By E.J. Rand
She was helping to make our vacation memorable, and I felt paternal.
Her father had been a ship's officer, too. She was proud of him, and that she'd followed in his footsteps. Much came out in the half-hour interview she kindly granted this author as the ship floated along on a calm tropical sea. Most vacationers were stretched on lounges in the sun, finishing a lavish luncheon, or making new friends.
The officer expertly covered staffing, galley operation, food service, cleanup, and waste disposal, right down to the size, color, and movement of the plastic cans containing different kinds of waste. Trying not to lend it special weight, I slipped in: "So, your food waste disposal system is large enough for body parts."
She almost toppled the chair, pushing up and back. "Why not just throw the person overboard!" she shot at me, ending the session.
"Well, I've done that already," said I, to no effect.
Author interviews can be exciting.
"Of course you may ask a question," said the Captain, whom I'd caught on the starboard wing of the bridge, scanning the horizon.
I eased away from the rail as I spoke. "Well, what happens if, after a rough-weather night at sea, your First Officer is missing in the morning?"
Before he'd explode or I'd wind up in the brig, I added that I was an author, had no wish to harm anyone, and what I was seeking was the procedure he'd follow and the subsequent action that must take place.
Lucky I was a paying passenger. A few deep breaths, a troubling twist of the mouth, and he proved helpful. I stuck to procedure. For the balance of the cruise, I prayed that nothing bad would befall an officer.
Another day, as shadows lengthened after sundown, a security officer walked me to the stern, deserted at the moment, and, just as I feared I'd become one with the wake, he described the all-night fire watch, boarding security, and much more. It seemed I wasn't the one threatened: he felt he was, covering all that with an author.
I've done all this and more on two ships, so I'm keeping everyone's secrets.
All of it is indeed in DARK SEA. No, I wrote none of it off my taxes, and yes, during both cruises I ate and drank too much.
Wani Hartono recalled a scene from a movie--the killer feeding his victim, piece by piece, into a wood chipper. The crew had watched it months before, in the passenger lounge, between cruises.
He was concentrating, leaning over the sorting table and pressing the edge of the plastic sheet tight against the side of the eighteen-inch waste disposal intake. Then he lifted the final piece off the plastic. It was a man's arm, severed at the elbow, and he checked to be sure no rings remained on the hand.
Metal might jam the machine. Large bones could also pose a problem, but he'd operated the system for eight months and knew what it could do. He braced as the ship heeled to starboard--the sea was up--before sliding the arm into the loading chamber, elbow down, fingers reaching as if to escape.
For the next fifteen minutes the galley would be deserted. He and Irwan handled garbage detail, working different shifts on the 300-passenger vessel. If things ran smoothly, no one checked what they processed.
He locked the safety lid and switched on the machine. Seawater flooded in and he could hear the dull rumble as it began to chew the waste.
Curling the plastic so it would trap remaining blood, he stepped back to undress. He lay onto the sheet the white coat, trousers, and latex gloves he'd been wearing. On top of that, he set the five-pound dumbbell he'd taken from the fitness room--had to hold it steady through another roll of the ship--then he folded the bundle, fastening it with fishing line. After four years at sea, he knew knots. If the blood attracted deep-water predators, they'd mangle everything.
The sound of the machine changed and he tripped the lever that flushed it with fresh water. The waste had been expelled below the surface of the Caribbean.
He redressed. With the bundle under an arm, he locked up. He'd gone to sea for better pay. After tonight, he could go home.
Minutes later, on a lower deck throbbing from the propeller, he tossed the bundle over the stern. Its splash vanished in churning wake.♥
Ed Rand, writing as E. J. Rand, is a four-time award winner for his Reluctant Sleuth series, published by Deadly Ink Press. DARK SEA, the fourth book, is a winner in MWA/NY Chapter's 2008-2009 Mentor Program. Info on the series, with sample text, is at www.ejrand.com. (Photo of Ed by Ray Turkin.)
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