Cruising for Murder - Elizabeth Spann Craig - ebook
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When Myrtle and her friend Miles set out for adventure on the high sea, they assume most of the trip’s excitement will result from shore excursions to charming Alaskan villages.They feel as if their ship has come in. But when a fellow passenger disappears, Myrtle realizes she must seize the helm and find the killer…before more souls are lost.

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Cruising for Murder

A Myrtle Clover Cozy Mystery, Volume 10

Elizabeth Spann Craig

Published by Elizabeth Craig, 2016.

This is a work of fiction. Similarities to real people, places, or events are entirely coincidental.

CRUISING FOR MURDER

First edition. August 11, 2016.

Copyright © 2016 Elizabeth Spann Craig.

ISBN: 978-0996259972

Written by Elizabeth Spann Craig.

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Table of Contents

Title Page

Copyright Page

Dedication

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

About the Author

 

For my readers. 

Chapter One

“Okay, I’ll watch the house for you while you’re away. But I won’t watch that witch-cat!”

Myrtle Clover took a steadying breath. She reminded herself exactly why she needed her housekeeper, Puddin’s, help. Myrtle was going on an Alaskan cruise with her son, his family and her friend, Miles. This meant someone needed to take care of her house—water the tomatoes, feed her cat, mow her grass. Despite Puddin’s complete and utter incompetence, Myrtle must retain her patience and ensure that both Puddin and her husband, Dusty, were onboard.

“Okay then, really all I need you for is to water the tomatoes. But the cat must be taken care of. If you want to outsource that to Dusty, that’s your own business,” said Myrtle.

Puddin raised her eyebrows. “But your house needs cleanin’ while you’re gone, too.”

Myrtle glanced around her living room, allegedly under the tender loving care of Puddin. Dust bunnies had formed rival gangs and threatened to hijack her home while she was gone, turning it into their own personal warren. Every bit of silver she had in the house looked like brass. The wooden furniture was dull from lack of polish. The rug had black cat hair threaded through it.

“If you say so. If you actually clean today, it will probably keep just fine until I get back,” stressed Myrtle. Because cleaning was never a given when her housekeeper came by.

Puddin, always fond of making herself seem important, said, “I’m going to be very busy, you know. While you’re gone. Mr. Miles is having me watch his house, too.”

Myrtle narrowed her eyes at Puddin. “Is that so? When I return, I don’t want to find out that Mr. Miles’s house looks immaculate and mine looks like a victim of the Dust Bowl. You always throw more effort into Mr. Miles’s house than mine. It’s a peculiar gender bias of yours.”

Puddin squinted at her as she usually did when she didn’t quite follow Myrtle’s line of thought, and changed the subject, another favorite tactic. “Why are you going somewhere cold? You’re going to a cold place, right?”

“Alaska? Well, at this time of the year it’s probably still pretty chilly, yes,” said Myrtle.

“Because the Fourth of July is coming up. And if it was me, I’d be thinking about a cruise somewhere else. I’m thinking the Bahamas. I’m imagining myself in a bathing suit on a beach with a drink with one of them umbrellas in it,” said Puddin. “Watching fireworks.”

Dumpy, doughy, pale Puddin in a bathing suit didn’t bear thinking of. Nor did the fact that Puddin didn’t apparently realize that the Bahamas might not celebrate the Fourth of July. Myrtle abruptly asked, “Where is Dusty? I wanted to leave him with some last-minute instructions, too.”

Puddin shrugged. “He’s around. Probably messing with the mower. Always puttin’ oil in the thing.”

As if on cue, Dusty, wearing frayed khakis and a grass-stained checkered button-down shirt, pushed open the front door. “Too hot to mow,” he muttered to himself as he opened Myrtle’s refrigerator and pulled out a pitcher of lemonade. He poured himself a generous glass and, when Puddin, gave a loud, suggestive cough, poured her one too, bringing it to her in the living room where she plopped down on Myrtle’s sofa.

“I’ve had just about enough of both of your foolishness today. Dusty, it looks like an African savannah out there. The grass has to be cut regardless of the temperature. But I’m also concerned about the care and feeding of Pasha,” said Myrtle briskly.

