We reached the third day of our journey and, to be honest, things were not going well.
Exhaustion overwhelms me. I didn’t sleep at all last night, going on over twenty hours awake. My steps were taking me to the eating area, my mind still turning the recent events over.
Despite the early hour, not six yet, the dining room is well lit. The warm welcoming light spills out into the hall I’m traversing. The transparent ceiling and windows afford a grand view of the stars. We are traveling well beyond the speed of light, but that only means the stars seemed static, rather than the streaks most people expect. There is a perennial night out the window too, albeit a permanent starry sky, no clouds of course.
A server behind the bar is not aware of my stepping through the door. His back to me, probably not expecting anyone for an hour more at least, he’s concentrated on something in front of him. Something personal, no doubt, his left elbow on the bar, his face resting on his fist and his right hand is manipulating whatever he’s looking at. Likely checking his tablet, or his communicator.
I clear my throat and walk to one of the tables further in, away from the door, with an unobstructed view of the access to the restaurant, my back to the only solid wall. I will not have an optimal star view, but no one will be able to sneak up on me, either.
The startled server put whatever he was so intent on under the bar, smooths his apron, and hurries over to my table.
“Good morning, Sir. I’m afraid the kitchen is not open yet. They are currently preparing for breakfast.”
“Good morning, yes. No matter. I need some coffee. Do you have espresso?” I ask gazing pointedly to the ornate machine on the corner of the bar.
A smile illuminates the young face. “We do indeed, Sir. It will take a few minutes for the machine to warm up.”
“Thank you. I’ll wait. Double shot, please, and as strong as you can make it.”
“Any milk, Sir?”
“No, black is fine.”
“Very well, Sir.”
He retreats to his position behind the bar and starts in on the mechanics of bringing the machine to life.
My briefcase beacons me. The files in it were put together in a hurry and everyone wondered why I’d wanted them printed, rather than settling for the digital version they sent to my tablet.
I inhale the clean, cool, scentless air of the dining area and open the briefcase.
Three identical files, all painfully thin, little in them. I take out my tablet too, I’m not a complete Luddite.
The first murder happened soon after we left Earth, the first night in fact. I had participated only peripherally on all the departure nonsense. No one there to say goodbye to me. I have no one. A circumstance of my previous job.
John Mayors, a successful businessman. A high executive with the Star Princes Hospitality Group, on his way to inspect real estate to build a resort on Eden, the vacation planet that was our destination. Married, but traveling by himself. Killed while everyone ate dinner. At first, the unfortunate event was thought to be natural causes, a heart attack, perhaps. The crew moved the body to the ship’s clinic discreetly after the midnight toast, under the cover of night, after the passengers retired to their quarters. The ship’s Doctor, however, smelled bitter almonds on the body. Whatever those smell like, I’ve never been able to distinguish the scent from that of regular almonds. Upon examination, he determined poison as the cause of death.
Mary Jane Watkins, a successful sales representative. The winner of Mon Bel Noir Cosmetics contest, a trip to Eden. She had gone wine tasting the afternoon of the second day, happy and carefree. She got through the whites, and only had a couple of red wines. The final wine she tasted, the last one of her life, was a sparkling wine. Many others were there, many others drank the wine. She was the only one who died. Feeling light-headed, attributing it to the wine, she headed to her cabin. She didn’t make it. A purser found the body in a passageway. The Doctor investigated quickly and discovered the same cause of death. Murder. Poison.
The sounds of venting steam and beans being ground distracted me for a second. I looked up and the server smiled at me.
I went back to the files. The crew had two murders on their hands. So, what did they do? They found the retiring cop onboard and dumped the whole mess on his lap. That’s how I got these files. Thirty-five years of service. A grand total of six months of vacation in all that time. I had been looking forward to retiring to Eden and living the rest of my life on the tropical beaches, enjoying the local festive atmosphere, eating delicious unhealthy food, and drinking.
Obviously, though, I’m going to have to solve this one first.
Michael Torino, the third file. The crew made a thorough search of the ship, found his body in one of the outer locks. The lock had been depressurized at some point, with Michael inside, and left in a vacuum. Poisoned, though, as the autopsy showed. The time of death for this one was tricky.
The delicious aroma of coffee alerted me of the coming server. I put all the files away.
“Here you go, Sir.”
“Thank you.” He smiled and stepped away.
I leaned back on my chair. How was I going to find the killer? I shook my head. This was not going to be easy. Unless the killer walked up and introduced himself, it was going to be a tough nut to crack.
Oh, well. The job is what it is.
I picked up the ceramic cup. Nice and hot. I brought it up to my face and paused to take a deep breath and enjoy the fresh-brewed aroma.
My eyes fly open.
The coffee smells of almonds.