Excerpt from SEA OF HOPE:
Doria hummed an old sea chantey as she stirred the sauce on the stove. She couldn’t remember the last time she felt like singing. Evidently, her conscious effort to leave all her problems on the dock in Port Harbor had worked.
“So tell us about Ted,” George asked as he and Chad played rummy at the table.
The question didn’t bother her. Not at all. Ted could never reach her here.
“Ted is a cad,” Doria replied. “His veneer makes him appear to be a gentleman, but once you get to know him better, you find out he is nothing more than an ordinary, verbally abusive control freak.”
“Gee, now I feel bad about leaving Port Harbor,” Chad complained.
“Yeah, we could have dumped a load of nice, cold dead fish on him.” George smiled as he laid down a row of aces.
In her mind, Doria pictured the suave, debonair Ted surrounded by a mountain of fish. Ted, who could be obsessive about cleanliness, would go nuts. Doria smiled.
“Now you know it wouldn’t be right to do that,” Chad added soberly.
“Why not?” George asked.
Chad pulled a card from the top of the deck.
“They wouldn’t be just cold and dead. They would also be smelly—a few days old, perhaps,” Chad mused. “Maybe a week old.”
Doria laughed. The men joined her. The simple camaraderie warmed her.
Chad stopped laughing and laid down a king, queen, and jack. “Rummy,” he called with delight.
“I hate it when you do that,” George grumbled.
“Sorry.” Chad grinned. “But you know, this is my favorite part of the trip. Playing cards with you and winning.”
George shuffled the cards with a certain amount of vengeance and dealt them out. “I’ll get you this time,” he promised.
Doria turned back to her humming and stirring. She had forgotten how cozy and comfortable the Merrichase was. Brightly lit and clean, it had always been the best ship out of Port Harbor. A heavy feeling of regret seeped into her, crowding out the wonderful sense of freedom that had given her a brief respite of peace. She would never go out on the Merrichase again. This would be her last trip.
The timer on the stove startled her from her reflections. She had made a tangy orange cake that would taste like sunshine. As she removed the pans from the oven and set them on a rack on the counter top to cool, she sniffed the fragrant layers. Her mother had taught her this recipe a long, long time ago. A tear eked out of the corner of her eye.
“That smells great,” Chad commented.
“It isn’t anybody’s birthday,” George said. “Is it?”
“I thought we’d celebrate Murray’s first trip out as full-fledged captain of the Merrichase.” Doria hastily dashed away the tear before anyone could see.
“Let’s just eat the cake,” George muttered. “And skip the celebration part.”
“Why?” Doria asked. She intended to draw a ship’s wheel on the cake with mocha frosting.
Chad put his cards down on the table and rubbed his eyes. “George is right. It wouldn’t go over well with Murray.”
Doria frowned. “Because Dad died?”
“Murray’s been acting captain for about three months,” Chad answered.
“Three and a half months,” George corrected as he laid down a row of tens. “Your father spent a couple weeks in the hospital. From that point on, he stayed in his cabin a lot. Unless it was nice outside. Then we’d set him up on deck in a chair. He liked that.”
Chad picked up his cards again. “He ate better those days.”
Doria held on to the counter top. She suddenly felt sick. Worse than sick. Guilt pressed down on her. Her father had needed her and she hadn’t been there for him. The memory of her father’s last few hours haunted her. That day, she had driven into Port Harbor unannounced. She had found her father in bed in his cabin with Murray standing guard. She had called an ambulance. Murray had yelled at her. Her father had begged her to let him die on his boat. He had died in the hospital.
She shoved the nightmare away and took a deep breath.
“Well, all right. We could celebrate the fact that Murray owns the Merrichase now.” Her tone took on a hard edge but neither Chad nor George seemed to notice the rancor in her voice. They didn’t look up from their game.
George shrugged. “He’ll probably put it up for sale in a few weeks.”
“He doesn’t have much time before the trial,” Chad said.
“What trial?” Doria wrinkled up her nose.
The two men lifted their heads and gave her puzzled frowns.
“Don’t you know?” George asked.
A cold shiver ran up her spine. “What?”
“Murray’s been accused of murder,” Chad explained. “His trial is on January 6th.”
Doria stared at them as her mouth went dry. She was out in the middle of the ocean with a murderer. “W-who did he kill?”
“He didn’t do it,” Chad informed her.
“Who?” her voice rose.
“He was set up,” George stated.