Dusty cocked his grizzled head to one side. “Pasha?”

“The black cat,” said Myrtle.

“That witch-cat!” said Puddin at a volume guaranteed to make Myrtle’s blood pressure rise.

“That will be enough of that nonsense, Puddin. It’s an easy enough job, Dusty, and the chore will apparently fall to you since your wife is engaging in histrionics at the thought,” said Myrtle.

Dusty grunted at this and eyed Puddin sideways. She had her arms crossed and he clearly knew better than to cross her when she was being obstinate. “All right. What do I do?”

“You let her in at night and give her cat food. You let her out in the morning. You make sure her litter box is in good shape.” Myrtle pointed to the stack of cat food cans, the litterbox, and the extra litter.

Dusty grunted again. It seemed to be an assent, although a reluctant one. “That’s a lot of coming by,” he said.

Myrtle wasn’t sure if this was merely a comment or a complaint. “Puddin will be here anyway—taking care of my house and Miles’s, too, apparently.”

Dusty sighed. He gazed forlornly out Myrtle’s front window, gray mustache looking even droopier than usual. “And them gnomes? Can’t we move them gnomes at least? So I won’t have to be tryin’ to mow around them things?”

“I’d rather leave them out there in the yard until I leave. It’s important for Red to have a visual reminder before our trip,” said Myrtle. When Myrtle pulled her tremendous collection of garden gnomes out, it provided a subtle warning to her son that he needed to watch himself. Considering Red lived directly across the street and considering the fact that he abhorred her gnome collection, it was generally an effective ploy.

Dusty was even a less of a fan of the gnomes than Red. He said, “So when y’all pull out of the driveway I can start luggin’ them things to the shed?”

“That’s right.”

Dusty’s relieved smile revealed a dimple that Myrtle had never seen.

The doorbell rang. Myrtle’s eyes narrowed with apprehension. “I spotted Erma Sherman lurking out there earlier. I must finish packing and organizing and don’t have time for her recitation of all the disgusting illnesses she’s inflicted with. Puddin, check the door for me.” Myrtle’s next door neighbor, Erma, was the bane of Myrtle’s existence. Erma’s goal in life seemed to be allowing her crabgrass to infiltrate Myrtle’s yard, her squirrels to steal Myrtle’s birdseed, and to trap Myrtle in conversation.

Puddin, who had settled her pudgy frame into the softness of the sofa, said loftily, “But I’m not your butler.”

Dusty started loping toward the door. Puddin, who still suspected Dusty had an odd attraction for the donkey-faced Erma, leapt up from the sofa and waddled to the front door, bypassing her sixty-five year old husband. Peering through the window, she laconically reported, “It’s her with some of your mail.”

Myrtle sighed and said in a stage whisper, “The mail carrier has been completely demented lately, scattering mail here and yonder. Go ahead and answer the door and report that I’m indisposed.”

Puddin squinted at her.

“Say I’m busy,” amended Myrtle. She fled to the back.

The packing was actually going pretty well. The suitcase was basically ready to go. It was a little tricky packing for a range of temperatures, but since Myrtle didn’t have a large wardrobe to start with, it wasn’t as much of a chore as it could have been. The carryon was something of a nightmare, though.

“She went away,” reported Puddin loudly in a singsong tone.

“Thank heaven for that,” said Myrtle fervently.

“Oops, spoke too soon. Knock at the door,” said Puddin, continuing the play-by-play.

“And?” asked Myrtle in an impatient voice.

There was a pause where Puddin waddled back out to the living room to peer out. Then, disapprovingly, “It’s that woman. Sort of a witch like the cat.”

“Oh, Wanda?” Myrtle walked back to the living room. “Let her in.”

Puddin disapproved of Wanda, a fact that was written all over her face as she opened the door. Although what Puddin might have to feel superior about was a true puzzle to Myrtle.

“Wanda!” said Myrtle fondly as the skin and bones psychic walked in. Myrtle peered out the front window. “Tell me you didn’t walk here again! Wanda, that must stop. It’s far too many miles for you to walk here.”

