Double Knot: New Excerpt

Double Knot by Gretchen Archer is the 5th Davis Way Crime Caper that sees Super Spy Davis Way trapped on a Caribbean cruise ship. (Available now!) 

Super Spy Davis Way sets sail on a Caribbean cruise aboard the MS Probability with fifty billionaires, a boatload of Louis Vuitton luggage, Anderson Cooper, and her mother. (Her mother?) The weather is perfect, the seas are calm, and Suite 704 is spectacular. Until the door slams shut. For good. Obviously, it’s a system glitch. Surely someone will show up to free Davis, Miss Hawaii, and the creepy staff. But when the minutes turn to hours and the hours stretch into a day, Davis knows it’s up to her. With $50,000 in casino chips, a pot roast, and a crash course in banking, she races against the clock to determine why they’re being held, stop the people behind it, and find a way out. Secrets are revealed, antiquities are destroyed, and they’re running out of dishes. It’s mayday on Probability when Davis Way realizes that only the truth will set her free.

Chapter 4

There are three Bellissimo Super Spies: me, Fantasy, and Baylor. We report to No Hair, who’s the head of Bellissimo security at all times and the head of Probability security this week.

When I’m not pregnant with twins, I’m a little more than five feet off the ground, and when I am pregnant with twins, like now, I’m also a little more than five feet around the middle. I felt that way, anyway. My hair is red—cinnamon, not tangerine—and my eyes are the same cinnamon color. Put me next to Fantasy, who is six feet tall, and whose skin is both light and dark—think Halle Berry—with slate blue eyes and new blondish highlights in her short layered hair, and we are a visual interpretation of opposites attract. We don’t look like we belong, but we do.

Baylor, just Baylor, and I’m beginning to suspect Baylor might be his last name instead of his first (I’ve been meaning to nose into that), is the third member of our team and our resident manchild. Fantasy and I are close to the same age, thirtysomething, and Baylor is, on paper, twenty-six. In real life he’s twelve. He’s fearless, strong, and based on popular speculation, very much in the wrong job. No one looks at Baylor and thinks law and order. They look at Baylor and say, “He’s a country music singer, professional football player, or male stripper.” He has thick dark brown hair and rascally brown eyes, a lazy way about him, and he’s a ninja sharpshooter.  He sleeps with everything that owns a pushup bra, it’s humiliating, he has a sixth sense when it comes to danger, and he’s always hungry. He’s more like a two-hundred-pound puppy than anything else. Fantasy and I have spent years getting him good and housebroken, and we were almost there when my husband took him. More and more, including this week, Baylor stayed by Bradley’s side in a security capacity. It couldn’t be me, because I love Bradley too much and I’d shoot anyone who looked at him sideways. It couldn’t be Fantasy, because her personal life had taken a front seat to her work life for months now with no end in sight. And it couldn’t be No Hair, because he was in charge of everything else security at our seventeen-hundred-room hotel casino, and this week, he was everything security on Probability. All that to say this: Our happy spy family was in major transition and why hadn’t our happy spy father rescued us?

No Hair was the glue holding things together for six months of me being pregnant, back and forth to Pine Apple helping with Mother, and publicly representing Bianca Sanders’s pregnancy. The whole time, Fantasy had been trying to patch up her marriage and Baylor has been with my husband. We’d been a scattered crew of spies for a long half-year, relying completely on No Hair. Who was somewhere on this ship and he had to be looking for me. He just had to be. There are three men in my life I know I can count on: my husband, my father, and No Hair. My husband was forty thousand feet in the air and over Missouri or Minnesota by now. My father was in the middle of Alabama without a clue. No Hair was somewhere on this ship and why he hadn’t busted through the door of Suite 704 and rescued us was curious at best and disconcerting at worst.

At eleven o’clock, with Probability well underway and still no communication in or out, Mother, Fantasy and I sat quietly on our appointed sofas in the salon. Burnsworth had “retired” to his quarters, Poppy excused herself five minutes after Burnsworth, while Jess had done nothing but drink vodka, whine, and beat on the front door, demanding someone let her out, which was a total waste of time. The companionways were private from the elevators to the individual suites; there was no foot traffic to hear her. The only reason someone would be outside our door would be to open it, so screaming unnecessary. After two solid hours of it, she gave up and stretched across her sofa. The steady lull of the ship moving through the dark Gulf waters, sheer exhaustion, and the ongoing hysteria (Jess) had numbed everyone.

I looked up from the babies and caught my mother’s eye.

“I’m dead on my feet.”

I hated that phrase. “You should go to bed, Mother.”

