. I marveled at the sight below. The boat must’ve been half a kilometer in length. A modern marvel of contemporary consumerism and upper-class pleasantries. I have never enjoyed finding myself in the situation I am currently being lowered into, but the thing about these ultra-wealthy floating above the Atlantean worlds is they have lots of money, and I have many uses for lots of money.
The heli lowered onto the ship’s dock and standing beside the landing point below were two men drabbed in naval gear. The men held out their hands, supporting us in our leaps out of the flying craft. The first man was a larger man of African origin. I held my assumption that the man was American born, family most likely stolen from their motherland and yet he stood in front of me, reminiscent of the colonizers that once stoked the fires of raging ruination, and removed his hat in a sign of respect. The other man was a much younger person of Latin origin. He stood tall and straight, the uniform tight around his core. I could see small sweat stains around his armpits. He had been busy it seems. The young man grabbed my bag out of the heli and placed it on the ground.
“I will have someone take this to your room.”
“That is much appreciated.” I replied.
He reached back into the craft and grabbed Officer Dominguez’s duffel. Upon lifting, some clothing fell out of it, including the young lady’s undergarments. I turned away so as to not pry upon the contents now strewn about the ground. I could hear the ruffeling of clothing behind me.
“I am so sorry about this,” said the young man.
“It’s fine. My fault for not zipping up the bag. I’m just glad nothing went flying out during our journey here,” replied Dominguez. I heard the bag zip closed. “If it’s alright with you all, I would rather leave my bag in the chopper.”
“Oh afraid that we might get our unmentionables mixed during our stay?” I asked.
She gave a soft chuckle then responded.
“Just an old habit from the military days.” She threw her bag back through the metal door and massaged the door as if it were a pet. “I feel most at home in here, ya know?”
I nodded and turned back to the sailors that had come to greet us. They introduced themselves as Captain Blaqstoke and First Mate Sampson. They walked us along the port side of the boat and began to explain what had occurred.
“Sir it seems at some point last night during our halftime extravaganza –” Blaqstoke spoke.“The extravaganza was a celebration of meeting the midway point of our trip held in the ballroom below.” Sampson interrupted.
“Yes, the context clues provided more than enough information for me to infer, but thank you for that,” I replied, and Officer Dominguez chucked at my assertion. She is going to work just fine as an assistant during this investigation.
“Sampson, please! Show some respect to the great detective in our presence.” He shot the sentence towards his associate. “I apologize for that. Now allow me to continue. The party was wonderful. Of course, seafood was the main dish on the menu, but we also had some pork delicacies local to the Caribbean islands nearby that really shook up the palettes of our patrons.”
“Sir, why am I here?” I asked. All in the nearby vicinity could feel my annoyance gushing from those spoken words. Blaqstoke motioned towards Sampson and the young man walked away so very quickly and quietly.
“I’m so sorry. I just was so excited about this journey we were on. Well after dinner, the drinks began to flow and the guests began to loosen up. On this ship, we have a large collection of people that can be described as wanderers and floozies, the offspring of the upper class. The young single type with enough in their pockets to assure that stories of this journey stay slowly sinking into the sea below. So you can become better acquainted with them, here is a small primer we’ve made. It lists each of the guests on our ship and some small information we had collected over the past few days.”
I turned to see Sampson upon me. I had not heard the man and it was almost as though his shadow just appeared at will. In his hand was a small clipped piece of paper on a board. He handed it over and I parsed through the newly acquired data. Written on the paper was a list, it measured 37 names. Besides the names were small written notes: Debonne Ashton – born from tobacco royalty, one of the first to RSVP and one of the last to pay Martin Biyombo – quiet type, has spent the first two nights alone in his room, can’t hold liquor Eidith Borne – owner of the lost merchandise, daughter of alleged leader of the Sons of Davis Adeline Burroughs – twin, sexually experimental, has been seen with different person each night Makenzie Burroughs – twin, more reserved, has been seen with different person each night And so and so.
I looked over the list quickly. I could see what the duo in front of me were trying to do but the information was predicated on data not procured by myself. I folded it gently and placed it in my breast pocket. The names will be useful, but as for these people’s true identities, those would be solved over the next two days
.“And what of the employees situated on this vessel?” I asked.
“Impossible. This ship is purposefully crafted so that all employees, including myself are blocked from entering the guests’ lodging. Now I know you may be wondering about the cleaning situation and yes, there is no cleaning situation. The guests requested the highest level of privacy, and due to the minimal length of this voyage as well as their monetary indulgence, our supervisors agreed with their request. Thus not even I, the captain, has peeked into the living arrangements of our guests.”
“That will have to change immediately. I will need access into each of their rooms. You may inform them that they can and should be in their room when I go by. That will begin in two hours.”
“What are you gonna do until then?” asked Officer Dominguez.
“Not I, but we are going to take a tour of the ship.”
