1950s fiction, australian author, book, crime, crime titanic, cruise, ermisenda alvarez author, fiction, i just don't trust the devil inside of them, i trust everyone, mystery, poisoned waters, ship, spanish author, suspense, thriller, tro kennedy martin, writing
Helen Gardener is murdered on a trans-Atlantic cruise. The Diamond Royale sails from Southampton to New York with her murderer aboard. Set in the 1950s, Poisoned Waters follows the stories of seven unfortunate characters and how they are affected by her death. Was it merely an accident? Mr Phillips, the owner of the ship, and sponsor of the cruise, rules with an iron fist, in search of something or someone.
Lies spiral out of control as the suspects try to survive the final days on board. Conflicted by their sense of morals, greed, and lust, they realise what kind of people they really are. Who will rise? Who will fall? Who was Helen’s murderer?
26th August 1955
The crystal chandelier of the Diamond Royale’s great hall glistened, showering raindrops of light all over the room. Passengers aboard the luxury ship swayed to the beat of a live band. She loved classical music, not something so unrefined. Without the desire to join the dancing patrons on board, she kept an eye out for her husband instead.
Clusters of people filled the room. Generals, lords, ladies, and other members of the elite crowded the great hall. The men chortled; the women giggled. Bottles of beer clinked together as the passengers and crew toasted to a safe arrival in New York. Sylvia strayed to the side with a cigarette between her fingers. She caught several men trying to slither up to her, eyeing her youthful figure up and down.
Rings of cigarette smoke escaped from Sylvia’s crimson lips. Nicotine, alcohol, and expensive cologne filled the air. The sweet and sour aromas soaked through her black satin gloves and brushed through her blonde hair. This was not the first glamorous yet stale event she had attended. Over time, boredom replaced dazzle. Only one man so far on the cruise had mildly interested her, and it wasn’t her husband.
Standing out from the crowd, a robust man caught her eye. Sadly, he wasn’t the man Sylvia was keeping an eye out for. Within seconds, he advanced towards her. Sylvia averted her eyes and took a long drag from the cigarette.
“My sweet pearl, Sylvia.” The man leaned in towards her. His cheek felt like sandpaper, rough from his stubble, and she could smell garlic on his breath. Sylvia turned her head in an attempt to avoid his lips. She hoped that her German husband would stop bothering her soon. “Dance with me,” he said.
“Markus, liebling, I still need a drink.”
His thin lips caressed her neck and his thick fingers found her buttocks. She resisted the urge to stick the cigarette against his throat. She had told Markus countless times how she hated him touching her like that in public. “Why don’t you get us some drinks?” Sylvia urged.
Markus winked. The moment he left, Sylvia walked farther away from the bar. She didn’t want him introducing her to any of his old or new colleagues like she was one of his products. Obscured by a group of people, she flicked the cigarette butt away and pulled another out of the case she had nestled between her breasts. Patting herself down, she realised she had lost her lighter.
“Kan ik u helpen?” A masculine voice came from behind her.
She turned around to find a blonde man of her age. He certainly couldn’t have been older than twenty five, nearly two decades younger than her husband. She quickly scanned his fitted suit and steely grey eyes.
“Ja, alstublieft,” Sylvia responded in Dutch, surprised to be addressed in her mother tongue.
She held the cigarette out for him to take. He lit her cigarette with his lighter before handing it back to her. Who was he?
Extending a hand in thanks, she was taken off guard when he raised her hand to his lips. He held her gaze for longer than necessary as he brushed his lips across her skin.
“Can I help you?” she asked, unnerved as her fingers tensed.
“May I have this dance?” He pulled her close.
“I am a married woman.” She pushed back, but he still clutched her hand.
“Sylvia!” Did someone say my name? With the music so loud, she wasn’t sure if she was hearing things.
She twisted out of the young man’s grasp to see Markus shoving his way through the crowd towards them with a glass of wine in each hand. The flash of anger she saw upon his face dissolved the moment he turned to the man before her.