“No, Dan gave me a ride. Sort of. Car broke down on the way,” said Wanda with a shrug of an emaciated shoulder. “Only had to walk halfway.” Crazy Dan was Wanda’s brother. They lived at a hubcap-covered hut surrounded by rusted cars that were mostly on concrete blocks. They stuck up homemade signs on the rural highway adjoining their property, promoting their bait, psychic readings, and boiled peanuts.

“Well, let’s have Miles drive you back home when you’re ready. And Dan, too, of course,” said Myrtle. Myrtle’s best friend, Miles, had learned with a good degree of horror that he was a cousin of Wanda and Crazy Dan’s. “And let’s go into the kitchen for a snack,” added Myrtle, studying Wanda’s thin frame with concern.

Her invitation put Puddin into even more of a snit and she flounced off with her nose in the air. With any luck, she would work off her annoyance with housekeeping.

Wanda carefully pulled out a wooden chair at Myrtle’s table and sat with perfect posture as if channeling table manners from childhood. Myrtle peered into her fridge, pantry, and cabinets before finally settling on a variety of different sandwich makings and sides, placing the assorted foods on the table in front of Wanda. She pulled out two plates, a pitcher of the lemonade that Dusty had unfortunately nearly polished off, and two glasses.

Myrtle watched as Wanda devoured everything set in front of her and provided a monologue in a quiet tone as a background to Wanda’s meal. When Myrtle sensed Wanda was filling up, she waited for a minute or two for Wanda to provide the reason for her visit.

“Yer in danger,” said Wanda tiredly.

“Naturally,” agreed Myrtle in a pleasant tone.

“Shouldn’t go on the trip,” said Wanda, giving her a sideways look.

“Unfortunately, it’s too late to back out now. Red and Elaine are especially excited about the cruise. They’ve saved up for years to take a vacation like this. Land and sea—Denali and the glaciers. And I’m to help keep an eye on Jack for them from time to time so that they can have a quiet meal or two. Miles and I will play bridge and sip coffees and observe wildlife out the window and it will all be very relaxing,” explained Myrtle.

Wanda stared at her.

Myrtle pressed her lips together and then said, “Now, if you’re telling me that the ship will end up at the bottom of the Gulf of Alaska, then I won’t go and I’ll keep everyone else home, too. And I’ll call a news conference and tell them a psychic told me the cruise ship would sink and they’ll all think I’m demented. Red will incarcerate me in Greener Pastures Retirement Home and breathe a huge sigh of relief. But is that what you’re telling me, Wanda?”

Wanda shook her head. “Snow,” said Wanda in a fatigued voice, slumping in the kitchen chair a little.

Myrtle nodded in an encouraging fashion as if she understood Wanda’s cryptic statement completely. “Snow. Snow, yes.”

Puddin flounced in, hands on her hips. “Mr. Miles is here,” she announced to the ceiling since her nose was in the air while in Wanda’s presence.

Miles walked in. “So you’ve got a butler now, too?” he asked pleasantly to Myrtle. Spotting Wanda, he automatically put a ready hand near his wallet. Wanda had many needs and, considering the family connection, Miles usually found himself obliging. But Wanda didn’t ask, just greeted him in a tired voice. He sat down at the kitchen table with them.

Myrtle said to Miles, “Wanda was just informing me that I was in terrible danger and shouldn’t go on the cruise.”

“Right,” said Miles with the air of someone who has heard this prediction before. “Told you that you should have paid for the trip insurance. You’re really just tempting fate, otherwise.”

Myrtle kept talking, which was her usual tactic when she didn’t like the direction the conversation was going in. “But the ship won’t go down; at least Wanda isn’t going out on that limb. And she had a tip for me. Snow.”

Miles raised his eyebrows. “Plenty of snow on the top of Denali, I’d wager. Not sure how much there might be on the ground.”

“True. We’re in late June, early July for the trip. Wanda, you can’t provide any more clarity than that? Nothing else? Should I at least seek out the snow, or avoid the snow?”

Wanda shrugged. “The sight....”

“I know, I know,” said Myrtle impatiently. “The sight doesn’t work that way. Which is incredibly annoying.”