We walked the entire vessel, beginning at its outermost edges and slowly working our way inward. It was nothing more than a skeletal behemoth. The ship was mostly empty. The outer ring was a hollow hallway, no life preservers hung along the walkway, not even posters or signs of warning layering the walls. Nothing more than fresh paint, luminous lights, and a layer of dust. It seems they were in a rush to clean the vessel before travel began.
Within the ship was not much more than what must have been deemed necessary prior to the travel beginning. The storage rooms and eventual offices were barren spaces, their existence unnecessary during this simplified journey. Rooms again filled with small bunched layers of dust strewn about. I presumed they carried only a skeleton cleaning crew for the small number of passengers aboard. The only areas of the ship currently filled with anything more than temporary furniture were the crew’s quarters, the engine room and its complementary areas, the cooking and dining areas, and the guest’s rooms. After four hours of walking through every area of the ship we were allowed to, Dominguez and I returned to the bridge. There we watched the vessel light up as the sun dipped below the western horizon.
“What happened to two hours before we invaded their rooms?” asked Dominguez. Through the past day she has stood by my side, she has shown me that she is both attentive and wise beyond her years, and I know she had already obtained the answer to her question before she had asked.“I believe you do not actually need an answer from me for that question. I’m sure your current assertion can lead you to solve that one on your lonesome.” I replied.
“Panic, you want them to panic. Specifically you want the one person you believe committed the crime to panic, and if I were to guess, I’d guess that you think one of the guests is the thief. Though that leads me to wonder why do you believe in the innocence of the ship’s crew.”
“Miss Dominguez, I have made no assumptions on who the criminal may be yet, I have not even begun to mark a single potential suspect off my list. For all I may apperceive at this time, Miss Borne herself could play a hand in the caper aboard this cruise. You stood beside me and walked through each section of this ship — the guest’s quarters notwithstanding. You, I can only assume, are a perceptive individual and so I must ask: What did you see?”
“I saw empty rooms, empty hallways, a bridge filled with hardworking people and their rooms, which I can only assume are dwarfed by the sizes of the guest’s rooms.”
“That is what you noticed, what you observed, but what is it you saw?”
“I… I don’t know what I saw. I don’t know how this works. Am I supposed to solve this after four hours of walking around an empty ship?”
“What you saw was nothing. Of course, I do not mean nothing in the literal sense — though we did spend many an hour viewing exactly that — but nothing in the way of evidence to either implicate or acquit any person aboard this ship of a crime.”
“So we’re just back at step one?”
“Not at all. See we never even placed our feet atop the first step; we merely looked up from our lowest point towards the staircase of crime. But now, with the hours passing and the night arriving, we march.” And march we did.
The stopwatch pinned to my lapel read seven minutes. Seven minutes from the entrance to the guest’s quarters to reach the bed chambers of one Miss Eidith Borne. It was the final room in the last hallway of this section that I believe would normally be the boarding for the first class passengers. A map granted by the Captain showed there to be forty rooms in this sector with the first three rooms upon entry listed as empty. Though my detective’s eye noticed the first room was far from empty.
As my partner predicted, these rooms were — by an eye’s guess — triple the size of the worker’s chambers, and by god they were loaded. I cannot for a moment fathom the thought process enabling a human to bring along four suitcases for a five day excursion. We walked into the room and I heard a slight yelp from the woman beside me.
“This room is a goddamn mess. The thief must’ve taken their time scouring this place before finding the crown. Do you remember which suitcase it was in? It could help us figure out how they ran through the room” Dominguez asked.
“What ever could you mean? The crown spent no time in this chamber, of course other than when it was first dragged in by the help.”
I looked up from my notepad, aghast at what had just been spoken.
“What?” We yelled in unison.
“How could the artifact be stolen from your chambers whilst outside of said location?” I asked.
“Well um good sir, see it was not stolen from my chamber but from atop my head. I wore it to the ship’s spectacular. I could not miss an opportunity to showcase the brilliance of the Family Borne.”
“So you’re telling us it was stolen from your body, specifically from atop your hollow head,” said Dominguez. Eidith stepped back in disgust at the words shot in her direction.
“How dare you! I was bamboozled and robbed blind. Someone may have even taken advantage of my poor being. And yet you fire diatribes at me of all people. Someone on this ship is a scoundrel.”
“Please miss, relax. We are in no way putting the blame upon yourself, but we will need you to have a seat and walk us through the entirety of the night in question.”
Eidith threw an empty suitcase from her bed and perched herself uncomfortably upon the bed. She looked at us both, me with the eyes of compassion and Dominguez with those of anger. Then she began.
“The night began as many had aboard the ship. A bottle of wine followed by another, as all nights should.” She began to chuckle. We did not join her. Then she continued. “Well, ok then. The sun was dancing along the skyline when the last drops went down, and out the door I went. I met the Sisters Burr outside their rooms and we dressed together in one of their rooms.”
I watched Dominguez walk up to the young blonde headed woman and kneel in front of her.
