Death by Smartphone – Chapter Six: The Dazzling Dangerous Party


Recap: Marlene Martinez, a former Cuban detective who now lives in Miami, takes a Caribbean cruise with her niece Sarita. With them travel Carloalberto, an aspiring actor who behaves suspiciously, his wife Emma, and Helen, a screenwriter who is Carloalberto's partner in a TV contest. In the second chapter, Marlene discovers Carloalberto kissing Helen in his cabin balcony while Emma is in the casino.

A day later, while visiting a shamana during a shore excursion in Belize, the woman, who claims to read the future, tells Marlene that she will soon follow a blood trail again. Afterwards, Carloalberto and Helen are voted out of the contest. Sarita tells her aunt that, according to online gossip, he has gambling debts and some unsavory types may be after him. As the ship approaches Costa Maya, Helen's smartphone falls into the ocean during a selfie session with Emma and Carloalberto. A few hours later, Sarita finds out that Carloalberto is being considered for the lead role in a new movie.

The party started around 8:30 p.m. The Icelandic Bar overflowed with underwhelming free canapés, overpriced cocktails and a discordant band. The dazzling part was represented by throbbing lights, a disco ball and a profusion of sequins in the red curtains.

The dangerous element was perhaps the smoke coming from the fog machine, which caused some people to feel disoriented. By 10 o'clock most attendees were too drunk to walk around without bumping into their fellow passengers. Sarita had decided to wear a revealing red dress, high heels and way too much makeup. Marlene didn't approve of the outfit, but the girl assured her that her own mother had bought the dress for her.

"Could you please stop acting like an uptight spinster?" Sarita complained. "You used to be more fun!"

"Yeah, and you used to behave," Marlene replied.

"I am behaving!"

"Like a fool."

But it turned out to be Sarita's night of disappointment. When she got to the party, excited to be inside a "real bar" for the first time, Carloalberto wasn't there. An hour later he hadn't showed up yet. The girl sneaked down to the casino and found him hypnotized in front of a slot machine.

"I think it's true that he has a gambling addiction," she said to Marlene.

"Is that too difficult to cure?"

"Mijita, what do I know? We didn't have slot machines in Cuba."

"I wish I could help him."

"Good grief."

Helen and Emma did attend the party, but not for long. The screenwriter played the part of a withering wallflower while Emma danced with the blond guy. Marlene overheard her calling him "Fernando" in a familiar tone. But their interactions looked more businesslike than romantic. They talked in low voices and hardly moved around the room.

Curious, Marlene thought.

By 10:30 p.m. Helen and Emma had left. Marlene wished to do the same but didn't dare to leave her niece alone. The girl kept talking about Carloalberto and how much she missed him. Marlene was getting concerned, not knowing if Sarita was just suffering from a normal teenage crush or if it was something more serious. What was normal for teenagers these days?

Marlene was happy she didn't have any of her own to worry about, but she was responsible for Sarita, at least for the duration of the cruise. And Sarita had become obsessed with Carloalberto

Early that day, the girl discovered his name on the passenger list for a swimming with dolphins excursion scheduled for the following morning in Cozumel. She demanded that they go too although Marlene had been planning to visit the Tulum ruins.

"Why do we need to see two ruins, tía?" Sarita had whined. "We are going to Chichen Itza on Friday and all these sites look the same. There is no place to pee in any of them and they are boring. I'm sick and tired of that Mayan stuff!"

Marlene was sick and tired of the girl's requests as well, but considering that this trip was her quinceañera gift, she relented and booked the excursion.

"Thanks, tía!" Sarita hugged her. "It's so important for me to go. Imagine, being together with Carloalberto inside a swimming pool!"

"Woo hoo! With two dozen people around."

"So what?" Sarita shrugged. "At least Emma isn't going. I didn't see her name on the passenger list. Only Helen, and she doesn't count. I can't compete with a model but without her around, I believe that I have a chance."

"A chance for what?" Marlene asked.

"Ah, you know."

No, she didn't.

That was the problem, Marlene shook her head. She didn't know what to expect. Sarita had always been a quiet, introvert teenager who didn't give her parents any trouble. Had she chosen this cruise to start acting out? Thankfully, Carloalberto hadn't given any signs of even noticing the girl. Too much on his plate, Marlene chuckled. She hoped he stayed busy with "his women" until they returned to Miami.

When the band began to play "Macarena" for the third time that night, Marlene decided she had had enough. The blaring music was giving her a headache. Sarita was talking to a couple of age-appropriate girls, so she went outside to the smokers' area and lit up a cigarette.

Another middle-aged woman was there too. They exchanged guilty smiles and went about their business.

Marlene was finishing her first cigarette when the sound of a loud splash made her jump.

"What was that?" the woman asked. "I hope someone hasn't lost another smartphone."

"No, it sounded like something much heavier," Marlene replied, her eyes lost in the dark waves that crashed against the ship.

It sounded, she added to herself, like a body thrown overboard.

She hurried back to the Icelandic Bar and looked for Sarita, but the girl was nowhere to be found. Marlene went down to the casino and ran toward the slot machines. Carloalberto had vanished, too.

The Spanish version of this story is here.