“I believe I will.”

She stood, and without another word, made her way down the hall.

“Mother?”

She hesitated.

“Lock your door.”

She waved acknowledgement.

“That’s it?” Fantasy stared after Mother. “No sleep tight don’t let the bedbugs bite?”

“She’s not exactly the touchy-feely type, Fantasy.”

“I heard that, Davis.”

“Goodnight, Mother.”

I love you.

 ***

“So, I don’t have my stuff.”

We were hungry and the kitchen was white. White subway tile walls and white glazed porcelain floors, with round rugs and rectangular runners in thick white shag scattered here, there, and yon. White stone waterfall-edge countertops, solid white high gloss cabinets, a round white dining table with six white molded chairs. White pendant light fixtures dangled at the ends of white leads from the white ceiling. The only hints of color in the room were from the stainless steel appliances, all Miele, all obscured by the blinding white, and if I were to put Anderson Cooper down in this room and she closed her eyes, I might never find her.

“Your stuff?” Fantasy was deep into a bag of Cheetos. “What’s your stuff, Jess?”

“My meds. My clothes. My lipstick. And so, where am I supposed to sleep?”

“There’s an empty staff room,” I said.

“I don’t think so.” Jess pulled a chair from the table and plopped down, while Fantasy and I foraged for her dinner.

“It’s the staff room or a sun chair on the deck,” Fantasy said.

Our first meal aboard Probability was sliced from a whole honey ham and a wheel of Colby cheese. We had sandwiches on thick white crusty bread with a peppery spring pasta salad. There was enough food in the white kitchen to feed an army, including odd things, like a full array of spices, a seven-pound sirloin tip roast, fresh fruits and vegetables, several whole chickens, and a summer-camp-size box of Captain Crunch. That was just the first layer. Of many. There were thirty-one flavors of ice cream in the freezer and a wine closet behind a white glass door that was half cellar, half cooler, and the whole wine list at a five-star restaurant.

Jess picked at her food, moving it around on her plate, while Fantasy and I wolfed ours down like it was The Last Supper. For one, we were hungry. For another, we were trying to hurry Jess along so we could do something. I wasn’t sure what, but something needed to be done.

“Jessica?”

She dropped a crust of bread and looked up. “What?”

“You’re not supposed to be here,” I said.

Her head swiveled as she studied the four white walls. “So, where do you want me to go?”

“That’s not what I meant. What I meant was you’re the only person here who should be somewhere else. Where are you supposed to be? Surely someone is wondering where you are.”

She twirled a length of long dark hair. “I doubt it.”

“Are you not Probability’s Miss Congeniality?” I asked. “There have to be passengers who noticed you weren’t at the Welcome Aboard party.”

“So, you think it’s just us?”

“Is what just us?” I asked.

“Do you think we’re the only ones whose V2s don’t work?”

I didn’t say that, and I certainly didn’t intend for her to jump to that conclusion. “I think, Jess, as big as the ship is there’s no way every single passenger was in their suite when the V2s went down. And if anyone’s looking for anyone, it would be you.”

 “Who’s looking for me?”

Fantasy drummed impatient fingers on the white table.

“There has to be someone who’s noticed you’re missing.”

“Probably not,” she said.

“But the cruise is your job, Jess.”

“My job was to get people on the cruise. So, they’re on it.”

She had a point. “What about your husband?”

“He’s a bloodsucking bastard.”

That shut things all the way down.

I cleared my throat. “In spite of that, Jess, don’t you think he’s noticed you’re missing?”

Unprovoked ugliness had flown out of Jess’s mouth for hours on end without her so much as taking a breath between them, while it took her forever for her to say the one word, “No.”

Fantasy, who’d recently learned far more than she wanted to know about marital discord, spoke up. “Jessica, even if your husband hates your guts, he’s still going to notice you’re not where you’re supposed to be.”

Her face clouded in confusion, as if she couldn’t possibly imagine who hated her guts or where in the world she was supposed to be, then without any warning she slammed face first into the table. Our chairs scraped, we shot up, and our mouths dropped open. Fantasy and I looked at each other. Is she dead?

I inched over, pushing miles of dark hair away from her neck and cautiously dove in with two fingers. “She’s alive.” To prove it, Jess made a strange sound. A rumble. Then again. It was a snore. She was snoring. The woman had passed out. “Jessica.” I shook her. “Wake up.”

“How much has she had to drink?” Fantasy whispered.

“Not enough for this.” I shook her again. “Jess. Wake up.”

She slowly peeled herself off the table and scanned our astonished faces as if she had no idea who we were or why we were staring. “So? What?”

