Death [and Apple Strudel] – Blake Pierce

London Rose was jarred by a shouting voice. “London!” She knew that particular voice always meant trouble. She’d just been enjoying a nice feeling of success, watching Amir, the ship’s fitness instructor, lead water aerobics on the sleek riverboat’s open-air Rondo deck. The passengers were obviously enjoying themselves, and more than one had thanked London for organizing the class this morning. The blue-tiled pool raised above the deck was too small for any serious water activity like lap swimming, but it was perfect for cooling plunges, games, and this sort of small-scale exercise class. The fresh air, warm sunlight, and happy passengers had gotten the Nachtmusik’s trip from Gyor to Vienna off to a great start. But again came that sharp noise. “London! We’ve got a problem!” It was Amy Blassingame, the concierge here aboard the yacht-like river tour ship called the Nachtmusik. And she just loves to bring me problems, London thought. She turned and looked apprehensively at her colleague. Amy was a couple of inches shorter than London’s five-foot-six, and her figure was more robust. With her smooth helmet of short dark hair, she could appear almost militant when she wanted to take charge of an issue. The concierge scarcely bothered to conceal a trace of a smirk. “You’re going to have to get rid of that dog,” Amy announced. London felt a jolt of alarm.

“No,” she said. “I’m sure that issue has been settled.” Or at least she thought it had been settled. She’d gotten permission for Sir Reggie to stay with her after his owner had died. “I’m afraid you’re wrong,” Amy said. “Because a passenger has complained. He’s in stateroom 108—the one right next to yours. Your dog has been yapping and disturbing him.” Amy crossed her arms and shook her head. “Oh, London,” she said.

“You should have known it wouldn’t work out. You can’t keep a dog aboard this ship, I told you so. You should have listened.” London stifled an urge to say, “You told me no such thing.” In fact, the two of them hadn’t talked about the issue at all. But it was hardly surprising that Amy was gloating over London’s predicament. Just yesterday, London had pretty much single-handedly solved the mystery of a passenger’s death and the disappearance of a precious antique snuffbox. Her impromptu amateur detective work had led to the culprit’s arrest by the police back in Gyor. Amy was still stinging from embarrassment over the way she’d developed a crush on the man who had done the deed—or at least with one of the many personas he’d assumed—and had even invited him on board. Amy had fallen for one of the villain’s disguises hook, line, and sinker.

And London had exposed that mistake when she’d solved the crime. Not that Amy and I were on great terms from the start of this trip. “What are you going to do about it?” Amy demanded. “I don’t know,” London said. “Do you want my help?” That’s the last thing I need, London almost said. “No. I’m sure you’ve got other things to do,” she said instead. “You’ll have to get rid of the dog, of course,” Amy repeated. “We’ll see,” London told her, struggling to think of some alternative. As Amy headed away, London glanced back at the pool.

The guests in the water aerobics class were obviously having a good time. So were a few other passengers who stood at the railing looking out over the beautiful blue Danube, which was flanked on either side by lush, forested hills. She was glad to see their contentment. There had been far too much trauma during the last couple of days, starting with Mrs. Klimowski’s mysterious death. Then the boat had filled with police, and the investigation had led to a full day’s delay in setting sail to Vienna. The whole episode had taken its toll on everybody’s nerves. London knew she had a lot more work to do before this voyage felt like a happy, carefree European river tour again. But what am I going to do about Sir Reggie? London wondered as she turned and hurried to the elevator. She supposed she could turn him over to animal services when they arrived in Vienna, but … No, I can’t do that, she realized.

I just can’t. There has to be another way. London got off the elevator on the ship’s lowest passenger level, the Allegro deck. The “classic” staterooms here were the least expensive on the ship. Nevertheless, they were very comfortable and the décor was delightful. London had been surprised and charmed to be assigned ones of these rooms for herself. When she was first offered this job, she hadn’t realized that her position as social director would carry a certain status. But of course, the entire ship was much more elegant than any of the huge ocean cruisers that London had worked on in her previous jobs. The Nachtmusik was built low like other riverboats, but it was smaller, more advanced in design, and able to travel some rivers where others couldn’t go. In fact, it felt very much like a large yacht.

All was silent at first as she walked down the passageway. But as soon as she neared her own room, she could hear the yapping sounds. She opened the door to her room and found herself facing the tiny, teddy bear–like dog. Reggie stopped yapping and sat looking up at her. Like most Yorkshire Terriers, he was less than eight inches tall at the shoulder, but he had a giant-sized personality. “Reggie, you’ve got to stop making that noise,” London whispered. “You’re going to get into serious trouble.” Wagging his tail excitedly, Reggie trotted out the door into the passageway. London picked him up and wagged her finger at him. “I get it,” she said.

“You don’t like being left in the room alone. You’d like to go with me everywhere. And the truth is, I’d like that too, because I really enjoy your company, but …” She felt a lump form in her throat as she continued. “But I’ve got a job to do. And I can’t have you around all the time, everywhere I go. And this is where your food and potty is. I can’t always be running back here to let you in or out of the room.” Reggie let out a whine of resignation as London set him back down in her room. She stood looking at him, and he looked back at her with an almost human expression of longing. London felt a deep pang of pity.