“I’m guessing you mean the Burroughs twins, right? And when you say you dressed in one of their rooms, saying which one would be a pretty helpful start.”
“Detective sir. Who is this woman tainting the quality of air in my chambers.”
Dominguez stood up and cocked her hand back. I stood quickly, completely unprepared to step in between the forthcoming femme fighters. Gratefully, the pricked-up hand instead fell into her flowing hair and ran itself through it. I sighed in relief, then spoke before the world could spin further downward.
“She’s working as my assistant in this case. If you may, can you please introduce yourself Officer Dominguez?” She looked back at me with a scowl that I did not need a verbal answer to understand, so I turned back toward Miss Borne and continued. “Well, let’s jump back to the question at hand. Would you happen to know which of the Burroughs twins rooms you got dressed in and for how long you were in there? It would benefit our search immensely.”
Eidith threw her head back and forth and scanned the ceiling. She didn’t remember.“I, well. I can’t quite recall, but I do believe the one had purple hair at the time. I spent a lot a time looking down at those purple locks.” She looked downward and began blushing. Her heels were digging into the ground. “And we spent an ample amount of time in that room. It was a very good time.” Her voice sailed off with those last words.
“Hmmm. Well, I guess it wouldn’t be quite the mystery without a few barriers placed between us and our answer,” I replied. “Now please continue. What occured next?”
“After we dressed, we decided it was time to join the party. I was wearing a pretty little yellow piece from La Vouli, a wonderful Italian designer. And the sisters wore, I believe, red and blue. Either way they looked lavish. At the party, we danced and we danced -”
“Danced with?” Dominguez asked. “And where was the crown?”
“Well it was atop my head where it belonged, where else would it — ah yes. Apologies, but I knew at the time it was still in my possession. In regards to my dancing, I cannot recall the lot, but I do remember Sir Minota making quite the impact out there, and Senior Zamora was also one that knew how to handle a lady.” She chuckled and turned away from us. “I may have bounced around with a few others, but I’m sure as I am pretty that I the crown was still on my person upon leaving the party.”
“Madam, could you derive a number relating to your total time at the party?”
“It could not have been more than three hours dear. Because at that mark, either the party ran low on liquor or I just became bored of it. I don’t recall, but I do know I departed between two young men. One must’ve been Zamora and the other, he escapes me. Now that I think of it, I cannot recall a single thing about the man.”
“So we got Mr Zamora and a mystery man that could have been Mr Mineta was it?”
“Minota is what I believe the young lady had said. These two men seem to be a viable place to start. Is it at all possible for you to describe these men as well as any others that caught your attention at the party?”
“I can only recell the young man named Zamora, but now that some haze has lifted, I do know that Ms. Roberts was beside me at the time. We four attended a small afterparty being thrown in a room that seemed primarily empty. There was not even a bed within it.”
“Room one I presume.”
“Yes, it was one of the first upon entering that hallway. A young man whose skin was in a way much more tan than mine, but in a natural way.”
“He was dark-skinned, is what you’re saying?” asked Dominguez.
“Yes, that would be the easiest way to say it. He was serving drinks in that room. Many heavy drinks. Then the night became dark.”
Eidith stood up from her bed quickly, like a spark had shot through her body. She looked at the door and ran towards it. Before my aged muscles could even begin, there was a clatter of bodies at the door. Dominguez stood at the door and blocked the exit from Miss Borne.
“Get out of my way!”
“I am not letting you go after that young man.”
“It was him. He stole the crown from atop my head. He had me intoxicated that night. He may have even had his way with me and you dare stand in my way. Are you protecting that criminal, is this how your group stands together. One commits the crime and another allows him liberation.”
Before a blow could be thrown, I was at the door. I calmed them both and told Miss Borne that she was not the curator of justice in this situation and any matter taken into her own hands would only make the situation much worse. Thankfully she listened, and stood down.“Now tonight, Dominguez and I will investigate this room one and see what we can find. And upon the morning we — and by we, I mean only the two of us — will examine the young man you believe has committed the thievery. Now goodnight Miss Borne.”
She waved goodnight to me and me only, and I watched Dominguez walk down the hall towards the entrance. I turned back to the angry young woman at the door.
“When did you receive your invite to this cruise, if I may ask?”
“It was about a month ago. My family and I had returned from a vacation in the Maldives; such a beautiful place. Upon returning home, a family friend that had been overseeing my home and pets informed me that a letter of invitation had been delivered by a young man. This letter requested my attendance and noted that only the most important people within the Americas would be taking the journey. It was an opportunity I just could not refuse. Alas, here I have found myself raging and ransacked of my most treasured possession.”
“I see. Thank you for this information. I promise you, I will find the culprit.”
I left the room and joined Dominguez in the hall. We made our way back towards the entrance. We stopped at the entrance to door one and I reached into my pocket for the keycard. Before I could insert the card into its hole, she reached and grabbed my hand.
“We’ve been at this for hours. Can we please just call it a day? Nobody in this section of the ship is even awake and we have presumably the only key to this room. We can begin in the morning.”
