Crime (and Lager) – Blake Pierce

London Rose was startled when the floor lurched slightly beneath her feet and everything seemed to begin sliding sideways. The faces of several other people in the passageway registered alarm, and the little dog at her side let out an anxious yap. What could be happening to the boat they were on? The Nachtmusik was always very steady, and its motion along these European rivers was seldom noticeable. Then London realized where they must be right now. Smiling at the passengers, she said, “Don’t worry, everything’s fine. Remember, the captain sent out a memo about this turn. Come up to the Rondo deck with me and I’ll show you what’s going on.” This should be a nice change of pace, she thought. Her duties as Social Director had been particularly hectic today. Whenever they were in port, many of the one hundred passengers aboard either joined a planned tour or took off on their own adventures. When the Nachtmusik was traveling between ports, it was up to London to make sure they were entertained. Actually her job was even more complex than it had been in past years, when she had worked on huge ocean tour boats, but she loved the variety of it. And she’d been delighted to discover that the position included a certain amount of status and some definite perks. Now London picked up Sir Reggie, her Yorkshire Terrier, and led the small group to the elevators and spiral stairway that accessed all of the passenger levels. They walked up one flight to the openair top deck.

Sure enough, an impressive sight awaited them. Their vessel was slowly revolving almost completely around. Though smaller than most riverboats, the yacht-like Nachtmusik was built in that long and low style and London knew that this was no small navigational feat. The pilot was definitely demonstrating the ship’s state-of-the-art maneuverability along with his own skills. The fresh breeze on the Rondo deck ruffled London’s short auburn hair as she led her group over to the port railing. She and the passengers peered into the late afternoon sunlight as she put Sir Reggie down on the deck and began to explain what they were seeing. “You’re looking at the Old Town of the city Passau, Germany, extending out onto this small peninsula. Passau is known as the Dreiflüssestadt—the ‘City of Three Rivers,’ and you can easily see why. In fact, you’ve got a wonderful view from here.” London’s voice was almost drowned out by the ship’s machinery, which was working harder than usual.

She spoke louder to be heard above the noise. “We’ve just sailed out of the mouth of the Inn, the river to your left. Far over to your right you’ll see the mouth of the tiny Ilz River. We are now where the Inn and Ilz join the Danube, the river between the other two. Once we get turned all the way around, we’ll sail upstream along the Danube on our way to Regensburg, the next stop on our cruise.” The passengers murmured with admiration at the ship’s unusual motion—the sharpest and fullest turn it had made since their initial departure from Budapest, Hungary, a few days ago. The boat seemed almost to be rotating on some invisible axis, like the needle of a gigantic compass. But the sight of the ancient city of Passau itself was even more interesting than the navigational feat —and certainly more charming—with its stone buildings, red rooftops, and multiple spires. It occurred to London that those homes and other buildings along the shore had been casting their reflections on these rivers for hundreds of years. Long before that, tribal people and then Roman colonists had lived on this very waterfront.

She loved this aspect of her job—these expeditions into both the delightful present and the rich past of European civilization. So far on this trip, she had learned lots of remarkable facts and captivating legends. She had seen some beautiful things … And some ugly things, she reminded herself. At two of their stops, people had died and London had found herself in trouble with the police. She shook off those memories and turned back to the passengers who were waiting to hear what she had to say. London began to point out the buildings. “Over there in Old Town you’ll see St. Paul’s, the oldest church in Passau. Nearer to us are two white spires of the Baroque St. Stephen’s Cathedral, topped with copper onion-shaped domes.

The cathedral houses what is said to be the world’s largest church organ. And over there you can see the fourteenth-century Gothic tower, the Old Town Hall. And on that hilltop overlooking the city from the other side of the Danube …” London interrupted herself as she noticed another group of passengers gathered nearer to the ship’s bow. There she saw the ship’s historian, Emil Waldmüller, giving a lecture of his own. London smiled and said to her group, “Perhaps we should go hear what my colleague Herr Waldmüller has to say. He knows much more about all these things than I do.” As London’s group gravitated toward Emil’s circle, she heard a woman’s voice speak sharply. “Miss! Come here!” Not sure who was being called so harshly, London turned and saw a woman reclining in a deck chair near the railing. She was middle-aged, tall, and long-limbed, with a shock of curly hair that seemed to be trying to leap off the sides of her head. She’d been reading a paperback book, apparently uninterested in the wonderful sights at hand.