He deserves better than this, she thought. He hadn’t had a very good life under Mrs. Klimowski’s care. Since he weighed less than ten pounds, the woman had carried him around everywhere she went in a tight, uncomfortable leather handbag. Now that he was liberated from that bag, he naturally wanted more freedom—and more human company. The lump in London’s throat tightened. Aside from being adorable and smart, Sir Reggie had proven himself a hero—and scarcely less of a detective than London herself had unexpectedly turned out to be. He’d identified the killer with a sharp yap, then pursued him bravely when he tried to get away. His courage had almost gotten him killed. He’d grabbed the escaping man by the pants leg on the ship’s gangway, tripping him up so the police could apprehend him.

But in doing so, he’d been thrown into the river, and London had plunged in to rescue him. She’d very nearly lost him. And now her eyes watered as she remembered how pathetic and lifeless he’d looked on the shore, his then-untrimmed coat soaked with water and mud, his little feet sticking up in the air. She also remembered her own gasp of relief when he’d coughed up some water and started to breathe again. “I’ll fix this somehow,” London told him. “Meanwhile, please be quiet.” She shut him back up in her quarters, and at least he didn’t start yapping right away. But she knew better than to suppose the silence could possibly last. Meanwhile, she had to talk to her angry neighbor. She knew his name from her passenger list, Stanley Tedrow, stateroom 108.

But she couldn’t remember what he looked like. He certainly hadn’t been on any of the tours in Budapest or Gyor or any other activity she’d seen. She wondered what he’d been doing on the trip so far. In an effort to look as dignified as possible, London straightened her uniform and ran her fingers through her short unruly auburn hair. Then she walked over to room 108 and knocked on the door. But what am I going to say to him? she wondered. CHAPTER TWO “Who is it?” growled a rough, raspy voice at the sound of London’s knock. “This is London Rose, the social director,” she said. She heard some grumbling, and then the door opened. A short, stooped, elderly man with a hawklike nose and squinty eyes stood there, glaring at London.

He was wearing pajamas, a bathrobe, and slippers. “You’re here about that dog next door, I take it,” Tedrow said. London nodded. “Have you talked to its owners about the racket it’s making?” he asked. London gulped hard. “Um, Mr. Tedrow—I’m the one taking care of the dog.” “You?” Tedrow said. “Yes, you see, I … well, my own stateroom is next door, and since Mrs. Klimowski died, there’s no one else to take care of the dog.

” “Somebody died?” Tedrow said with surprise. London was startled. Had the man been so isolated here in his room that he had no idea what had happened during the last few days? Hadn’t he even read the letter she’d written to inform the passengers Mrs. Klimowski’s death—the one she’d put in all the passengers’ mailboxes? Apparently not, she realized. And he didn’t seem to be at all curious about it, either. “Well, it’s none of my business, I suppose,” he said with a shrug. “What matters right now is that you do something about that dog.” “Mr. Tedrow, Sir Reggie’s just a little dog. Is he really too noisy for you? Once he gets used to things, surely he won’t complain so much.

I’ll bring you over and introduce him to you. I’m sure you’ll like him.” “I need peace and quiet,” Tedrow insisted. “What is he barking about anyway?” “He likes human company. And he likes to run around. But I can’t take him wherever I go. I have to leave him in my room sometimes.” “Why?” London was startled by the question’s abruptness. “Can you blame him for not wanting to be shut up like that?” Tedrow added. “Why don’t you just give him the run of the ship?” London was about to explain about how Sir Reggie needed access to the food and dog potty when she suddenly wondered something.

Why not give him the run of the ship? Maybe there was actually a way she could do that. “I’ll see what I can do,” she said. “You do that,” Tedrow said. “As long as the dog shuts up, I’ll be happy. I don’t care who lives next door.” He sat down at an out-of-date-looking computer on his table, apparently anxious to get back to work at something. London took a look around at the room. Like most of the other staterooms on the Allegro deck, this one was almost identical to hers. It was hardly as luxurious and spacious as the rooms on the upper levels, but it was much, much nicer than the cramped, windowless quarters she’d shared with other employees while working as a hostess on oceangoing cruise ships. While hers was pleasantly decorated in shades of soft gray and blue, Mr.

Tedrow’s room décor was a range of earth tones. His little table was mostly taken up by the computer and a small printer, and a few books were scattered on his queen-size bed. It was a perfectly nice room. But she was worried by the solitude of its occupant. “Um, Mr. Tedrow—is everything else OK? Aside from my dog, I mean?” “Why do you ask?” he asked without looking away from the computer screen. London swallowed uncomfortably. “Well, as the ship’s social director, it’s my duty to make sure that everybody aboard the Nachtmusik is perfectly happy.” “Don’t worry, I’m perfectly happy,” Tedrow growled. “Or at least I will be after you do something about that dog.