She looked upon me with eyes spun in red webbing. At that moment, I began to feel it as well, a call from within asking, no begging, for a reprieve from the journey we had begun.“I cannot disagree. We should make our way to the room. First light shall lead us to the answers.”
The sunlight’s glare broke through eastern sky and focused upon my shuttered eyes. It was now morning, and I was now awake. The day’s answers whispered to me from across the vessel, so I arose prepared to seek them out. I looked around the barren room and Dominguez was not to be found. I walked out of the room and towards the section of the boat accommodating the more prestigious guests. Standing beside the door to room one and beckoned me forth. I scuttled beside her and leaned toward her lips.
“There’s someone inside. It sounds like a mop pushing across the ground.”
I moved across her body and pulled the keycard out of my pocket. I inserted it slowly and clenched as I awaited the mechanical opening sounds I assumed were coming. No sounds followed, only a softening of the force the door returned against my push, and so I quietly pressed it open.
Dominguez was beside, then ahead of me by the time I had created a wide enough entry space with the door. She ran into the room and screamed at the body only barely lit by the window’s light.
The body moved quickly, diving to the ground. Dominguez was on top of the figure before I could tap the light switch.
“I said who are you?”
“No you didn’t.”
She raised the body up with one arm and in her other was a large black bag. It was a man, no more like a boy. He had a child’s face, an abundance of flesh located within his cheeks. He looked barely older than a teen, his caramel skin overlapping a slender body stood out against the bright white clothing he wore. The thing that carried my eyes the most though were his shoes. The only word I could conceive to describe them was… expensive.
“Alone in a locked room with a large black bag. That seems both incredibly suspicious and yet convenient for us. Now please, before we open the bag and spill your secrets, would you like to tell us how you happened upon this situation.”
“I’m… I’m just here to clean. I ummm, I threw a party here a few nights ago and decided to come back and pick up the mess. I know I should’ve come yesterday, but I was like really hungover and I thought that since I had the only key to this place, no one would notice if I waited to clean it. I swear, I’ll even mop if that’s what you all want. I saw some spills in the bathroom and I’ll even clean that up.”
She dropped the boy and spread open the trash bag. Her face puckered immediately and the bag fell from her hands. I watched it smack into the ground and saw the contents begin to dribble out. There were cups and cans and plates, all wrapped in a mishmash of floral patterns and declarations of birth years.
“See, I told ya. It’s just all trash from the other day, and well the cups and stuff were all they had leftover on the ship.”
“I see. Young man, may you please take a seat. I still have some lingering queries.”
The boy hopped up and sat on the small kitchen counter and Dominguez and I took our places in front of him.
“Now, who are you and why are you in here cleaning alone?” asked Dominguez.
“I’m Damon. Damon Santana and well, it was kinda my idea to throw the party in here. I’m even the one that asked the captain for the key to this room. I’m really not like most of these people in here and I thought if I could throw a lil’ banger in this room then I could make a friend or two.”
“And how did that endeavour shake out?”
“Well, seeing as you are the only two in this room…”
The boy’s face was solemn and held low, the shadows masking most of his features. He was different. Different from the rest of the folks that found themselves aboard this ship, but at the time I couldn’t quite nail down the reason why.
“Did you by any chance see a young woman wearing a crown? Tall, blonde -”
“Loud. Real pissy attitude.” Dominguez interrupted.
“Oh you mean Borne. Yeah, I was told to avoid her and really I tried, but she ended up showing up to the room and got real loud real quick.”
“Upon her head, was she wearing the crown?”
“You mean that unnecessary shiny thing, yeah. We had to turn off some of the lights in here because of that thing. It was blinding people left and right.”
“And did she migrate from this room with the object still atop her head?”
“Yeah, she still had it. Thing was just a nuisance to everyone else. A couple times she would take if off her head and spin it around her finger; knocked over at least five drinks doing that. But thankfully she left with a small group after about an hour.”
“This group consisted of?”
“There were these two women that kinda looked like twins, honestly might’ve just been one person and I was just really drunk, and a couple others. Some of them looked like they were part of the boat’s crew or whatever their name is. It was a weird group.”
I stood back for a moment and returned to my notepad. I understand the crew for this journey is far from extensive, considering the simplicity of manning this vessel, and I can only imagine them reveling in the opportunity to enjoy themselves with those of a different economic class. Though we had already completed a thorough examination of their quarters, this may be a much larger situation than I expected. I wrote down the knowledge I had gathered from the young man and the once blurred portrait of the crime committed upon this craft became ever so slightly clearer.
I returned my gaze to Dominguez, still standing beside the young man.
“I believe we have gathered all the information we can here. We shall continue onward.”
“I understand,” she replied. She turned back towards Mr. Santana and asked, “You said you were told to avoid the Eidith girl, but we had learned for the most part that no one knew who was coming on this journey, other than the crew. Who warned you about her?”