“Ah, you have met my beautiful frau, Sylvia Wrinkler. Liebling, this is the new accountant I was telling you about, Mr Jacobus van Tiel.”
Sylvia stared at Jacobus. She wasn’t sure whether he was being charming with his bold acts or obnoxious. Regardless, there was something she didn’t like about this man. Everything about his appearance was sharp, rigid and stern, similar to Markus but without the sagging stomach and jowls.
“Isn’t my wife just beautiful?” Markus grinned. As newlyweds, Sylvia found his compliments sweet, but years had come and gone, and now the comments made her bite her tongue in frustration. She was more than beautiful; she was more than just his wife.
“She’s radiant.” Jacobus said, also watching her. “You’re a lucky man.”
Markus handed her one of the glasses as he sipped from his own.
“I really should go,” Sylvia insisted, feeling uncomfortable as she took a step back.
But her husband gripped her wrist. The diamond bracelet she wore bit into her skin like a row of teeth. With her escape thwarted, Sylvia stood still and tried her best to keep the dazzling smile on her face.
“Doctors feel fine on ships because they are accustomed to sea sickness.” Frank bellowed in laughter, rubbing his enormous stomach. “Get it?”
Harold’s British companions swelled with laughter. Droplets of wine flew from Frank’s shaking wine glass and splattered onto Harold’s jacket and shirt. Sipping from his own drink, Harold tried his best to smile when Frank eyed him in shock.
“Did I just ruin your jacket? My apologies.” Frank took a sip from his wine glass from one hand and a puff of his cigar from the other.
“It’s fine. Really,” Harold lied. “It’ll come out in the wash.” He turned to leave, his tight jaw the only hint of his exasperation.
“Where you going? We haven’t heard you share yours yet!” Frank asked, his eyes moist with tears of laughter. “Are you upset over the shirt?”
“I just need some fresh air. I’ll be right back,” Harold said, his voice competing with the loud trumpets of the band.
Frank clapped his hand on Harold’s shoulder. “Take care of yourself, all right? Your father would have wanted no less. Enjoy yourself!”
Harold smiled back; a polite, phoney smile. Truthfully, he had a much stronger desire to tear Frank’s thick fingers from his shoulder. The last thing he needed to be reminded of was his late father.
Weaving through the crowd was difficult. With every clink of glasses, Harold worried that his jacket would encounter more wine stains. Sneers cracked the painted faces of women who were disgruntled by Harold’s pushing.
“Excuse me, excuse me,” Harold muttered without much enthusiasm. No one would hear him with this loud music anyway. Taking a moment to glance up and above the crowd, he was welcomed by a twinkling chandelier. The ceiling was wreathed with painted grapes and olive vines. Stunning.
He refocused and resumed weaving through the people. As Harold was spat out by the crowd, he faced a set of large open doors that seemingly opened into the abyss. A gentle breeze caressed his face, inviting him out into the night. It was a doorway to the peace and solitude Harold sought. A young boy in uniform by the doors tapped his foot to the swing played by the band. Harold walked out from the humidity of the party and was shoved by a gust of wind. The harsh wind bit at his neck and clean-shaven face while tousling his dark blonde hair. Squinting, Harold moved out onto the deck of the cruise ship.
The deck was empty, dark, and gloomy, and Harold couldn’t see past the bright lights framing the doors to the great hall. It was eerily quiet as the wind muffled the swing band inside.
He walked to the railing and touched it. Immediately, Harold retracted his hand—it was so cold it stung. By the railing, he could clearly hear the waves slap against the ship. Harold sighed. He was still young, not even thirty, and yet he acted like he was eighty. Wasn’t that the age when a person left parties early and lost interest in getting intoxicated? Wasn’t eighty the age when one was meant to be a widower?