Miles opted to change the subject since Myrtle was looking rather tense. “Wanda, what’s the plan for delivering your horoscopes while we’re gone? I know usually you turn them into Myrtle and she hands them over to Sloan for editing.”

Or, more truthfully, Myrtle radically revised Wanda’s horoscopes so they more closely resembled English before turning them over to Sloan to be published in the local newspaper.

Wanda shrugged again. “Supposed to bring a heap of ‘em to Sloan in a few days.” She looked at Myrtle. “Mind if I visit yer restroom?”

“Of course not,” said Myrtle in a distracted voice. She was thinking of the horoscopes and Sloan’s dismay when he had to figure them out.

As soon as Wanda left, Miles whispered, “You know Sloan won’t be able to make heads nor tails of those scribblings of Wanda. She’s functionally illiterate.”

“She is that,” agreed Myrtle. “But she’s also completely accurate in her predictions. Odd that they are. And you know that she’s the new star at the Bradley Bugle. Sloan can’t stop publishing her stuff now. And he can’t exactly recycle old material—that doesn’t work with horoscopes. I’ll have to check in with him later. I need to talk to him about my column, anyway.”

“Are you all packed?” asked Miles.

“As well as I can be. It sounded as if I might need to dress for different temperatures. I fixed that by packing a couple of sweaters,” said Myrtle.

“Did you put in some dressy things for the nice dinners? Aren’t we going to have a nice dinner in one of the specialty restaurants one night?” asked Miles. “Although I’m not sure how that will work with a preschooler along. It wouldn’t be the kind of restaurant that has crayons and butcher block paper on the tables.”

“Oh, there’s some sort of kids club or something. Jack will play in there for a little while so that we can skip the buffet line for the main restaurant. He’ll be fine in there for one evening. But we have to book it just as soon as we get onboard the ship. Yes, I threw in a dressy top to wear with my black slacks. That will work, won’t it? You’ve been on a cruise before. I’m the one with no idea what to expect,” said Myrtle.

Miles said, “I was on a cruise twenty years ago. I wore a white, hand-tied bowtie over a starched white shirt, and a black tailcoat with black dress pants. Nowadays, I’d have passengers trying to give me their drink order.”

“Or assuming you were a magician for the kids’ club,” said Myrtle.

“Anyway, I’m sure you’ll be fine, no matter what you’re wearing. Someone’s hardly going to come up to you and tell you you’re dressed inappropriately. You’re rather foreboding looking, you know.” Continuing quickly before Myrtle could indignantly argue the point, Miles said, “Are you looking forward to it? I know this part is a chore.”

“I am. Although there’ve been moments where I thought there’s no place like home. Getting the passport ready for flying into and out of Canada, choosing whether or not to do excursions, figuring out the packing. It’s been a lot. Then I read up online on the trip. Not official cruise-related websites, but forums.”

Miles said solemnly, “Don’t ever do that. Forums are full of people with a bone to pick with someone. Seriously, who writes on an online forum unless they’re unhappy?”

“These weren’t even necessarily unhappy people. They were giving their opinion of the trip overall. They just said that the land portion gets a little crazy with all the having to pack and unpack and then label the bags and put them outside your door for the staff to make sure they end up where you’re going. You have to make sure you cut off the old labels or the staff might send your bags back to a prior location. Can you imagine me replacing all of my wardrobe in a gift shop?” asked Myrtle.

Miles said, “No. No, I can’t imagine you wearing an assortment of Alaska tee shirts for a couple of weeks. But Myrtle, we won’t be doing that. You won’t be doing that. You’re always perfectly capable of following directions. Our reward will be seeing some interior towns, riding a domed train, and seeing Denali. Denali is supposed to be magnificent.”

“I only want to see a bear,” said Myrtle plaintively. “That’s it. If I see a bear, I can go home happy. I don’t ask for much. This won’t be a high-adventure trip for me. I’m not going zip-lining or hiking or riding an ATV. But do I want to see a bear.”

“From your lips to God’s ears,” said Miles in the fervent voice of someone who didn’t want to hear Myrtle fuss about the criminal lack of bears in Alaska. Then he jumped, eyes wide open.