” London peered at him curiously as he kept staring at the computer screen. He sure doesn’t sound perfectly happy, she thought. She figured it was her job to draw him out, get him to talk to her a little. “What did you think of Gyor?” she asked. “Why, did we stop there?” London’s eyes widened with surprise. “Yes, we did,” she said. “We just left there last night.” “Well, I knew the ship has been sitting still most of the time since we left Budapest, but I’d sort of forgotten all about the itinerary. I don’t much care about it, if you want to know the truth.” What do you care about? London wondered.

She tried to hide her worry behind her best professional smile. “I hope you’ve at least enjoyed some of the amenities aboard the Nachtmusik.” “Amenities?” he asked, as if he didn’t understand the word. “You know—features, luxuries, activities.” “Such as?” London peered at him with growing concern—and growing curiosity. “Well, surely you’ve checked out the Habsburg Restaurant up on the Romanze deck. Or the swimming pool and outdoor activities up on the Rondo deck. Or the Amadeus Lounge on the Menuetto deck. You know, we’ve been adding some casino features to the lounge—” “Sorry, not interested,” Tedrow said with a dismissive wave of his hand, still staring at his computer screen. London was baffled.

Surely Mr. Tedrow had explored the ship at least once since the beginning of the journey. But since then … Has he been outside this room at all? She noticed a tray of mostly eaten breakfast also on the table where he worked. Perhaps he’d had all his meals delivered here since they’d left Bucharest. It suddenly occurred to London that a passenger could spend the entire Danube tour cooped up in one’s own stateroom. But why would anyone do that? And wasn’t it up to her to coax such a passenger to get out and around? But Mr. Tedrow was obviously a prickly character, so she knew she’d better be careful how she went about drawing him out. “Mr. Tedrow, if you don’t mind my asking …” Tedrow growled as if he did mind. London continued, “What have you enjoyed most about your trip so far?” “The privacy,” he said, scowling at her.

“At least most of the time. And the quiet—at least when I’ve been able to get it.” “And?” He pointed to the high window, which was open. “The fresh sea air,” he said. London squinted with perplexity. She had no doubt that Mr. Tedrow knew perfectly well that the Nachtmusik was on a river tour, and that the ship hadn’t been at sea since they’d left Budapest. Now he’s just trying to annoy me, she thought. She was determined not to let him succeed. “Mr.

Tedrow—” she began. “If you don’t mind, Miss Sociality, I’d like to get back to enjoying myself.” He kept his eyes glued to the computer screen. “Just do something about that dog, OK?” he grumbled, drumming his fingers on the table. “OK, Mr. Tedrow,” London said, then left the room. When she closed the door behind her, she stood in the passageway trying to process the strange visit. She remembered something he’d said. “Don’t worry, I’m perfectly happy.” Might he have really meant it, despite his grouchy tone? Was it possible that Mr.

Tedrow really was enjoying the river tour in his own peculiar way? Maybe so, London thought, but she wondered whether he couldn’t have had just as good a time by staying home. She quickly reminded herself of her own professional motto. “The customer may not always be right, but the customer is always the customer.” It surely wasn’t up to her to change Mr. Tedrow’s solitary ways. It was his choice, after all. She couldn’t exactly drag him kicking and screaming into all the entertainments, pastimes, and diversions of a luxury tour boat. Besides, London had another pressing concern at the moment. She went back into her room, where Reggie welcomed her eagerly. “I’ve got an idea,” she said.

“You and I have an errand to run.” As she attached a leash to his collar, she added, “I’m going to try to fix things for both of us. But you’ve got to be a perfect little gentleman, as adorable as you can possibly be. You can do that, can’t you?” Sir Reggie let out a little yap of what sounded like agreement. She led him out into the passageway, where he trotted toward the elevator in front of her. They took the elevator back up to the open-air Rondo deck. As soon as they stepped off the elevator, London was surprised to hear a small burst of applause. The people playing on the shuffleboard court had stopped playing and were expressing their delight at seeing Sir Reggie. As if daunted by this warm reception, Sir Reggie jumped up into London’s arms. “There he is—our hero!” shouted a woman.

“The fearless Sir Reggie!” exclaimed a man. Another woman laughed. “We can all breathe easier, knowing that Sir Reggie is always here to save the day!” As passengers started to cluster around him, poor Reggie didn’t seem to quite get what the fuss was about. But London understood. Word had gotten around the ship about Sir Reggie’s courageous behavior yesterday, and he was now rather famous aboard the Nachtmusik. “Get used to it, kid,” she murmured to him, scratching his head. “You’re now a celebrity.” She couldn’t help feeling amused that she herself wasn’t getting the same kind of acclaim after having solved the mystery of Mrs. Klimowski’s death. Maybe if I was just little and cute … But she decided it was just as well that people still seemed to still regard her as London Rose the social director, and not as London Rose the intrepid sleuth.

It made her job a little easier. Meanwhile, London took comfort in the reception Sir Reggie was getting. Whatever else might happen, he wasn’t going to get evicted from Nachtmusik. With his popularity, any attempt to get rid of him would result in a scandalous ship-wide uproar. Also, if it turned out that she couldn’t keep Reggie in her own room, there would be other people who would be thrilled to take care of him … London felt a sudden alarm at that idea. No, she thought. He’s my dog now. He’s no one else’s. My plan has to work, she thought. It just has to.

.

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