“Who died?” Doria pounded the counter top for emphasis.
“A former fiancée of Murray, Kelly Morris,” Chad said quietly. “Didn’t you read about it?”
Doria shook her head.
“It was in all the papers,” George said. “On the television news, too.”
She drew her arms around her body. “Somebody broke into my apartment and stole the TV.”
“It happened at the hospital,” Chad stated softly. “Murray is accused of injecting Kelly Morris with the wrong medication. After breaking her engagement to Murray, Kelly became engaged to a man named Alex Kuhlman. She wound up in the ER after a supposed fall in her home.”
Doria could barely breathe. “A murderer? And he took care of my father?” Her lips started to tremble as she remembered how Murray had yelled at her when she called the ambulance for her father. Then she looked down at the bandage covering her burn and her body started to shake.
“He didn’t do it.” Chad got up from the table.
Doria ran to her cabin, slammed the door, and locked it.
“You can’t possibly believe Murray would commit murder,” his voice sounded muffled over the constant rumble of the engine. “His only mistake was leaving Kelly alone for a few minutes. He suspected that she had not fallen down the steps but had been pushed instead after Kuhlman battered her first.”
“Hey, what do I do with this sauce stuff?” George pounded on the door. “It’s boiling over.”
Doria reached for the doorknob but stopped herself before she opened it. “Turn the heat down.”
“Please,” Chad begged. “Have some faith in the man. He was so kind and gentle in caring for your father. If only you had been here. You would understand.”
She let out a sob and crumpled to the floor. Chad kept calling to her for a few more minutes but she didn’t listen to the words. She wallowed in her misery, wondering how much it would cost to have a helicopter pluck her from the deck and get her back to dry land. Or maybe they would pass by another fishing vessel and she could make her escape with the lifeboat.
Murder. The word caught in her throat. She had nearly been killed on a New York City street by a deranged madman. He had held a gun to her head while other pedestrians gawked at the spectacle as if the event had been staged for their entertainment. Only one man had the presence of mind to throw his attaché case at the criminal and shout for the police.
But Murray had committed his crime silently, with a thin, slender needle and deadly poison. The thought chilled her to the bone. What kinds of medicine had Murray given her father? Could her father have bestowed the Merrichase to Murray under the influence of some mind-altering drug?
If he did, would there be some kind of evidence?
Doria dried her eyes on her sleeve and got up from the floor. This cabin had been the one her father used. Modern and utilitarian, it didn’t offer many hiding places. There were three bunk beds and six small cabinets to stow personal gear.
She sniffed and headed for the cabinets. After a quick inspection, she found one locked cabinet. Logically, it must contain her father’s personal effects but the possibility existed that some significant clue resided in there as well. A scrap of paper, a prescription bottle, a needle. She fought against the queasy feeling in her stomach.
She needed a key. She tore through her backpack and found a pair of cuticle scissors. Jamming them into the keyhole, she concentrated on trying to spring the lock. She didn’t even hear the cabin door open. When Murray spoke she jumped.
“You were the one who wanted to come on this trip and cook for us,” his deep voice rumbled. “So get out in the kitchen and finish the meal.”
Her heart hammered in her chest but she drew herself up to face him with her scissors clutched firmly at her side, just in case. He stood casually, leaning up against one of the bunks with his gaze fixed on the floor.
She wavered in her defensive stance. He didn’t look like a murderer. She stiffened her spine. Hah. What was a murderer supposed to look like? They committed their inhuman acts in moments of rage, like the man who had held a gun to her head.
For some unknown reason Murray went off the deep end one day and slipped a deadly needle into his ex-fiancé’s arm. The question was whether he executed her father in the same way.
“W-what medications did you give to my father?” she stuttered.
He lifted his head and sighed. Doria realized his eyes were the same shade of green as the ocean on a bright day. She blinked and stared in wonder for a moment.
“I can give you a list,” he stated. “But perhaps you should talk to the pharmacist since you won’t believe me anyway.”
She shivered as she noticed the scar above his right eyebrow. It lent him the air of a pirate. Greedy and ruthless, he had taken everything from her.
“I want the key to this cabinet,” she demanded.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out his keys. Slowly, he worked one off the ring. He held it out to her. Doria picked it out of his hand. His skin felt warm as she touched it. The key held the same warmth.
“We aren’t going back until we have our limit of porgies in the hold.” He turned and left her in the cabin.
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