That same day at the evening meal the ship buzzed with rumors and allegations concerning the professor who had been forcibly removed from his cabin for allegedly dealing drugs.
Some claimed he wasn’t really a passenger. A gigolo, said more than a few who’d been on cruises before, actually hired by the line to keep older women clients happy. Some of the ladies resented this, particularly those who had spent a few entertaining hours with the fascinating man. The man’s female companion at the time of the arrest was not to be seen.
He had been dealing cocaine; no, heroine; no, surely it was a smuggling operation. At the captain’s table, one guest broached the subject but Captain Roderick Stuart politely shunted it aside, commenting instead that the salad that evening was quite tasty, which it was. The saucier’s kitchen staff had obviously outdone themselves.
People spoke of the professor at the bar, during the floorshow, between number calls at bingo, after the feature film. Clare Drake did not mention that she had seen the entire incident, and that it had frightened her. As the man had been led away, she had seen the defeated look, the vanquished eyes, the handcuffs. The passenger seated next to her at the diner table told of an earlier cruise where a similar incident had occurred and the entire ship had been searched while at sea. “They combed through each and every cabin. I remember it well, I was terrified. It was my first cruise and naturally I’d bought more than my allotted share of liquor aboard after a stop in the Caymans. Cigarettes and Cuban cigars as well. I was certain, absolutely positive, that I would be arrested and whipped or keelhauled or somesuch.” He laughed, forked some salad into his mouth. “I wasn’t, of course. They were hardly interested in my bit of amateurish smuggling. But they did find some drugs in the cabin of some twin sisters, 70 years if they were a day, can you imagine? And both acting as innocent as newborn babes! Well, it goes to show, doesn’t it, that appearances can be deceiving.”
Clare Drake returned to her cabin knowing there would be hell to pay for what she was about to do, but determined to do it anyway. Two days earlier, she’d seen a man lose a thousand dollars on one roll of the roulette wheel and it had struck her at the time that $10,000 wasn’t really going to change her life. But getting arrested for possession would.
She found the parcel Herbie had given them and cut a corner open with a pair of cuticle scissors, then squeezed a small stream of the white powder into her palm. She scooped a small amount out with a fingernail, snorted it, sneezed, snorted again, made a face, shook her head. She pinched her nose with an index and thumb but sneezed anyway, tears coming to her eyes. It took her a moment for the full impact to hit. She threw back her head and laughed suddenly feeling good, no, great. Then she took the parcel, placed it in a beachbag, covered it with a towel and, still laughing, put it back in the closet.
She found the unsigned message taped to her door as she left the cabin.