His face began to redden, a color normally hard to detect under fair skin, but the excessive fat on his face began to glow making him unable to hide his emotions. He looked left then right then finally back at the questioner.
“My dad, I mean uh, some people had told me there would be some interesting people on this trip. I don’t know how they knew, I didn’t ask, but they just said to avoid Eidith Borne. They said she would be nothing but trouble for me.”
This answer raised many a question in my mind. The boy knew something, no, more than something. He might know all we need to find a solution here. I slid my notepad back into one of my many jacket pockets and began my way toward the boy. I would acquire these answers one way or another. Before I could finish my forward march, I was stopped by the strong arm of Dominguez. Let’s go, she said. We’re done here, she whispered quietly into my ear. I did not understand the woman’s thinking, our answers could be right there hanging atop a kitchen counter, feet swinging merrily. She pushed me to the door then out of it and we were left alone in the hallway leading to the rest of the bed chambers.
“What are you doing? The boy has answers.” I inquired.
“He didn’t do it. There’s a reason he’s on this boat and trust me when I say we do not want or need to know what that reason is. It’s not the crown. Santana would never go after something so flashy.”
“I seem to be lacking the information you had gathered here. Please, what do you mean?”
“It’s better to not know, but the kid’s innocent. Trust me on that one. Though he did give us some good information.”
“Yes, the fact that he had knowledge on the guests attending this cruise meant that others must’ve as well. Unless –”
For a moment, my mind wandered to an idea. In this present time I am certain this idea was correct, but at the moment it popped into my mind it seemed almost unrealistic and unfathomable in scale. I needed more data to confirm.
“I have a hunch. I will go speak to the captain and while I am away can you turn room one into an examination chamber. It is time to question the guests.”
After an hour and ten minutes, Dominguez walked into the captain’s room where I had been waiting. She nodded toward the man in the big chair and looked at me.
“The room’s ready. Should I just start grabbing people.”
“There will be no need Officer. I shall announce that any who feel unsafe will have the opportunity to air their grievances in room one with the support of the fine detective and his assistant.” Captain Blaqstroke replied.
“That kinda sounds like you’re making it optional. This isn’t optional.”
Both myself and the captain shared a laugh at the young woman’s reply.“Please understand. It may sound optional, but for these guests, they will feel it is anything but.”
Dominguez stared at the man with a blank expression and a raised eyebrow. I could sense her confusion.
“See aboard this vessel are some of the wealthiest, most spoiled, and simple-minded folks from within both the Old America and Newmerica as well,” Blaqstoke continued, “Since the crown had gone missing, all of these people have placed themselves on high alert, fearing they would be next to be targeted by the thief. And that is without even confirmation there is some thief aboard. I assure you both, five minutes after I make the announcement there will be a line outside room one with every guest ready to parade in and spill their secrets for just the hope of security. I will make the announcement in ten minutes, then I leave the rest of this mission to the both of you. Good luck.”
It had been five minutes since the captain announced over the loudspeaker that any member in the ship that felt a sense of unease could visit the detective in room one for a small bit of counseling. I took a peek outside from within the room and every guest on the ship, save two, was standing in a single file line waiting to be comforted by us. I allowed the first person in line to enter and they quietly marched into the newly formed office space. Dominguez had gathered two folding chairs, a computer chair that she had nicely asked to borrow from a guest that had brought it along with them, and a small desk repurposed from a room in the back we had seen the day before. They were placed along the wall opposite the bathroom as this allowed the light shining in to envelop the face of the person being questioned and keep us in the relative darkness. It was intuitive thinking from Dominguez, she truly had the mind of a detective.
The first person in was a young man named Martin Biyombo. According to the data gathered he was of African descent, but his pasty skin said otherwise.
“Martin I must admit, you are far from what I had expected.”
“Yes I know,” he replied. He carried a strong NuEng accent. “People see the last name and don’t ever really see me. I was born in South Africa, but never really lived there. Parents moved to the UK when I was two, then to Maryland when I was twelve. They had inherited a beef plant from an old uncle that took a liking to my mom at some point.”
“Ahh, I understand. That leads us to the question of why you have felt it necessary to come speak to us in this room.” I replied.
The young man began to speak about the situation he found himself in. He received an invite for this journey a month prior to it leaving the docks of Florida. Well, his parents received the invite. They had heard through the grapevine that the offspring of many powerful members of both Old and New American societies would be attending and made sure Martin would become a part of that. He talked of having no interest in any of the people aboard and even an antagonistic relationship with two of the guests.
“The Burroughs sisters bullied you in middle school?”
“Um. I didn’t want to bring it up. I didn’t even think they remembered until…”
“Until?” we replied in unison.
“Actually it was in this room. Two nights ago. Some guy came by my room while I was reading and told me he was throwing a small do in this room and I should come by for at least a bit. He said it was for all of us that felt out of place. Really miffed me that he said that, but the kid had a point. And well, as you can guess, the twins showed up alongside the loudmouth with the crown.”
