Murder by Smartphone – Chapter 4: Tragedy on the cruise ship


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.

Marlene was waiting for her niece on the promenade deck, her favorite place in the entire ship, because it allowed her to look at the ocean and enjoy the fresh air away from the noisy crowd that congregated around the swimming pools and Jacuzzis on deck 15. Sometimes she smoked a cigarette, feeling smug for getting away with it and ashamed for not having been able to quit.

They had left Belize the day before,and there wasn't a lot to do onboard. The casino and all the boutiques were opened day and night, but Marlene wasn't a gambler or a compulsive shopper. Even Sarita was getting antsy since they couldn't get anything but reruns on the cabin TV.

Marlene had been thinking about the shamana's prophecy, which she had taken with a grain of salt. Would she ever be a detective again? She doubted it. Her English wasn't that good, and she didn't think she would be hired by Miami police anytime soon. Nor did she want to go back to doing that kind of work.

She had left Havana to start a new life in Miami. That was why she had opened La Bakeria Cubana, a bakery popular among the new wave of Cubans who longed for mazarreales (thick guava pastries that tasted different from the puffy traditional ones), croquettes and yuca fries.

The trip had been good for inspiration. Being away from the oven had given Marlene the time she needed to come up with new recipes. She was concocting a pastry filled with Mayan-style chocolate and sprinkled with coconut flakes.

Her chocolate reveries were cut short when Sarita showed up sobbing and hugged her.

"Ay, tía. What a tragedy!"

"What is it?" Marlene asked, the shamana's ominous reference to a blood trail still haunting her.

"Carloalberto!" the girl sniffled. "He's been eliminated."

A shudder went through Marlene.

"What do you mean, 'eliminated'?"

"From the contest. He and Helen were finalists and everybody expected them to win, but in today's program the judges gave them the boot. They were nice about it and said he had a future in the film industry but still…"

Marlene let out a sigh of relief.

"And that's what you call a tragedy, niña?" she asked.

"For me, it is! For all his fans. I imagine he and Helen must be devastated. Would it be wrong to offer them my condolences?"

"Very wrong," Marlene said firmly. "How do you know that, anyway? I thought we couldn't watch real-time TV here."

Sarita waved her pink Smartphone.

"Hello, tía! This is the 21st century! My friends are following the show and have been texting me to keep me informed. It's all over Facebook as well."

Ah, social media! Marlene shrugged. It had replaced personal interactions and now ruled people's lives. Someday, she thought, it would rule their deaths too. People would die in front of their Smartphones, breathing their last breath into the screen.

"According to the online grapevine, Carloalberto has gambling debts and there are some bad people after him," Sarita added with a worried expression. "Do you think that is true?"

Marlene remembered the man in the Hawaiian shirt and his not-too-veiled threats to Carloalberto. But she wasn't going to mention that to Sarita.

"We all have our weaknesses," she said philosophically.

"Like your cigarettes, eh?" Sarita smirked. Marlene blushed. "Did you think I hadn't noticed? Ah, look, here they are!"

Carloalberto and Emma were walking on the promenade deck too. He had his arms wrapped around his wife. Both seemed happy and very much in love. Marlene shook her head. Oh, men.

"Well, they don't look upset at all," she whispered to Sarita. "And tell me, how can he be eliminated from a contest when he isn't even there?"

"Because the judging is based on movie segments that were submitted in advanced," Sarita explained. "Carloalberto and Helen filmed a few scenes of the movie they are hoping to produce. Every week they show a different segment per team and one of them is booted out. How sad that it was them this time!"

Marlene didn't think of the issue again until later that evening. While Sarita went to a jewelry sale on deck six, she returned to their cabin for another cigarette.

The door was opened. A vacuum cleaner stood in the corridor with a big trash bag next to it. They were tidying the room, which usually didn't take over 10 minutes, but the lack of security made her feel concerned. Someone could come in and steal other passengers' valuables, particularly if there were some "bad people" around.

She came out of her room and found herself face to face with Helen, whose cabin was apparently in the same corridor. Tears were running down the screenwriter's face.

She is the only one who looks "devastated," Marlene thought. Maybe that contest meant more to her than it did to Carloalberto. Maybe their elimination is really a tragedy for her.

The Spanish version of this story here.