Myrtle turned to see what had startled him. “For heaven’s sake, Miles, it’s simply poor Pasha. The dear probably heard herself being maligned by the wicked Puddin.” She got up from the table and opened the window a bit to let the cat in. “You stay here with me, sweetie, or else Puddin won’t get any cleaning accomplished at all.” She glanced at the wall clock. “Where’s Wanda? Did she get lost on the way back from the bathroom? Should we check on her?”

Which was exactly the moment Wanda appeared. She reached down to rub Pasha and Pasha rubbed lovingly against the thin woman. “Got to go,” muttered Wanda.

“Got to go?” chorused Myrtle. “You just got here! And all you’ve got for me is snow? Usually you’ve at least got a full sentence for me. Snow isn’t particularly helpful, Wanda.”

Miles said in a more moderate tone than Myrtle, “Can you say if snow is a good thing or a bad thing?”

Wanda thought about it and said, “Good thing.”

“All right, excellent,” said Myrtle. “Something to work with. And now, do you need Miles to drive you back home? And Dan, if he’s sitting on the side of the road?”

Miles looked pained, but willing.

“Guess so,” mumbled Wanda, still looking drained. She unexpectedly gave Myrtle and Miles a fierce embrace. “Be careful,” she said as she walked out through the front door. Puddin pushed herself against a wall as Wanda passed, doing her best to keep out of the psychic’s way.

“And be careful walking out to Sloan’s,” added Wanda, sticking her head back in for a second as Puddin once again flattened against the wall, holding her breath so as not to breathe the same air as Wanda.

Chapter Two

I should put the finishing touches on my packing after I take Wanda home,” Miles said.

Myrtle was sure that whatever Miles was doing with his packing was basically just shifting things from one side of the suitcase to the other. Miles was so particular and so neat that she knew that the items in his suitcase were color-coded, organized into zipper bags, and were something of a work of art.

Myrtle, on the other hand, felt confident that she at least had everything packed that she needed. Instead of looking at her packed bags one more time before tomorrow, she grabbed her cane for the walk downtown to the Bradley Bugle office to see her editor, Sloan.

Her mind wasn’t on anything but Sloan. This is why, when she hurriedly yanked open her front door, she gaped at the one person she most didn’t want to see there. Erma. Wanda had warned her, hadn’t she?

Erma Sherman, Myrtle’s next door nightmare of a neighbor, grinned at her with that horrid grin. “Where you headed in such a hurry?” asked Erma nosily.

“Business!” said Myrtle. “Got to go. Running late.”

“Where? Downtown?” asked Erma. She gave her braying, donkey’s laugh. “Must be downtown. You couldn’t walk much farther than that, could you? Not being old and whatnot.”

Myrtle was quite certain she could walk much farther than downtown, but she wasn’t about to debate the point with Erma. Arguing with Erma, she’d learned from past experience, was completely futile in every way.

“You’re right about me heading downtown, at any rate. See you later, Erma.” And she went thumping off with her cane with great determination.

“Wait! Wait! I’ll drive you there. Got to go there myself,” said Erma.

Myrtle feared that Erma wanted an audience to listen to her usual recitation of whatever blight she was currently inflicted with. Her illnesses tended to be both repugnant and graphically recounted. Myrtle repressed a shudder. “No thank you. I need the exercise.”

“Me too! I need exercise, too!” said Erma in a desperate tone.

This was true. Erma did need exercise. What’s more, Myrtle could tell when she’d lost. Wanda had been right—she should have watched out as she left home. Now she was stuck. “All right then. You can walk with me,” grated Myrtle behind her clenched teeth.

As she’d guessed, Erma was dying for someone to talk to. Her long-suffering immune system had just successfully battled a bizarre virus with many disturbing side effects, deftly described in some depth by Erma.

Myrtle grimly forged forward. She decided that the best way to combat Erma’s assault was by launching one of her own. She settled on a different boorish tactic—talking about one’s vacation.

Erma was saying, “The rash, you see, was unbearably itchy and—”

Myrtle broke in, “Did you know that I’m leaving for a cruise?” Of course Erma didn’t. Miles and Myrtle would have been the people who told her of it, and they were the ones avoiding her at all costs.