“And they had no problem identifying you upon their entry?”
“Yeah, they pointed me out pretty quickly. Started calling me Martin Bimbo, a name I hadn’t heard since those old days. We ended up arguing in the bathroom and I just…”
“What did you do young man?”
“I threw my drink at them, covered them both in cheap beer. And now I’m scared.”
“Scared? For your life?”
“Scared that those two are going to get off this ship and run around telling everyone that I’m the one that stole the crown. They’re parents are members of the Newmerica parliament and even if it is across an ocean, if they come out of this saying anything about myself or my family, we’d be ruined. You have to find the thief. For me. Please.”
With those final words the young man lept out of his seat and walked out of the room. The others that followed had similar stories, both of their experiences aboard the ship and of how they came to find themselves here to start. A member named Emelia Radfordson said she was informed of the invite through a letter presented by her butler and upon arrival found herself face to face with her ex-boyfriend from high school, a man named Riley Newsome. She then went on to inform us that “we only bonked once and that means it was never really anything big,” and well I guess I was forced to take her word for it. Riley showed up later and acknowledged their tryst while also providing his story on how his uncle pushed him into attending this journey for reasons still unknown to Riley. James Quintis gave us a rousing tale of meeting his sister’s ex-boyfriend, a young man named Charles Omari, during the first night out on the sea and how he had spent the last decade wanting to pummel the man for believing the man was such a bad boyfriend that he turned his younger sister gay. Now both Dominguez and myself seemed befuddled by such an allegation, since it was my understanding that is not how homosexuality works. Nonetheless, the men seemed to have become compatriots of a sort after running through the first night’s liquor side by side.
Dominguez and I spent the entire day and night listening to stories these young people fashioned out of their minds. It was impressive, no two were alike. Once the last guest left the room, we turned to each other and our minds began to paint the picture.
“It seems they all received an invitation no earlier than three months ago and no later than two weeks ago. It’s as though the invites were sent out one by one.”
“You think someone ran around the world just to get all these people on the same boat? Seems like a big waste of time.”
“Oh ho, my good partner. I do not believe this person did in fact travel across the seas solely to bring all these folks here, but instead saw it as an opportunistic enhancement of a plan already in place.”
Dominguez looked deep into my face with a demeanor I can only describe as perplexed. She spoke only three words, “You lost me.”
“Ha ha. Worry not, I can explain. See remember when you joined me in my quaint shack within the Florida Keys, pleasantly interrupting my vacation?” She nodded in response. “Well, I was never truly on a work reprieve. At the time, I was actually on the tail of the world’s greatest thief, a man known only as the Phantom Thief.”
Her eyes widened in response. “They’re real? I thought that was just an old tale told whenever some rich moron ends up misplacing some priceless artifact, seeing as though almost none of the things ever “stolen” are seen again by anyone.”
“The Phantom Thief is as real as you and I. A master of disguise, quieter than even the smallest mouse, faster than even the cats of Africa. I have been on his trail for months, and unfortunately I do not have my map with me, but I believe the places he has struck over the past few months would align with the information we received on the invites to board this cruise. With some time, I believe I can prove the Phantom Thief has at some point over the prior months robbed something from each family aboard this ship. And as for the fact these children seem to have no knowledge of their family’s missing valuables. Well, just take a gander at them. None of these guests are aware of their familial situations, no knowledge beyond the fact that they are powerful and rich. They, by all manners of speaking, are completely unaware of the world that exists beyond their sight.”
“Are you saying you think the Phantom Thief is on this ship with us?”
“Not only are they on this ship, but they — along with some support — have engineered this entire cruise to steal the one thing they failed to take during their international travels. See, when the invite was delivered to the Bourne family, they were no where to be found, and as we have learned Eidith does not travel without the Kryptonian Crown.”
“That seems so convoluted and also pretty insane.”
“But why would they invite everyone aboard this ship, seeing as according to you nearly all of them have been already robbed, except one?”
“That is one of the many questions I have at this time. Possibly showmanship, potentially to take something more; I truly do not know. What I do know is the crown is the last thing the man was after, and that is why I believe he is here with us.”
“Do you…Do you know who it is? Should we go get them right now?”
“I have thoughts, many about who the culprit has disguised themselves as, but nothing final. No, tonight I will drink and I will think and by the morning I will have an answer. Partner, I suggest you get some rest, for tomorrow is a big day for us all.
”With that, Dominguez left back to the room. I stayed behind and opened the fridge. It was filled with a world of beers and other beverages, so I grabbed two and sat. There in that quiet, empty room I began to drink and I began to think.
I awoke to a dimming light streaming through the small window of room one. I looked up toward the ceiling, but was instead greeted by a familiar face hidden within a current of blurry lines. Dominguez stared down on me, I could see anger in her face. The way her forehead crinkled, her teeth grinding against one another, her nose softly twitching. It was cute?
