Sorry for the delay in posting. As always, any comments/critcisms are greatly appreciated!
“Rather fine day, isn’t it, love?”
The voice cracked her concentration, and the teacup tilted backwards, staining her white sundress.
“Oh! Dear God…” She grabbed a handful of serviettes from the table, only to find the white paper stuck firmly to the wet portions of her dress, giving her the appearance of a half-plucked chicken.
“Here, try this, love.”
She looked up, hesitantly taking the proffered towel. The man was right; it did help, although there was still an unsightly brown stain running down her chest.
“I’m terribly sorry about that, love. I didn’t…I mean, I…”
“My name is Eva. Eva Castillo.” The woman smiled “So you don’t have to keep calling me ‘love’.”
The man scratched his chin. “Castillo…as in the famous Dr Eva Castillo?”
Eva laughed lightly. “If you consider commandeering cruise ships and subjecting their crews to rigorous training cause for fame, then, yes, I suppose I am.”
“The media says you have quite the track record. In preventing the outbreaks, that is.”
“The media’s goal is to solicit an audience, not report facts.”
“Still, I feel I’m in safe hands.”
“I’m flattered, Mister…”
The woman nodded. “Mister Winchester.”
A small smirk gilded the man’s face as he adjusted his oversized Gucci sunglasses. The smile disappeared, however, when the man heard a small click come from the table behind him. Instinctively, he pushed the woman beneath the table, ignoring her indignant cry, and pulled a handgun from his inside coat pocket.
“Long time, no see.” The man spun around to see a group of uniformed waiters standing behind him. Each held a gun or pistol.
The man’s arm twitched, and one dozen firearms were pointed at his heart.
“Drop the weapon,” said the closest waiter, a middle-aged Oriental woman with bushy eyebrows and a deadly stare.
The man complied, setting the handgun on the floor.
“Kick it away,” said the waiter.
“If you say so…” The man gently nudged the gun under the tablecloth with his foot.
“Where is it, Parker?”
“Where is what?”
“The hard drive. We know you’ve been spying on us.” The Oriental woman cracked her neck.
“Really, Christine, do we have to do this here?” The man sounded exasperated. “This ship is full of innocent people.”
“You have a warped sense of innocence,” said the woman dryly. “This ship is full of mob bosses, loan sharks, and mafia dons. And you, of course. But that can be corrected. Boys?”
Two of the larger waiters advanced towards the man, and he placed his hands in the pockets of his jacket.
“As enjoyable as this has been…”
A pair of shots rang out. One of the burly waiters fell to his knees, and Christine clutched her arm. The man knocked the table over, grabbed Eva, and began to run.
The man triple-bolted the cabin door as Eva bent over the vanity, breathing heavily.
“Who…the hell…you’re not…name’s not…Rodney Winchester, is it?”
“Sorry, poppet,” said the man. “The name’s Parker.”
“Is that a first name or a last name?”
“Has anyone ever old you that you ask too many questions?”
“It’s in my job description,” Eva snapped. “And what on earth are you doing?”
“It’s an inflatable lifeboat,” said Parker. “You don’t think they’re going to leave us alone, do you? After that scene?”
“You expect me…to get into that…with you? I don’t think so.”
“Well, you’d better think now, doctor, if you feel like getting off this boat alive!”
As if on cue, the cabin door shuddered. The impact was followed by the sound of shattering glass, and an alarm.
“Well, that’s our cue!” said Parker. He opened the door to the balcony, pushing the inflatable boat outside. “After you, love.”
“What do you…?”
“Or I can push you.”
“So, you’re a secret agent? Like James Bond?”
The orange lifeboat rocked against the billowing waves as Parker rowed and Eva chatted. In her defence, speaking was the only thing currently distracting her from the unpleasant bubbling happening in her stomach, and she was afraid she’d vomit if she paused for breath.
Even if Parker knew this, he wouldn’t have cared. Taking care of babbling women wasn’t in his job description, and the fact that the one next to him was responsible for his aborted mission annoyed him immensely. But Parker knew the boss, never mind half the world, would have his head if something happened to Dr Eva Castillo. Therefore, he gritted his teeth and doubled the pace.
“…water’s so blue and clean, isn’t it? And the sun sparkling on it almost looks like a diamond mine here in the open…just water, no sign of any…Parker? Parker!”
“Did you even think this through? We’re stranded on a lifeboat in the middle of God-knows-where, no food, no water, not to mention the unsanitary nature of this…”
The woman was going into hysterics, Parker decided.
