Death by smartphone - Chapter One: Shenanigans

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Aboard the North Star traveled 10,000 eyes, 10,000 legs and 10,000 ears. There were 5,000 noses, 5,000 mouths and 5,000 assorted body parts that don't need to be mentioned. Five thousand people all together. What could be expected from such a crowd but a bout of shenanigans? That's what Marlene Martinez thought, looking suspiciously around her. With so many passengers crammed together in the 1,000-foot boat. Something was bound to happen. Something bad.

Her grandfather, bless his soul, was fond of saying, "Somewhere, something bad is happening to somebody now." Many years before, Marlene had laughed at his unabashed pessimism, but now in her lounge chair, watching the noisy throng that waited by the pool until cabins were ready, she couldn't avoid a feeling of dread.

Something bad is going to happen to somebody on this boat.

For the most part, Marlene loved cruises. She had already taken 10 and had no intention of stopping. But this 7-day cruise that would leave from Miami and stop in Belize, Costa Maya and Cozumel, felt different. There was something in the air. The smell of danger. A smell that, as a former detective, Marlene knew too well.

It had been her idea to bring her niece along as a quinceañera present. Her niece, Sarita, was celebrating her 15th birthday that month and the only thing she wanted was "to get away for a while." Sarita lived in New Mexico, in a small town that Marlene considered the rear end of the world and had never traveled abroad. A cruise aboard the North Star sounded, as the girl put it, "fantafabulous."

Sarita was even more elated when she found out that Carloalberto was among the passengers. In truth, it wasn't strange to find celebrities in short Caribbean cruises, particularly when the celebrities were in the C Category as it happened to be the case. Carloalberto, a young Cuban who went only by his first name, was a part-time model and aspiring actor. He had been made almost famous by his appearance on "The Terrific Two," a TV program that featured teams of actors and screenwriters competing to pitch their ideas to Hollywood producers. The winning team would get a movie contract. They were down to the last round. Carloalberto and his partner, a screenwriter named Helen Hall, were among the finalists.

Marlene didn't pay much attention to such things. Her bakery La Bakeria Cubana kept her busy, but since Sarita hadn't stopped talking about Carloalberto for the last three days, she couldn't help but notice him. He was a tanned, tall guy in his early 20s with gym muscles, chiseled jaw and what Sarita, who had a crush on him, described as "a kissable mouth."

And there he was, only a few feet away from Marlene. She looked for her niece, but the girl wasn't around, so she shrugged and allowed herself time to admire the hunk. But admire from afar, eh. The guy was young enough to be her son, and Marlene, still unmarried at 42, hardly qualified as a cougar. Still, she gazed at him and admitted that he was a handsome specimen.

Carloalberto was talking to an older blond guy in a Hawaiian shirt. After exchanging a few words, the two men walked behind the pool bar, where a frazzled bartender chain served mojitos and daiquiris. They seemed to be hiding and that made Marlene curious. She watched their mouths. While working for the Cuban police, she had learned to read lips. The conversation was in Spanish, so she had no difficulty understanding it.

"I don't have it now," Carloalberto said, his magnificent jaw shaking a bit. "You'll have to wait until the show is over."

"But who assures us you are going to win?" the other replied. "For all I know, they can get rid of you tomorrow."

"They won't. I promise! As a finalist, I have a contract almost secured."

"Almost won't cut it."

"Please, be patient with me. I've paid you guys before, haven't I?"

The other man looked him in the eye.

"I'll give you one more week," he said through clenched teeth. "Just one week! If after the cruise ends, you don't come up with something, you are in trouble. Get it?"

Carloalberto nodded. He had turned pale under his perfect tan. The blond guy left. Carloalberto stayed motionless, staring at the Miami lights that shimmered along the coastline as the boat sailed toward the Caribbean.

Sarita materialized next to her aunt and grabbed her arm.

"Look, tía!" she pointed to Carloalberto. "Isn't he the most fantalicious guy in the world? I can't believe we are going to spend a whole week around him! Do you think he will notice me?"

Marlene overlooked the use of the non-word "fantalicious" and shook her head.

"Shenanigans," she mumbled.

The Spanish version of this story is here.

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