International waters weren’t quite the same as the “lawless West” but that didn’t stop wanted criminals from seeking refuge on them.
“It would be nice if all of our targets would relocate themselves to comfortable cruise ships before we picked them up,” Val said, leaning back onto the deck chair as she sipped from her tropical fruit beverage with a tiny umbrella.
“Have you seen Tam this morning?” Anna asked without looking up from the book she was reading.
“Not since last night,” Val said. “Do you think her date worked out well?”
“I expect our friend was able to work some magic,” Anna said with a smile.
Beyond the bow of the ship, a field of cobalt blue spread to the horizon where it met the cloudless sky. A river of sparkling light ran across the gently flowing ocean, the waves of the Atlantic dancing in lazy ripples in the midday sun. If a moment could be frozen in time, the tableau before Anna and Val would have been a good choice to hang in a museum.
“Did I miss anything?” Tam asked, taking one of the chairs beside Anna, and cracking open her laptop.
“We found our bad guy,” Val said.
“What? Where is he?” Tam asked, glancing around the deck.
“Other side of the pool,” Val said. “Right over there.” She gestured with the drink she was holding towards where a man in “casual wear” which had very obviously been purchased from the cruise ship’s gift shop was staring back at them.
“Wow, I thought he was hiding better than that,” Tam said and turned to look at her friends.
“He was,” Anna said. “He was holed up in his cabin and hadn’t left it since we left port.”
“We checked that though!” Tam said. “No one checked into his cabin. And you said he was probably hiding below decks somewhere.” She pointed to Val, who shrugged in return.
“No one moved into the cabin that was booked in his name,” Anna said. “What we had not checked was the cabin he booked with one of PrimaLux’s accounts though.”
“He booked something through Prima?” Tam asked. “How did I miss that?”
“It wasn’t Prima directly,” Anna said. “He booked his second stay through a company called Black Gate Security. I would guess that they are indirectly owned by Prima.”
“I’m so sorry,” Tam said. “I should have been here to help you with him.”
“Nonsense,” Anna said. “You were otherwise engaged.”
“Yeah, if we wanted to nab ourselves Mr. Geoffrey St. Laurents, he’d be stuffed in a sack somewhere already,” Val said.
“I’m still trying to parse why he isn’t to be honest,” Tam said. “Wasn’t the whole point of this trip to capture a VP of PrimaLux who was on the run from the law?”
“It is,” Anna agreed.
“Why wait then?” Tam asked.
“The cruise is scheduled to go for five more days,” Val said. “Our options are grab him now and be forced to sit on him for the remaining duration of the trip, or we can leave him free to wander and grab him before he gets off the boat.”
“There are not many places he can hide from us here, or anywhere he can go if he wishes to leave,” Anna said.
“For the time being, this boat is basically his prison,” Val said. “We’ll worry about moving him to somewhere more fitting once we can see land again.”
“Until then, relax, enjoy yourself,” Anna said. “You do not take enough vacations.”
Tam looked them both over to see if they were joking. It was true that she didn’t take much time off. Between her stage career and the work she did for the Second Chance club, not to mention her studies into the arcane arts, and keeping current on the latest advances in computer security, she wasn’t exactly overwhelmed with free time. She tried to think of the last real vacation she’s taken and couldn’t think of one within even a decade.
“And on that note,” Val said. “How did things go with Cynthia? She looked amazing in that dress last night!”
“We had a nice little walk on the deck in the moonlight after we left the dinner,” Tam said. “Then we helped her grandmother back to their suite.”
“And the Do Not Disturb sign on your door this morning?” Anna asked.
“We, uh, might have slept in a little late?” Tam said.
Val glanced up at the sky.
“We’re pretty close to noon unless the sun’s lying to me up there,” she said.
“I’m used to keeping performer’s hours,” Tam protested.
“I just mean did you have breakfast yet or was it cuddles and fun all morning long?” Val asked.
“The second one,” Tam said as her stomach growled feebly.
“Well fear not, we’ve got you covered,” Val said and passed a covered tray over to Tam.
A full breakfast with an assortment of Tam’s favorite options, both sugary and healthy, was waiting for her.
“Aww,” she said, surprise and joy lighting up her face. “This is really nice. How did you know when I’d be catching up with now you though?”
“We didn’t,” Anna said. “We’ve just asked them to bring a new tray every half hour or so.”
“Wow, I forgot what cruises were like with food,” Tam said as she dug into the first meal she’d had in over half a day.
“It would be nice if Geoff could see it like that too,” Val said. “He hasn’t had a thing to eat all morning. He’s just been sitting there, looking all twitchy.”
“So he knows we’re here,” Tam said between bites. “What did you two do to him? No wait, first, how did you find him?”
“That was all Anna,” Val said. “I thought we were going to have turn the ship upside down looking for him.”