“…that even consider adequate vaccinations against tropical maritime vectors…”
“Where did you learn to shoot a gun like that?”
Eva paused, then frowned. “I asked you a question first!”
Parker chuckled. “You asked me a lot of questions, love.”
“You answer mine first, then I’ll answer yours.”
Parker chuckled again. The woman had gumption. He wouldn’t be surprised if she were another undercover agent, sent to provide back-up. “There’s a tracer in my shoe, poppet. My people will be here soon.”
Eva muttered something about that not being soon enough.
“The gun, love?”
“I can’t fire a gun,” Eva said. “Those were curare-tinged darts from my dart-blower. The gunshots were just a distraction.”
Parker inspected the small device Eva passed to him. Perhaps she isn’t entirely useless…
At first, it was difficult for Parker to believe the petite woman from the cruise ship was the great Eva Castillo. She was talkative, sensitive, messy, and clumsy. They were stranded on the boat for five hours; in that time, she had talked up a storm, managed to fall overboard, set the oars on fire, cried five times, and shot Parker in the arm with one of her dummy darts.
But she was clever. Parker had to give her that. He made this discovery twenty-eight hours after their rescue by the HMS Neptune. After a nap, a good meal, and a hot shower, Parker went down to the control room to meet with his boss. Surprisingly, Eva was already there.
Oh, goody, goody. The boss gets to chew me out in front of a pretty girl. Wait a minute…did I just call her pretty?
The boss did indeed “chew him out”, although Parker was surprised by the comparative leniency of the scolding. It must have been because Eva was in the room, he decided. Although she did look quite pleased to see Parker in trouble…or was that concern? Parker had never been good at reading women’s faces…beyond whether they were planning to shoot or let him live, of course.
“I’m sorry you had to hear that, doctor.” Parker’s boss was uncharacteristically cordial to Eva after he had finished his lecture. Must have been because the woman was an international celebrity. “Parker managed to compromise what should have been a very simple mission.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” said Eva. “It seems the balmy cruise vacation wasn’t everything the tourists expected.”
“Far from it,” said the boss. “But it’s our responsibility to keep the innocents safe and separate from our dealings, neither of which Parker seems to have managed.”
Parker shifted uncomfortably. It was horrid that Eva had become caught up in all of this.
Her next sentence, however, changed that view.
“Would this scheme happen to involve a ruby revolver?”
Parker jumped, then slammed his hands on the table. “How do you even know about that?”
Eva shrugged. “I’m a scientist. I listen and I look for clues.”
“The entire dining room staff and most of the cleaners on that cruise ship were underworld agents. When I was training them, I heard several rumours too interesting to simply pass over.”
“So you…went looking?”
“Well, I prefer the term ‘investigating’. And would you believe what I found…” Eva reached under her dress and produced a small, lipstick-red pistol.
“Look familiar, gentlemen?”
“By George…” Parker’s heart was pounding as he walked towards the woman. “D’you have any idea…”
“Oh, no, you don’t.” Eva hid the pistol behind her back. “Five hours stuck in a lifeboat with you…I think I deserve some kind of compensation for my efforts. Don’t you, Parker?”
Parker’s boss was grinning. This woman was very interesting.
Parker, on the other hand, was flustered. Highly unprofessional.
“Now, see here,” he said. “You have no idea how valuable that…”
“Eighteenth century French artifact with the legendary power to convert lead into precious jewels. Lost in the mid-nineteen hundreds, found two days ago. Estimated value three hundred and fifty million American dollars. Four hundred million euros in England. They value French history more than the Americans, it seems.”
The woman was, in Parker’s eyes, most certainly very clever.
The days turned into weeks, and Eva and Parker were still on board the HMS Neptune. Neither of them could leave until the rogue cruise ship had been sequestered and its crew apprehended. The passengers, most of whom had Interpol files, would also be detained for questioning. Since both the crew and passengers had seen Eva and Parker, the two had to stay hidden under the protection of the Secret Service.
Or, at least, that was the plan. And, as with all plans, this one went terribly awry.
There were three underworld agents on the HMS Neptune. Given the choice between kidnapping a British secret agent and an internationally-renowned epidemiologist, they chose the latter and placed a potent sleeping powder in the woman’s dinner. She hadn’t awoken until she was tied securely to the steam pipes on the cruise ship’s engineering deck…by which time, there was no one around to hear her scream.