“Well, I hope it was a uniform approach between the two, because it sure looks like you did a lot of drinking. Now can you get the hell up, you been out so long that the sun’s going down, and we have a job to do.”
I jumped up to my feet. Then I stumbled back to the ground. My equilibrium seemed to have been significantly impared, but not even that could stop the great detective D’andrèzy from solving this caper.
I should now have imparted more than enough knowledge for even you, dear reader, to understand who is the mastermind behind the Khaos on the Karnival Kruise. Now follow along as I bring you along to the moment where I capture this confounding criminal.
I raised Eidith from my arms and placed her beside me. The precipitation enveloping her body was now covering my arms, making them too glisten under the dying light. I noticed the smell of tulips, what a strange woman she was.
“How could such a dangerous criminal find themselves in possession of my family’s artifact. Not only that, but could you mean the Phantom Thief himself is aboard this very boat.”
“I have examined this craft so very thoroughly and have spent many an hour thinking on this –”
“And drinking.” Dominguez whispered from somewhere behind me.
“As I said, thinking on this, I have found no possibility in which the man known as the Phantom Thief could have escaped this vessel in one piece. Therefore, they must be standing among us right at this moment.”
I looked upon the line of guests and behind them a crowd of the boat’s crew. I could feel an unprompted smile begin to form on my face. Here they were, a crowd of some of the future’s most powerful beings about to witness me capturing and arresting the most wanted criminal on the planet. I readied my voice, this was for all to hear.
“Listen, I need all aboard this ship to meet me on the bridge. There I will unmask the villain.”
I watched the large grouping begin to move quickly towards the front of the ship. The only people to stay behind alongside myself were Eidith and Dominguez. I hoped a fight wasn’t in the immediate future. The duo shot daggers at one another and I began to move my body to a place of safety, which was about five meters away from them.
“I think I should stay behind. I’ll get the chopper started so we can get out of here pretty quickly. I’m sure this Mr. Phantom Thief isn’t going to be someone we want running around the ship after we unmask them.”
“Mighty ingenious idea there.” I walked closer to Dominguez and stuck out my hand. “It has been an honor to work alongside you, partner. I hope one day we can continue this mentorship. I understand the old American Military machine may hold you in captivity now, but one day when those shackles are broken, I could see us traveling the world, putting all the greatest criminal masterminds into a state of pure fear.”
She chuckled in response.
“That doesn’t sound too bad, detective. But how about we take care of this one first. Good luck, I’ll be waiting here. And I’ll make sure to have a strong surprised face when you reveal to me the great criminal himself.”
With that, I took Eidith’s sweaty arm — a bloody mistake, I did not enjoy the smell of tulips any longer — and walked towards the bridge where they all waited.
I sauntered into a segregated bridge. Along the possibly port side were the guests and along the other were the ship’s crew. They all looked at me, some with fear and others with excitement. We were in the midst of a spectacle, one that would shake the foundations of the world as we knew it. It was here that I was to unmask and capture the legendary Phantom Thief himself. I shut the single door in and out of the bridge and stayed standing beside it.
“To the reason why you all are gathered here, I will admit the truth. I have found the identity of the one that has stolen the treasured heirloom belonging to Miss Eidith Bourne, and that person is none other than the dangerous criminal only known as the Phantom Thief.”
The room filled with gasps and shrieks. A woman in the back looked to have fainted upon hearing the words.
“Worry not. If you are to know anything about the criminal, let it be this: they are not violent or dangerous. With that, I am hoping the Phantom Thief will come along quietly and without a fuss. So please, do not panic.” I turned and whispered to Eidith, “Please stay here beside the door, for safety purposes.”
I walked forward into the center of the crowd and looked. All eyes were on me at this moment. This was it, my chance to establish myself as the world’s greatest detective. I looked across the line of crew, first at Sampson then at the Phantom Thief.
“I would like to have one person come forward please. Mr. Blaqstoke please step into the centre beside me.”
The man stepped away from his crew and towards me.
“I prefer to be called captain while aboard a ship, good sir.”
“Apologies captain,” I replied. “Do you know why I have brought you here in front of a counsel of your peers?”
“I must admit, I do not.”
“Well let me ask you this: Is this the true first journey of this prestigious vessel?”
“What could you be trying to ask?”
“Has this vessel ever sailed across the great seas with a crowd much like the one gathered here before us?” I motioned toward the group of guests standing alongside one another.
“That is blasphemous. This is the maiden voyage, is it not?”
“Then would I be lying when I state ninety percent of the furniture that was once aboard this vessel had to be thrown overboard mere minutes before the guests began to arrive. Did you know that dust particulates form in a very even layered manner, and when you are in such a rush you can sometimes forget to clean the floor before moving objects. Also, I had the local coast guard take a view at the ocean floor two kilometers out from where this voyage began, and do you know what they found?”
I pulled out the notebook from my breast pocket and took a quick glance toward the panicking man in front of me.