Trying to ignore the tears brimming in his eyes, he looked over the side of the ship. It was difficult to do so because of the slippery deck. He caught a glimpse of the heaving black waves crashing against the boat. The sight scared him. What if he just fell over the railing? The sea would swallow him whole. Harold turned around, resting his back against the railing, catching his breath. It was hard to breathe out in this weather, and the penetrating winds were only growing stronger.
A shadow dashed across his vision. “Harold,” his wife’s voice cooed.
“Be gone!” he yelled, snapping his eyes shut. His body tensed, and he felt the cold in his bones. Leave me alone, please.
These phantoms that haunted him showed no mercy. They sunk their teeth into his fleshy mind when Harold least expected it. The tender caresses of his wife brushed past his cheek. Harold’s hands aggressively pushed it away, only to encounter air. But in that action, he lost his balance.
His tailbone slammed against the deck and his head collided with the railing. Pain shot through his body. His miserable groans mixed with the cold wind’s roar. As his gaze lifted, the brightly spotted sky distracted his attention from the pain in his ass and his head.
Minutes passed. Harold continued to lay in a twisted heap, his stare locked onto the sky above. The pain had reduced to a dull throb. Maybe it was the disappointment that killed my father. What would his father have thought of his son lying on the deck of a ship? The words of his father echoed in his mind.
“You are a disgrace, a bloody disgrace. What kind of image do you think you are sending? You are a man. Not an animal.”
“I didn’t mean to embarrass you or mother.” Harold felt like he was ten years old again.
“I cannot deny that Nadine’s death was tragic. But I cannot accept this kind of behaviour exhibited by someone who carries the family name. Son or not. If I hear once more about one of your incidents—”
With a feeble shake of Harold’s head, his father’s voice disappeared and he could focus on the twinkling stars again. There would be time to contemplate his father’s disappointment, but for now he wanted to enjoy the Atlantic night sky.
Harold didn’t try to stand. He wondered how long it would take until someone would find him. Or maybe no one ever would. If I just lay here long enough, maybe I’ll just disappear.
The sound of pleasurable sighs and wet kisses broke the silent night. A couple who thought they were alone had found somewhere to hide on the abandoned deck of the cruise ship. The woman giggled before slipping into a long moan. Harold closed his eyes.
“Come here,” Nadine winked, pulling on his hand. They rounded the kitchen corner, and she pressed herself up against the wall. With her hands around Harold, she brought him closer before kissing him.
“Your parents will be here any minute for lunch,” Harold whispered against her lips. Even as he tried to resist her, he found himself breathing deeply. It was getting harder to concentrate with each kiss.
“I want to celebrate.”
“Newspapers will publish your poetry again.” Finding a moment of clarity, Harold pulled away and tucked his shirt back into his pants. When had she pulled it out?
“They just rang me, and I want to celebrate.” She insisted. “Your parents are always an hour late.”
“As soon as my parents leave, we’ll celebrate.” With a smile, Harold took Nadine’s hand gently. “I’m proud of you, goose.”
She rolled her eyes and a smile found itself onto her face.
“You have to start making lunch—” Harold didn’t finish his sentence because Nadine’s hands pulled his face into a kiss. Her hands caressed the back of his head, her fingers twisting through his thick blonde hair.
Opening his eyes, he struggled to focus on the stars. When Harold raised his hand to the back of his head he felt something warm and sticky. Shit… Darkness encroached upon his vision. His teeth chattered.
A shriek pierced the night air. The scream was not one heard in the middle of making love, but one that burst from a woman’s lungs out of fear and pain. Harold scrambled to his feet. He knew it wasn’t from the couple he had been eavesdropping on. The sound was a different pitch and came from a different direction.
Stumbling forward in the darkness that veiled the deck, the floor appeared to tilt dangerously. Harold grasped onto the railing, but his feet gave way. He stumbled towards the location of the scream that had sliced through his mind like a knife. The back of his head throbbed.
“Help! She needs help!” Harold tried to yell but only managed to whisper. His vision blurred just before everything went black.