“What just happened?” I asked.

She checked her immediate vicinity, unsure if the question was hers. She spread a hand across her ample chest. “So, me?”

“Yes, Jess,” I said. “You.”

“Did I crash?”

“You did,” I said. “Are you okay?”

“I’m a narc.” She yawned, deeply.

“What?” I asked. “What does that mean, you’re a narc?”

“I have narcolepsy. I need my meds.”

Fantasy and I took a step back.

“So? I microsleep.”

We took another step back.

“I fall asleep!”

“Jess.” I didn’t know what to say. “Should we—?” I couldn’t find a way to finish the question. Should we…what?

“What exactly is narcolepsy?” Fantasy asked.

“If I sit still, I fall asleep.” She yawned again. Deeply. So deeply, Fantasy and I couldn’t help but join her. “Music puts me to sleep. The Hallmark Channel. Red lights. Lots of things. I fall asleep. There’s nothing you can do but get me out of here so I can get my meds. Or deal with it.”

I was entirely too exhausted to deal with one more thing. I was too tired to think another thought and she needed to lie down somewhere so she didn’t break her neck the next time she decided to slam asleep. “It’s been a long day and it’s late,” I said. “We need to get you in a bed.”

The word “bed” must do the trick too. Luckily, we caught her.

“Now what?” I was having trouble holding up my half of Jess.

“Come on.” Fantasy was carrying more than her half of Jess.

Past the salon, we took a left and thumped Sleeping Beauty down three short steps. It wasn’t hard to figure out which was the empty crew cabin, because between the three, there was one open door. A thin light shone from under the door of the room at the end of the narrow hall and the door directly in front of us was dark and closed.

We tucked Jessica in the bed and got out of there as fast as we could. We fell on our sofa in the moonlit salon.

“What is going on?” Fantasy whispered.

“I don’t have a clue.” I whispered back.

***

At midnight, the clock clicking from Saturday to Sunday, I locked the door to my stateroom behind me. I gathered my cat, pajamas, prenatal vitamins and toothbrush, and was in a hurry for the bed when I stepped into the gold bathroom and saw an envelope taped to the mirror above the vanity. It was addressed to me. I recognized my name right away; I’ve had it all my life. The problem was—I took slow and steady steps toward the envelope—no one outside 704 knew my name. Correspondence to me aboard Probability should have been addressed to Bianca Sanders. Not Davis Way Cole. I reached for it, curious and apprehensive at the same time. I opened it to find a photograph of my boss, No Hair. My knees gave way and the vanity caught me. Hands bound behind his back, legs secured at the ankles, clothes disheveled, his tie gone and his lower lip split wide open, he was in a straight chair against a wall between two dark porthole windows. No Hair was someone’s prisoner. He looked straight at me when the picture was taken, his eyes apologetic, but everything else about his expression and posture was livid.

My head swam and I saw stars. I backed up to the square porcelain bathtub in the middle of the gold floor and sat down on the wide edge. I read the letter.

Mrs. Cole,

To ensure your safety and that of your guests and loved ones, sit back and settle in, because you’re not leaving your suite. Rest assured no harm will come to anyone as long as you follow these simple instructions: Do not attempt to escape or make contact with anyone. Jeremy Covey will be detained for the duration of the cruise, as will you and your party. You will walk off this ship unharmed if you cooperate.

Unfortunately, the medical staff accompanying you tried to board with controlled substances and was refused passage. They’re not looking for you. Your photography crew has been reassigned. They’re not looking for you. No one is looking for you. There’s no way out. Not only is escape impossible, you will most assuredly jeopardize everyone’s welfare if you attempt any overt attention-seeking endeavors. In other words, Mrs. Cole, don’t start a fire. You’ll burn.

Arrangements have been made to communicate with your husband for you. Should you try to contact him directly and by some miracle succeed, you run the risk of never seeing him again.

Relax, follow these simple instructions, and all will be well. Attempts to escape, alert your husband, the authorities, or other passengers will be met with deadly consequences. It’s up to you.

And that was it.

We were hostages on a luxury cruise liner.

 

Copyright © 2016 Gretchen Archer.

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Gretchen Archer is a Tennessee housewife who began writing when her daughters, seeking higher educations, ran off and left her. She lives on Lookout Mountain with her husband, son, and a Yorkie named Bently. Double Whammy, her first Davis Way Crime Caper, was a Daphne du Maurier Award finalist and hit the USA TODAY Bestsellers List. Double Knot is the fifth Davis Way Crime Caper.

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