“No you don’t?” I turned to the guests still layered along the far wall. “Ninety beds, most of which showed signs of having been slept on. The indentations and stains still visible, even after spending over a day in the warm sea. I’m sure we all know how difficult it can be to get a sheet clean after nights of, lest we call them, activities.”
I turned back to the captain, his face covered in the sweat of a guilty man.
“I must commend you, you were almost a few brooms away from a clean getaway, but that was not all. Many of the guests-” I swung my arm, motioning toward the gallery of bodies, “-were very familiar to one another, weren’t they?”
The crowd began to turn towards one another and nod in agreement.“You went and brought all the bloody ex-lovers you could find and made them act all hunky-dory about the situation.”
I could feel my professionalism leaking out of my mouth alongside the words, but buggers to that; I was moments away from bagging the infamous Phantom Thief.“And all these poor folks served as nothing more than distractions, so that you all could run around this ship and collect whatever you wanted. I’m sure Madam Kraig has not yet noticed her diamond pinky rings are no longer in her room, and the many others that are currently thinking of their misplaced mementos are finding themselves questioning oh so much at this moment. Aren’t you all?”
The guests began to stare daggers across the bridge and the crew withered in response. Captain Blaqstoke put his hand up seemingly in a sign of submission, and stepped closer towards me. He stopped a meter from me and held his head down in despair.
“In the dark of the night, while you slumbered away, I searched through your room. Quiet as a mouse I was, yet I found no trace of the crown. So Captain Blaqstoke, I have two questions for you and they are simple. Where is the crown? And Why? Why bring me onto the ship? Why let me catch you all red-handed? What purpose did it serve, to just end up at my feet?”
Blaqstoke took another step towards me and looked up at me. His eyes were filled with tears.
“Apologies, good detective. I could not hold this in much longer.” He began to laugh, it was a deep, hoarse laugh. A laugh so deep it reverberated across the room, shaking my soul along with the room’s glass windows. He continued.
“To invite you or not to, was never my choice. Had it been up to me, you would still be sipping martinis and attempting to look up some unlucky waitress’ skirt. I was merely a pasty, same as so many of them.”
I looked back to the crew and many of them began to join the captain in his confession, First Mate Sampson included.
“What could you mean? Are you Captain Blaqstoke, not the thief tattered in a tuxedo of trickery? You cannot hide the truth from me.”
“Good detective, look at me. I’m an aged man, my best years are long behind me. I am no master thief, nor some sly scammer, not even an adept architect. I am a collector of paychecks, nothing more. Though I guess my time in the British Navy has taught me how to convincingly command a ship. The one you are looking for, is long gone.”
“No, it couldn’t be.”
I turned and ran towards the door. While opening it, I yelled at Eidith to run beside me. She joined quickly. The young woman kept up impressively, but that did not matter. I ran to the back of the boat and looked upon a most ghastly sight. Where the heli once lie, now there was nothing more than an empty space. I looked towards the descending horizon and saw nothing. Eidith grabbed my coat and pointed me in the opposite direction. Across the sea there was a blip. A blip decreasing in size each and every second. The false captain walked up behind me.
“Her ancestor was most known for delivering these beforehand, but we truly doubted the young woman beside you was completely incapable of reading, so we changed things up a slight amount.”
I turned to him and saw his hand reaching out to me. In that hand was a small red card. I took the card from him. On one side was a photo; the photo was of my map. The map currently sitting in my hotel back in Florida. On the other side were words. They read:
I leave you this note to inform you of many things. Firstly, the crown is gone and will soon be in worthy hands. As long as I walk this Earth, the scum of this planet will watch their possessions slip through their fingers. You may inform lady Borne that she will never lay her eyes on it again and it will not be the last time I take from her and sectarian clan. That also goes for Kraig’s diamonds, Mr. Omari’s watch, and many other things they’ll figure out are missing over the next half day. Secondly, I must admit I had more fun than I ever expected working alongside you as your partner. Or assistant. Whatever floats your boat. Third, and most important, I must admit you were right, and it’s something I’m thankful for. There really is no such thing as a prepared detective. Well, not prepared for me at least.
Yours truly, The Phantom Thief herself,
I sat. It was all I could do. I sat and thought. Thought of my failure, thought of how this woman made me look like a fool, thought of the young lady standing beside me who had been robbed completely blind. I still didn’t even know how or when. I failed.
“Do you have a tele on you?”
“Of course I do, but how is that supposed to help me right now? She’s gone, far gone!” Eidith replied.
“Let me use it. I need to make a call. This is beyond me.” I placed my hands over my face. I could not look this woman in the eyes. I had failed her, I had failed everyone on this ship.
“I can only believe one organization has any hope of handling this now.”
I took the tele and began to dial. It started to ring after I pressed send, so I put it to my ear and took one last look towards the poor woman beside me.
(Bio: Derek Maldonado is an aspiring writer in both prose and comic formats. He has just begun climbing the writing ladder after leaving his most recent job. He formerly worked as an aerospace engineer and is currently a grad student in the areas of relationship and social psychology.)