Monday, February 27, 2012

Adrift in Pirate Waters

Have you ever wondered if you shouldn't have spent the money, even if it was a bargain?

Costa Cruises Concordia off the coast of Italy
January 2012
Photo by Rvongher

I'm going on a cruise. Not just any cruise, but a Costa Cruises cruise. The prices were really good, nearly half off, so I talked one of the ladies, with whom I sailed in Belize, into going with me. We've plunked down the money, bought the "insurance," scoured the various travel sites, picked up our airline tickets, and decided on before and after hotels.

Winnie, also on last year's sail, narrowed her eyes and shook her head. "You're going with Costa Cruises? Isn't that the same cruise lines as--"

"The Costa Concordia?" I supplied.

"Yes," she nodded.

"Oh, yes, it is," I said, picking a piece of lint off my shoulder. I yawned, stretched, and sent her a smug smile. "We got a great deal."

Winnie snorted. "Yeah, I'll bet."

"No, the prices are great and, really, it will never be safer. That cruise lines is not going to take any chances. None. For the next few months, those ships are going to perform flawlessly. They'll be the safest cruise ships out there."

Photo of the Costa Allegra by Jean-Phillipe Boulet

So today, the headline accosting my senses was:

Onboard fire cripples Costa

cruise ship

Costa Allegra, with 636 passengers on board, stranded in Somali pirate waters

It wasn't long before Winnie dropped into the chair on the opposite side of my desk. "So, I understand there was a little problem on a Costa Cruise ship today."

I looked up and tapped the tip of my pen repeatedly on the clear spot on the desk. "It was just a little fire. They put it out," I defended.

She leaned back in the chair and folded her arms across her chest. "Yes. And now they are--"

"Adrift, helplessly afloat in pirate infested waters." I said. "So what is your point?"

Winnie straightened a stack of papers on the corner of the desk before returning her gaze to me. "Well, how many boats does Costa Cruises have? Will there be any left by the time you go on your cruise?"

I angled my chin up. "We bought the insurance. If we get sick, or break a leg, or they run out of ships, we'll get our money back."

Sandra came over at that point. "You talking about the cruise?" she said, smiling.

"If there are any boats left, after today's disaster," Winnie said.

Sandra had not heard of the newest disaster. I told her, trying to make it sound less intimidating. "It was just a little fire on the Costa Allegra, and now it is adrift, but there is a large fishing boat in the area and tugs are on the way. Should be there tomorrow."

"In the meantime, the waters are infested with Somali pirates, and they are helplessly adrift," Winnie expounded.

"Yeah, but they have armed guards aboard," I countered.

Sandra's mouth dropped open. "They have armed guards on a cruise ship?"

I shrugged. "Just a few."

Sandra and I have talked about it. If they haven't gone through all their ships by the time we leave for the cruise, we are going to wear our life jackets to dinner, and sleep in our bathing suits. "I'm kind of hoping they'll move us up to a better cabin. Right now we're in steerage."

"Oh," said Winnie, "you'll probably have your choice of rooms."

This morning's article went on to say:

Since the Allegra may be stranded without power to operate the vast kitchens, Sandra and I have decided to take some snack crackers, a can of cheese whiz, and a couple of boxes of breakfast energy bars. We'll lock them in the safe. If I can figure out how to smuggle some coconut rum aboard, we'll do that too. We'll call it our "personal insurance plan."

After all:

Today's fire-caused loss of propulsion on the Costa Allegra comes 15 months after a cruise ship operated by sister line Carnival was left adrift for days following an engine room fire. The 3,006-passenger Carnival Splendor was off the coast of Mexico at the time of the incident and eventually had to be towed back to California.

The people on the Splendor had to eat Pop Tarts that were dropped onto the ship while it was being towed to port.

Sandra plans to take some seasickness pills. Being adrift is a lot rougher than being underway. I'm taking my computer with me. As long as there is power and wifi, I'll keep you informed.

I wonder if the people aboard the Allegra got a good deal on their passage?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

High Tea and Motives for Murder

Today I had high tea with a group of ladies living at an Independent & Assisted Living Seniors complex. It was a great place to conduct research for "Say Cheese Before You Die." After introducing myself, and explaining what the book is about, I asked the ladies to tell me what their husbands do/did that made them want to kill them.

At first the ladies' flowery china cups stopped halfway to their mouths, and their eyes grew large. One of them choked on a blueberry muffin, while another slapped her on the back, dislodging her hearing aid. "Oh, my husband was wonderful," one said. "He was always there for me when I needed him."

The other ladies nodded. "Yes, my husband is such a sweet man. I'd never want to kill him," another said.

I sipped some decaffeinated, herbal tea and raised one brow. "So none of your husbands ever did anything to annoy you? They never did anything to make you want to give them a knuckle sandwich?" The china clinked as I set the cup on the saucer. My gaze circled the table. "They never left the toilet seat up?"

Their expressions changed from angelic to demonic. "Well, as a matter of fact, there was something my husband used to do that annoyed me," Agnes, a tiny woman with a string of pearls resting on her gray angora turtleneck, said. The rest of the women pushed their walkers out of the way and scooted closer to the table. "We lived in a very nice neighborhood, with a large garage, and a driveway big enough for both of our cars, but he would always park on the street whenever he wanted to go out again."

The ladies gasped, and one patted Agnes on the hand in commiseration.

"And my Franklin, is always forgetting people's names," Maria said, as she straightened her napkin over her soft plaid, Pendleton woolen skirt. "So I will say, 'Franklin, you remember Margaret and Herb, don't you?' so that he has their names. Instead of just saying, 'Yes,' he says, 'Of course I remember them,' like I'm stupid for having thought he didn't."

There was a chorus of low growls.

"That has often made me want to hold a pillow over his face," Maria said.

"And no one would blame you," Margaret agreed.

Now the ladies seemed eager to discuss annoying habits. "Oh, and my husband likes to feed the cat on the counter by the sink." Edith chimed in. "It just makes my skin crawl. You know where those paws have been."

Everyone shivered.

We spent the next hour discussing extenuating circumstances for murder, amid tea cookies and muffins. When the wall clock clicked onto 4PM, I excused myself, took all the china cups out to the kitchen, and washed them. When I finished, most of the ladies were still gathered around the tea table. "That was a most enjoyable tea," one said, and they all smiled and nodded.

I love research. As my co-worker said after spending a couple of hours discussing this same subject over lunch, "Time flies when you are planning murders."

What does your spouse/significant other do that annoys you?

Editor's note: Melanie Sherman does not advocate murdering your spouse, even if he leaves the seat up. This was research for a fictional murder.