It was six twenty-four in the morning when Parker found the note taped onto his bathroom mirror.
We have the girl.
You have twenty-four hours.
Come alone and unarmed.
Parker openly declared his arrival on the cruise ship. He was greeted with guns, threats, and smirks.
“Knew you’d come, you damn limey,” said Christine.
“Wouldn’t have missed it for the world, love.”
Christine grunted in response before disappearing below deck.
Parker was happy to advertise the fact that he was unarmed and ready to negotiate. What he didn’t advertise were the dozen or so British submarines surrounding the ship with torpedoes aimed for the hull if something were to go awry. Such a manoeuvre was undesirable, though, as it would cause both Parker and Eva to perish along with the rest of the ship.
Parker knew he had strong feelings for Eva. Whether it was guilt for dragging her into this mess or something more, he wasn’t sure. But he did know he had to get her off this ship safely. He owed her that much, at least.
Several guards donned in waiter uniforms escorted Parker to a meeting room, which housed a single, long table. At one end sat Christine. Next to her was Eva, gagged and bound. Her eyes were active, though they lacked the vigour they once had.
Parker winked at Eva. Don’t worry, poppet. I’ll get you out of this.
“Don’t make promises you can’t keep, limehead,” said Christine.
“Don’t try to be clever,” said Parker, taking a seat at his end of the table. “It won’t work.”
“Aye,” said Christine. “I’ve heard the clever one’s sitting right next to me. Doesn’t speak much for your agency, now, does it?”
Parker’s hands clenched under the table as he looked carefully at Eva. She had several cuts and bruises, and a black eye was forming on her right side.
“Like the new look?” asked Christine. “I did the eye.”
Parker’s knuckles were white. “What do you want?”
“The revolver. For starters.”
“Well, I don’t have it.”
“You said come unarmed. So I did. The ‘ruby revolver’ would count as an arm, wouldn’t it?”
Christine shrugged. “Then send word to your people to bring it here.”
“You think they’re that stupid?”
“No one who walks on this ship is going to leave alive.”
“And yet you’re here.” Christine smiled maliciously.
Parker shrugged. “You have something I need.”
“The doctor? Parker, have you gone soft on us?”
“No,” said Parker, feeling in his pocket for Eva’s dart-gun. “I just learnt a few new tricks.”
Several minutes later, Christine and the guards were laying on the floor, paralysed. The first thing Eva said when Parker untied her gag was: “Your handgun. Left boot, third buckle.”
“Thanks, love. Blow darts aren’t quite my style.”
“What was your plan, again?” Eva muttered as she and Parker pressed themselves against the stairwell wall.
“Get onto the boat and find Christine.” And you, of course. But he didn’t say that part.
“I didn’t think that far. But running seems like a good idea.”
With his handgun in one hand and Eva’s arm in the other, Parker dashed across the open deck towards the rail. Gunfire opened almost immediately, and Parker lifted Eva off her feet, carrying her in his arms, trying to shield her with his body.
“Good. Lord. In. Heaven.” muttered Eva.
“Hush,” grunted Parker. In one fluid movement he jumped over the deck rail, dropping himself and Eva into the seawater below.
“You can swim, right?”
“Of course I can swim, you stupid man. But what does…oh, God, you’ve been shot!”
Parker raised his head high enough to see a large, red stain quickly spreading across his chest. “Bloody hell,” he muttered. “This doesn’t…look…”
Due to policy arrangements, the funeral was not held until two weeks later. It was a small service, one for a brave comrade who had fallen in the line of duty, protecting the people he served. The media had a field day with the story, of course, and there was talk of a new movie focusing on an epidemiologist and a secret agent trapped on a modern-day Titanic.
But Eva heard none of it.
She saw only the stone marker, the name engraved neatly in curled print: “Phillip Parker Putnam. May he rest in peace.”
Neither his first nor his last name. The tears fell quickly, when they did fall, and she felt her heart crack open.
“I-I wonder…what h-he…oh, God, Eva don’t be stupid. You were just…just a…annoying little girl…”
In the distance, two bald men watched the scene. Large Gucci sunglasses covered most of their faces.
“You had to, you know,” said one man to the other. “There was no choice. You’d just put her in more danger.”
“I know,” replied the other man. “But it’s hard to see her like this.”
“It always is. But it will get better.”
The second man folded his arms. “You’re lying.”
The first man sighed. “Come on, Parker. Your next assignment is waiting.”