Wordsmith Jaine Austen's ship has finally come in. Her new teaching gig on a fancy cruise line nabs her a free vacation--and access to a 24-hour buffet! But sooner than you can say "bon voyage," Jaine's all-expenses-paid trip to the Mexican Riviera seems destined to be a wreck. . . Things are already off to a rocky start when Jaine discovers a stowaway amidst her luggage--her persnickety cat Prozac. Jaine's sinking sensation grows stronger at dinner, where she meets chatty Emily Pritchard, a wealthy seventy-year-old who's traveling with her two nephews. Jaine can't help noticing the tension among them, especially when the cruise's charming--and sleazy--British dancer, Graham, whisks Emily out onto the dance floor. Soon Emily is accepting Graham's invitations to every social event on the ship. Two nights later the bubbly couple announces their engagement, but the news is quickly overshadowed the next morning by the discovery of Graham's body with an ice pick protruding from his chest. . . Between hiding a furry fugitive, flirting with Emily's nephew Robbie, and baiting the hook for a clever murderer, Jaine is about to dive into her most dangerous case yet. . .
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April 06, 2010
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Excerpt from Killer Cruise by Laura Levine
The good news about my cruise is, I didn't get seasick. The bad news is, I almost got hacked to death by a raving loony. But, hey. Life's funny that way. My life, that is. Just when I think things are going smoothly someone comes along and tries to eviscerate me.
But let's rewind to the day it all began, shall we? My neighbor Lance was stretched out on my bed, watching me as I raced around tossing clothes into a suitcase. "I still can't believe you're going on a cruise by yourself," he said, shaking his blond curls in disbelief.
Yes, it's true. I, Jaine Austen, a woman whose idea of a Mexican vacation is a two-for-one Burrito Day at Taco Bell, was about to head off on my first cruise to Mexico. Or, as we cognoscenti say, Me-hi-co! And the best thing was, it was absolutely free!
I'd answered an ad in the L.A. Times from a cruise company looking for lecturers, and much to my surprise and delight, they'd hired me. All I had to do was teach a few lessons on Writing Your Life Story, and the generous folks at Holiday Cruise Lines were picking up my tab.
"But, Jaine," Lance pointed out, "the average age on these cruises is dead. How do you expect to meet anybody?" "I'm not going on the cruise to meet anybody. I'm going for the adventure, the scenery, the Latin culture."
Oh, who was I kidding? I was going for the twenty-fourhour buffet. Imagine! Dessert on tap any time day or night. Talk about heaven.
"Gaack! You can't possibly be taking that," Lance said, pointing to a perfectly serviceable Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs T-shirt. "They'll make you walk the plank in that thing."
"This happens to be a collector's item," I sniffed.
"A garbage collector's," he sniffed right back.
Some people just don't appreciate kitsch.
"I'm sorry I can't take you to the pier like I was supposed to," he said, grimacing at a pair of my elastic-waist shorts, "but I've got to be at work in a half hour."
"That's okay. It's not your fault I'm running so late," I said, eyeing my cat, Prozac, who was perched atop my dresser. "A certain someone took a tinkle on my open suitcase this morning. Which meant I had to run out and buy a new suitcase and do an emergency load of laundry, which slowed me down a good hour or three."
Prozac glared down at me through slitted eyes that seemed to say:
You're lucky it was just a tinkle.
"Poor thing is upset that you're going away," Lance tsked.
"Upset? That's putting it mildly. Think King Kong with hairballs. I don't see why you're making such a fuss, Pro. After all, Grandma and Grandpa are flying in all the way from Florida to take care of you."
Her tail twitched the way it always does when she's on the warpath.
Your parents are not my "grandma" and "grandpa." And if your mother tries to put a bow in my hair like she did the last time, I won't be held responsible for the consequences.
"Hey, I'd better get going," Lance said, springing up from my bed, "or I'll be late for work. Which reminds me, we're having a sale on Jimmy Choo. Want me to pick up a pair for you?"
Lance, who is gainfully employed as a shoe salesman at Neiman Marcus, can never seem to remember that the only thing I can afford from Jimmy Choo is his box.
"No, thanks." I smiled wanly.
"Well, good-bye then," he said, taking me in his arms for a farewell hug. "Have fun on the poop deck, whatever the heck that is."
After Lance left to fondle rich ladies' feet at Neiman's, I finished packing, all the while dreaming of seven days lolling in a deck chair and soaking up the sun. When I was done, I turned to Prozac, who was still glaring at me from her perch atop my dresser.
"So long, sweetheart," I said, scooping her in my arms. "You be good now, hear?"
Yeah, right. Whatever.
Wriggling free from my grasp, she leapt onto my bedspread, which she began clawing with a vengeance. I'd be surprised if it was still in one piece when I got back.
I picked up my bags and headed out to the living room, fighting back waves of guilt. In spite of Prozac's abominable behavior, I felt bad about leaving her. What can I say? When it comes to my cat, I'm a hopeless sap, mere putty in her paws.
Oh, well. I couldn't fret. Prozac would be fine. My mother would stuff her with human tuna and spoil her rotten.
I took one last look around my apartment, bidding farewell to my overstuffed sofa and my straggly philodendron plant, then headed outside.
It was a glorious day, complete with crayon-blue skies, fluffy white clouds, and palm fronds rustling in the breeze. What perfect weather to set sail for the high seas. Luckily I'd nabbed a parking spot in front of my duplex. I loaded my suitcase and tote bag in the trunk of my car and was just about to shut the lid when I realized I'd forgotten to pack my Giant Book of New York Times Crossword Puzzles, which I intended to work my way through during my seven days at sea, a succession of free strawberry smoothies at my side.
With a sigh of impatience, I dashed back to my apartment and into my bedroom, where Prozac had abandoned my bedspread and was now busily attacking my pillow. I could've sworn I'd left the crossword book on my night table, but it wasn't there.
I looked in the living room, the bathroom, and kitchen, and was about to give up when I finally saw it peeking out from under the living room sofa. No doubt Prozac had hidden it there--just her thoughtful way of saying "bon voyage."
I grabbed it and raced back out to the Corolla, where I tossed it into the trunk and got behind the wheel, excitement mounting. At last I was headed off for a fabulous week of cruising!
Bidding adieu to the cares and woes of my workaday life, I took off with a smile on my lips and a song in my heart.
And--what I didn't know at the time--a cat in the trunk of my car.