Jane’s relaxing vacation aboard ship turns into a test of patience and belief as criminal accusations are thrown in her direction. She weathers the storm by luck, and a little disappearing act by the book, but her troubles aren’t over as a mysterious shadow envelopes those around her. Her greatest comfort comes from the pages of the book, but she wonders what lies at the bottom of the wonderful ecstasy of those loving arms.
I threw aside the covers and wrapped myself in a robe before I went to the front door. I opened the door and found a crowd of people in the hall. Among them was the Neapolitan group, the captain, and Archer. There was also a crewman with a badge on his shoulder that resembled a police badge. The captain stood at the head of the group and the women crowded behind him.
“Miss Jane Johnson?” the captain asked me.
“Yes. Is something wrong?” I wondered as I looked over the many faces.
The women glared at me, the captain and crewman were perplexed, and Archer stood to the side with his arms crossed over his chest. There was a deep frown on his lips, and his eyes flickered to the women.
“We’re investigating the disappearance of a personal item from the dining hall, and we wondered if perhaps you knew its whereabouts,” the captain explained.
Renee pushed to the front of the group and stuck her face in mine. “Where’s the book?”
I started back. The accusation was clear. My hands shook, so I stuffed them under my armpits. “B-book? What book?” I stuttered.
“Don’t play dumb!” she snapped. “It’s the book Max brought to the table! The one he was going to give to me!”
“That is my book!” Lana argued.
“It’s obviously mine. He likes me the best,” Alicia countered.
The captain turned to them and held up his hand. “Ladies, if you will let me handle this,” he pleaded. Renee grudgingly stepped back, and the captain turned to me. “Do you know where the book is, or who took it?”
His first question told me all I needed to know. He suspected I took it, and the three women behind him believed it.
Archer dropped his arms and moved to stand beside the captain. “Is this really necessary? As I said before, it’s not worth this much trouble.”
The captain shook his head. “I’m afraid a theft is a theft, and if the book’s as rare as you say than it might be worth more than you think.”
“I would rather drop the whole matter, at least until morning,” Archer insisted.
“I’m afraid the trail might get cold. I’m sorry, Mr. Archer, but this has to be done.” The captain returned his attention to me. “Miss Johnson, would you mind if we searched your suite?”
I felt the color drain from my face, but there was nothing else to do. Refusal would have looked suspicious, and I didn’t want to spend the rest of my vacation under a cloud of suspicion and fear. It was better to get it out in the open.
I stepped aside and gestured to the suite. “Come right in.”
The group herded into the room. The captain and crewman got down to searching the place while the others stood off to my left. I nervously watched as their thorough appraisal crept closer and closer to the bedroom. I jumped when someone slipped beside me, and I looked to find it was Archer. His lips were pursed and he watched the proceedings with narrow eyes.
“I’m sorry for this,” he whispered.
I shook my head. “Not as sorry as I am.”
Renee pointed a finger at me. “Then you did take it!”
“Aren’t you jumping to conclusions?” Archer argued.
Her face softened and she wrapped herself around one of his arms. “But Maxie, darling, it’s your book, and you don’t even know this woman.”
“That doesn’t mean she should be treated with such disrespect,” he snapped.
Renee winced and slid off his arm. “But Max, you heard the captain. He has to investigate everyone.”
By this time the investigation took the crewmen into my room. I clasped my hands together in front of me and prayed to any god who could hear me that the book had wormed its way between the wall and the nightstand. It was a very long moment before the men emerged from my room. Their hands were empty. The captain walked up to me and bowed his head.
“I’m sorry for the intrusion, Miss Johnson. It seems we’ve made a terrible error,” he apologized.
Renee’s mouth dropped open. “Error? Didn’t you find the book?”
The captain shook his head. “No, ma’am. That being said, we must now search the rooms of the others who sat at the table.”
“What?” Renee shrieked. Her girl friends behind her paled.
“Search us?” Alicia yelped.
“This is profiling!” Lana argued. “You can’t search our rooms just because we sat at the table!”
“That is as much evidence as we had against this young lady, and she obliged without complain,” the captain pointed out.
Renee stamped her foot on the floor and balled her hands into fists at her side. “I won’t stand for it! No one is going to paw at my precious jewelry and clothes!”
Archer placed a hand on the captain’s shoulder. “This is getting out of hand, John. I think you should call of your search. I can afford the loss of the book, but I don’t think you can afford the bad publicity in searching every room on the ship.”
The captain pursed his lips, but sighed and nodded. “Very well, but I’ll need you to fill out a report.”
Archer smiled and patted his friend on the shoulder. “Gladly.”
“Then. . .then our rooms won’t be searched?” Alicia wondered.
The captain shook his head. “No, but I would like all of you to submit a short statement of when you last saw the book.”
“Of course, captain,” Renee obliged.
“But tomorrow. I think we’ve all lost enough sleep for one night,” Archer spoke up.
The captain tipped his hat at me and left the cabin. Alicia and Lana followed, but Renee held back. That’s because Archer stepped up to me and smiled down at me.
“I’m really very sorry for the trouble,” he apologized.
I smiled and shook my head. “It’s not your fault, and it isn’t the captain’s, either. He was just doing his job.”
“Maxie! Are you coming?” Renee whined.
He frowned and glanced over his shoulder. “You don’t have to stay.” Renee glared back and stomped from the room. He turned his attention back to me and his smile returned. “I hope this nightmare doesn’t mean you’ll stop coming to our table,” he commented.
I blinked at him. “But-then. . .then you still want me at the table?”
He chuckled. “Why wouldn’t I?”
I blushed and squirmed beneath his steady, innocent gaze. If he only knew what I knew.
“I-I guess I will,” I agreed.
“Excellent! Then I’ll see you at breakfast which should be-” he checked his gold watch, “-in about four hours.”
I looked at the floor and nodded. “I’ll be there.”
“Good. And goodnight,” he added as he stepped backwards towards the front door.
“Don’t you mean good day?” I teased.
“Not until I see the sun,” he quipped.
He tipped his head to me and slipped from the room. The latch clicked shut and I breathed a sigh of relief. They were gone, and my secret was safe.
But how was it safe?
I locked the front door and hurried into the bedroom. Something made me stop in the doorway. There on the nightstand, where even a blind man could find it, sat the book. My book. Its shimmering cover smiled back at me as I strode up to it. I brushed a hand across the book and furrowed my brow.
“How did you do it?” I whispered.
There was no response.