London had learned the names of all the hundred passengers of the Nachtmusik, so she knew this was Audrey Bolton. “Didn’t you hear me?” Audrey complained, glaring at London. “Honestly, it’s so hard to get the attention of anybody who works aboard this dreadful ship!” London bristled internally at the remark. Although she hadn’t really talked to Audrey Bolton since she’d first boarded the Nachtmusik back in Budapest, she’d heard from several members of the staff that she was difficult to get along with—and impossible to please. London walked over to the reclining woman and asked pleasantly, “How may I help you?” The woman peered disapprovingly at Sir Reggie over her sunglasses. “To begin with, I don’t like dogs,” she said. “And I don’t like sharing my expensive vacation with one.” London tried not to look as startled as she felt. Sir Reggie was practically a celebrity aboard the Nachtmusik. It was rare for a passenger to complain about him.

Fortunately, Sir Reggie seemed to detect the woman’s disapproval. He let out a slight whine and crept away to join the group of people listening to the historian. Two of those passengers immediately leaned down and welcomed the little dog with a pat. “Humph.” Audrey Bolton snorted at the sight. “That horrid little animal doesn’t bite, I hope.” “No, he’s perfectly friendly,” London said. “I’ll take your word for it. Just keep him away from me.” “I’ll do that,” London said.

“What else may I do for you?” A frown fell over the woman’s angular features as she pointed to a nearby magazine rack. “If you don’t mind very much, miss, I’d like you to fetch me a magazine.” The word “fetch” startled London a little, as if Audrey Bolton were addressing Sir Reggie instead of her. As wide-ranging as London’s job had turned out to be, it had never included “fetching” things for passengers. She wasn’t used to being called “miss” either. But she reminded herself of her professional motto. The customer may not always be right, but the customer is always the customer. London smiled her brightest smile. “I’d be glad to,” London said. “Which would you like?” Audrey Bolton’s eyes narrowed grimly over her tilted-down sunglasses.

“Why, The New Yorker, of course,” she said, sounding as if London ought to have already known that. “Right away,” London said. She walked over to the rack and took out a copy of The New Yorker, then walked back and handed it to the woman. Audrey scowled at the magazine and held it back out toward London. “This issue is quite out of date,” she said. London looked at the date on the cover. This was obviously the most recent issue of the weekly magazine they would have on board. For a moment, she didn’t know what to say. Just take a deep breath, she told herself. “I’m sorry to disappoint you,” London said.

“We’ll pick up the latest issue at the very next opportunity.” At least I’m being truthful about it, she thought. She knew the staff would pick up publications and other paper mail when they were in port. “Well, that won’t do,” Audrey growled. “That won’t do at all.” Then the woman stared off into space as if deep in thought. London wondered whether she should just apologize again and try to excuse herself and leave. Finally Audrey Bolton said, “Bring me the latest issue of Cosmopolitan.” Feeling a little worried now, London walked back over to the rack and took out the latest issue of the monthly magazine. She glanced at the cover and saw that this one was definitely not out of date.

She handed this magazine to Audrey, who frowned at the cover. “These articles look boring,” she said. London had to swallow back a laugh. Was she really being held responsible for the editorial content of the magazines in the rack? “I’m sorry,” she said again, as seriously as she could manage. “Would you like me to look for something more … to your liking?” “No, you’d never get it right.” Glancing at her wristwatch, the crotchety woman added, “Anyway, I haven’t got time for that sort of thing.” Haven’t got time? London wondered. She asked cautiously, “Do you have somewhere you need to be?” Audrey smiled condescendingly. “Regensburg would be nice, wouldn’t it?” she said. London squinted curiously.

“I’m not sure I understand,” London said. “Well, Regensburg is where we ought to be today, isn’t it?” Audrey said. “If we weren’t so desperately behind schedule, I mean. Instead, we’re just now sailing past Passau, which we should have done yesterday.” London winced again. Hardly any passengers had complained outright about the recent delays in the boat’s itinerary. Clearly, Audrey Bolton was going to be an exception. London said, “Ms. Bolton, on behalf of the staff and crew of the Nachtmusik, and also on behalf of Epoch World Cruise Lines, I apologize for our delays. Due to circumstances beyond our control—” “You mean people getting murdered left and right?” Audrey interrupted



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