Erma gaped at her. “A cruise? You?” She burst into braying laughter.

“That’s right,” said Myrtle, bristling now and forgetting her mission to bore the bore. “What of it? What’s so funny about that?”

“Only that you never go anywhere! And you don’t spend any money. In fact, I don’t believe you have any money.” Erma peered at Myrtle, seeming at last to sense some hostility. “Come on, Myrtle, don’t be mad. You know that’s true. What kind of cruise is it? Did you win it?”

“I did not win it,” said Myrtle coldly. “And if I don’t spend a lot of money, that’s because I like to save it for special occasions. Like this one. I’m going on an Alaskan cruise, as a matter of fact.”

“Sayyy,” said Erma admiringly. “That should be pretty nice. Are you up for something like that? Isn’t there a lot of biking and zip-lining and walking and so forth?”

Not too much farther to the newspaper office. Myrtle said in a stiff voice, “I walk very well, as you can see. I don’t, however, think there will be biking and zip-lining in my immediate future.”

Erma grabbed Myrtle’s non-cane arm, making Myrtle recoil. “Sayyy,” she said again. “Is this a romantic trip? Who else is going? Is Miles?”

“Miles is going. Since Miles is my friend, it does not fall under the definition of a romantic trip. It’s a family trip. Red and Elaine and even little Jack are coming along,” said Myrtle. She spotted the Bradley Bugle office, now looking like a refuge for lost souls, come into sight.

Erma dropped her arm, looking disappointed at losing the opportunity to know some really juicy gossip. “The baby is going?”

Myrtle drew herself up and said haughtily, “He’s not a baby. He’s nearly three, in preschool, and completely brilliant. He takes after his Nana—everyone says so. What’s more, he’s enormously well-behaved.”

Naturally, at this moment, Elaine pulled up beside them in her minivan. She rolled down her window, allowing Jack’s enraged yells to be released from the confines of the vehicle. Elaine gave a fleeting expression of shock at Myrtle’s walking companion, and said quickly, “Need anything from the store, since I’m heading there?”

“No thank you,” said Myrtle. “And I’ll assume you’re torturing my grandson since I was just bragging how well-behaved he is.”

Elaine gave a ragged smile. “He is well-behaved eighty percent of the time. The rest is pure toddler angst.” She drove away, Jack acting as a siren as they went.

Myrtle was undeterred. “He’s ordinarily very good.”

“If you say so. Okay, well, I’ll keep an eye on your house for you while you’re gone. Is this one of those 5-day things?” asked Erma, still hoping to hear something negative about the cruise.

“No, it’s one of those twelve-day trips with a couple of travel days,” said Myrtle, crossing the street to head for the newspaper office.

“Then I’ll see you in two weeks!” called Erma as Myrtle quickly walked away.

“Not if I see you first,” muttered Myrtle under her breath.

Myrtle pushed open the old, wooden door to the newspaper office. As usual, it took a few moments for her eyes to adjust from the bright sunshine outside to the dimness of the newsroom. It took her even a few more moments before she spotted her editor and former student, Sloan. He was blocked by a teetering pile of old paper, newspapers, and photos. A calendar hanging on a nearby wall was seven years old. It was the land that time forgot.

Sloan scrambled to his feet when he saw her. “Miss Myrtle!” He was a hefty man of Red’s age who automatically reverted to guilty schoolboy whenever he saw her. He’d been a completely unremarkable English student when Myrtle taught him. It was still hard for her to wrap her brain around the fact that Sloan was editor of the town’s newspaper. Red, in an effort to keep his mother busy, had pushed Sloan into giving Myrtle her own helpful hints column in the paper. Instead, Myrtle wrote investigative pieces as much as she possibly could. Sloan had started out as terrified of Myrtle as if it had only been yesterday that he’d endured her wrath in the classroom. Now, however, he’d grown somewhat more comfortable around her.

“Boy, am I glad to see you, Miss Myrtle. I was worried you were going to fly away for your trip before we had an opportunity for a powwow,” said Sloan. He solicitously pulled out a rolling chair for Myrtle, first removing a teetering pile of papers from it.

