Blue Suede Murder
Chapter 1 - Trouble Something about vacations always brought me face to face with death. Murder usually. It wasn’t as if I went looking for criminal activity to engage a bored mind. Trouble found me. Despite my awareness of the quirk, I never expected to investigate a homicide involving an Elvis impersonator in the middle of the ocean. Seriously? Of all the boats in all the ports, why did the killer stow away on mine?
I twirled a shrimp on my fork and cringed at the awkward argument. Eyes landed on our table as people listened in and whispered snide remarks. I reverted to childhood before my parents were sensible enough to divorce.
My mother went into full attorney mode as she put my father on the stand and trapped him in a lie. My dad stuttered and peppered excuses.
Why did I ever agree to a dysfunctional family cruise? The only way to leave involved bailing into the ocean and swimming to shore. As the argument’s volume rose, the option became more tempting.
My phone buzzed with my best friend’s distinctive ringtone. “Excuse me.” I scrambled from the dining room outside to the balcony. “Lois Vo, your timing is impeccable.”
“Thank you. Why?”
I fished in my purse for the AirPods gifted by my father and enjoyed the hands-free call. Sea air whipped through my hair, ruining the 1950s inspired bouffant. “My parents are making me wish for an iceberg.”
Lois squealed. “Don’t say such things. It’s bad luck.”
“Where are you, by the way? You’re supposed to be here by now.”
“I’m coming but I ran into a little trouble on my way.”
“Why are you shushing me?”
A commotion overhead drew my attention. I stepped on the railing and peeked to the top deck. My red pump slipped, and I almost tumbled over. “Yikes.”
“What’s going on?”
“People are arguing on the sun deck. I think I recognize the voice.”
Lois’ skepticism rang through my ear. “And you are where exactly?”
“The main deck looking out the dining room balcony.” I adjusted my foothold for a better view. My polka dot dress flapped in the breeze and salty water misted my face.
“How can you possibly hear anything with two decks between you?”
“Three, actually. Something weird is happening with this ship, Lois.” A shadow bounced and an Adirondack chair spiraled into the ocean with a splash. “Uh-oh.”
“What’s happening now?”
“I need to hurry up top. I think I’m about to witness a murder.”
“This can only happen to you, Becky.”
I danced around an annoying couple swaying in the moonlight and maneuvered to the rear staircase. A janitor waved me off. “Take the central stairs. The area is closed.”
“This is an emergency.”
“Same thing that kid said before they called for me.”
I scrunched my nose and raced through the dining room. My clomping run drew my family’s attention but only briefly before they returned to round twelve of the fight.
I weaved around waiters and tipsy passengers on my way to the central stairs. My shoes slid across the waxed floor and I regretted my costume choice. I gripped the railing and chugged up the spiral staircase.
“What’s happening now?”
In the excitement, I forgot about Lois in my ear. “Still running.”
“Are you almost there?”
I sighed at the sign for the middle deck. “Not really.”
“Well, hurry. Who’s in trouble? Who’s the voice you recognize?”
“I don’t know yet.”
“Don’t get snippy. I’m not used to this dynamic.”
“Usually, you’re huffing and puffing a few yards behind me.”
“Not true.” She snorted. “But I hate being out of the loop. We should facetime.”
“Sure, let me stop, search for my phone, and hold it for you to see. Not like this is a race against the clock or anything.”
I twisted around a kid playing with a beach ball in the lobby of the upper deck. Someone should enact a law to ban beach balls from cruise ships. I lost count of how many smacked me in the head since boarding.
My breath labored as I passed the observation deck and hustled up the last flight. My feet pinched as the high heels cut into my skin. “This better not be another prank.”
Moonlight cast shadows over the top deck. At the far end, a family played shuffleboard. I brushed through their game to the aft of the ship. Or was the back called the stern?
My eyes scanned the length of the boat, searching for the source of the commotion only minutes earlier. Stars glistened in the swimming pool and a peaceful quiet chilled my spine.
“Who? Who?” Lois asked.
“I don’t know.”
My gaze fell on the neat rows of Adirondack chairs. Several folded in on themselves and slid out of line. Proof I didn’t imagine the brawl.
Starlight illuminated a figure leaning over the edge of the boat. A man dressed like Elvis Presley struggled with another guy. I gasped as recognition fluttered.
“What?” Lois squealed.
I jutted around a corner, sprinting the length of the ship. I lost sight of the men for a few seconds until I came out the other end.
A body flew over the railing. Splash!
Elvis turned, scrubbing a hand through his pompadour.
Air left my lungs as a truck mowed me down. “Justin, did you throw my little brother overboard?”
“Justin?” Lois croaked. “As in our actor pal Justin Woods?”
“I’m going to have to call you back.” My knees buckled as I disconnected. “What…”
His face paled. “This isn’t what you think, Tumbler.”
But I’m getting ahead of myself. My troubles started days before I boarded the Blue Suede Cruise.