“That wouldn’t have helped,” Anna said. “If he was the sort of person to literally hide out on ship like this then we might never have found him. There are too many places to look and too few of us to do so.”
“But you did find him, and pretty quickly too,” Tam said. “What gave him away?”
“The maids,” Anna said. “When we didn’t see him at any of the dinner locations during the first two nights, it was obvious that he was taking his meals in his room.”
“We thought he might have seen us when we were boarding, and that seemed to be confirmation of it,” Val said.
“If he had been a little nicer, I’m not sure if the cleaning staff would have been as willing as they were to speak about him,” Anna said. “It’s not uncommon for guests to get sick on the first few days of a cruise, but, as I expected, St Laurents was frightened and people like him rarely grow more patient or kind when gripped by fear.”
“Once we knew which rooms the hermits were cloistered in all we had to do was grab a room service tray and knock on their doors,” Val said.
“Mr. St. Laurents was our third stop,” Anna said. “He was relatively unhappy to see us.”
“Yeah, I can imagine so,” she said. “We cost him his job by foiling Prima’s scheme to corner the market on antiretrovirals.”
“We weren’t the ones who burned his house down though,” Val said. “That was all Prima.”
“I wonder if he knows that?” Tam asked.
“He has been informed of it,” Anna said. “Whether or not he believed me is his own choice to make.”
“He seemed like he was more afraid of Prima finding him than us, so I’m going to guess that he has a good idea what the story is with his former employers.”
“I’m hard pressed to find much sympathy for him,” Tam said. “Anything he’s expecting Prima to do to him is probably something he’s done to someone else.” After a pause she added, “Do you think he’ll try something unwise?”
“Like attacking us?” Anna said. “He seemed desperate but also pragmatic. We checked his room and he has no weapons available beyond what he can scavenge on the boat.”
“I’d peg him as clever enough to loot a decent chef’s knife from somewhere,” Val said. “If he really intended to fight us, he could probably find a broom handle or something to put together a spear.”
“That wouldn’t get him very far, but he could hurt someone else,” Tam said.
“There’s no profit in an attack like that,” Anna said. “If he hurts anyone, the crew will make sure he’s brought before the authorities the moment we’re back in port.”
“And from there it’ll be all over for him given the warrant that’s out for his arrest,” Val said.
“What about the Captain?” Tam asked. “The staff could lock him up for the duration of the voyage couldn’t they?”
“They could,” Anna said. “We need more than Geoffrey St. Laurents in custody though,” Anna said. “We need him willing to work with us freely. He has a wealth of information on PrimaLux, including details on their plans that we haven’t seen come to light yet. Unless he’s on our side however, we’ll never get that kind of information out him.”
“Our idea is that we let him enjoy the trip,” Val said. “We don’t hang around or act creepy. He’s trapped on the boat so we’ll give him some space, and let him come around to the idea of helping up on his own.”
“Or at least we can plant the seed,” Anna said. “If we are going to have a productive relationship with him later, starting from a basis of trust will make things much easier.”
“That means we don’t follow him when he gets up and starts heading inside, right?” Tam asked.
“Yes,” Anna said. “You’re timing was excellent in that regards. When we met him last night, he saw only two of us. When you joined us just now it showed that our team was larger than he expected. If I were in his shoes, I would presume that our team has at least two other members on his case.”
“So whatever he’s planning now will be trying to take into account fighting five of us?” Tam asked.
“Three he can identify and two others who could anyone onboard the ship,” Anna said. “It creates a difficult problem space to work in. His best bet will be to fold and begin working for us.”
“Whether or not he does that though, we can look forward to five days of leisure if all goes well,” Val said.
“I feel a little guilty getting a headstart on that while you two were still working,” Tam said. “I honestly thought we’d called it for night though.”
“We had,” Anna said. “It was just a curiosity of mine that led me to try approaching the cleaning staff.”
“And I tagged along in case Geoffrey had any surprises waiting for us,” Val said. “Turns out security getting onto the ship is pretty good though. He was harmless.”
“Wow, I guess I might be free tonight too then,” Tam said.
“If you would like to spend the evening with Cynthia, please, go, enjoy yourself,” Anna said. “We do no one any favors if we spend all of lives forgetting to live.”
“Plus you two are adorable,” Val said and polished off the last of her drink.
“Well, she’s going to be busy for most of the day helping out her grandmother,” Tam said. “We’ve got a giant cruise ship, plenty of food, tons of games, and entertainment that I, for a change, do not have work on. What would you two like to do next?”
As Tam glanced up from her food, thunder boomed from beneath them and the ship shuddered like an earthquake had hit them in the middle of the ocean. From one of the doors to the inner corridors of the ship, smoke started to rise.
“Most likely we will need to take care of that,” Anna said. “I hope I am wrong though.”
“About what?” Tam asked.
“I fear I may have misjudged Mr. St. Laurent,” Anna said. “Desperation is rarely harmless and I may have overlooked just how truly afraid he was.