“The powwow, I’m presuming, is on the subject of Wanda?” asked Myrtle, delicately sitting in the rolling chair, which looked as if it might go careening madly across the room with her in it.

“That’s right. It’s kind of a delicate situation,” said Sloan. His large and ever-expanding forehead starting perspiring.

“Let me guess. Wanda’s horoscopes are a hit. However, Wanda’s submitted copy is ... challenging,” said Myrtle. “Rather indescribable.”

Sloan nodded. “Oh, I think I could come up with a few words to describe it. The grammar is so rocky that her sentences sometimes aren’t recognizable as English. The only saving grace has been the fact that you’ve kindly provided your own translation and editing services for the paper.”

Myrtle gave a gracious nod.

“And now,” said Sloan, tugging anxiously at his shirt collar, “you’re heading off for a couple of weeks. I’m not sure that I’ll be able to contact you by phone.”

“For heaven’s sake, no! Don’t you dare call me. I’ve got to have some kind of crazy cell phone plan if I receive phone calls or text messages on the ship or on some of those excursions. That would cost me a mint!” said Myrtle, shuddering.

Sloan’s face grew even more dismayed. “Then I’m just not sure what I’m gonna do, Miss Myrtle. Could you provide me with some sort of Rosetta stone so that I can make heads or tails of Wanda’s physic scribbles? I can’t just put her column on a break for a couple of weeks.”

Myrtle sighed. “I know. I tried to get her to come up with some horoscopes early so that I could proof them and shoot them over to you. But she told me that wasn’t how the sight worked. My only advice to you is to sit down with her when she comes in to deliver them. It’s not like she doesn’t know she’s functionally illiterate. That’s no secret. Get her to translate everything and then run it. I’ll be back before you know it.”

Sloan said, “All right. I guess that’s all I can do. And speaking of delivering copy, have you got something for me?”

Myrtle pressed her lips together in annoyance. She was ready to move past her helpful hints column and into full-time crime reporting. She loved the long investigative pieces she’d done for the paper on Bradley’s various murders. Myrtle was sure if Bradley had more crime, she’d have more stories and wouldn’t have time to do columns on stain removal.

“I’ve emailed you something. And I knew that you were going to want a report, a travel article, detailing my cruise,” said Myrtle.

Sloan deflated at the word travel. “Ah. Maybe you mean a paragraph for our Town Round-Up page? Marianne Powell is visiting her sister at Lake Hartwell where they plan on getting lots of sun, eating tomato sandwiches, and waterskiing? That sort of thing?” His face was hopeful.

“Most decidedly not that sort of thing. More like a real travelogue, Sloan. Don’t worry, it will be fabulous. I’m going to take pictures, too, so that we can really illustrate what I’m seeing.People love hearing about great trips and this is a great trip. An Alaskan cruise! There will be bears involved.”

“Great,” said Sloan. Any enthusiasm faked in his voice was not reflected in his glum features.

The land portion of the trip was indeed fabulous. But it was a whirlwind of towns and modes of travel. They were on buses and vans. They saw Fairbanks, Denali (Myrtle was gratified to see a handful of bears gamboling along the mountainsides), and traveled by domed train to Seward to embark on the ship. She brought a sweater with her for when the bus stopped for photo opportunities, but was surprised to find that it wasn’t particularly cold outside. The landscape in Denali was especially remarkable—beautiful, but with a barren quality to it. The trees were stunted because of the permafrost and the unforgiving mountainsides looked lovely but vaguely threatening. Myrtle was glad she was there in the summer since she certainly didn’t feel Southerners were good at acclimating to Alaskan winters.

Myrtle was standing next to Miles in the long line to be checked in for the cruise ship. Red, Elaine, and Jack were somewhat ahead of them in line, which was a good thing since little Jack’s patience with lines was relatively nonexistent. Miles said with a sigh, “I don’t think I’ve ever been so glad to stay in one place in my life.”

“Don’t be a fussbudget, Miles. You adored Denali. You’d have liked us to have just left you there,” said Myrtle.