The sky was clear blue, with just a few clouds in its vast expanse. The birds had retired to their homes in the shady palms where they sought refuge from the sweltering heat of the sun. The air was still, but the distinct scent of the salty sea hung in the air. The grains of sand shone like white pearls under the light of the late afternoon sun. AR-549 sighed as a drop of sweat trickled down the cheek. A perfectly normal day with an unassuming atmosphere. What a shame it would be to destroy that serene environment…
“Ma’am, your tickets, please,” said the short, round man with thinning hair on the top.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Isabella, as she was suddenly jolted to the present from her thoughts. She hastily searched for them in her white Gucci handbag. She tried to push away her red hair, which kept falling on her face.
She was going on a four-day cruise trip to Cozumel from Miami. While everyone else was excited about the trip, Isabella doubted whether she’d have time to relax and have fun.
“Here you are,” said Isabella, as she handed over her tickets to the short man, who was annoyed for having been kept waiting for a long time.
“We have to board all the passengers within the next half hour,” he muttered under his breath.
Isabella apologized and walked away quickly before he could try to find fault with her again. ***
“I wish our trip is as romantic as that painting over there,” said Jack, pointing at an expensive painting of a couple dancing under the moon on display, as he adjusted his tie, and tried to look taller than his six-foot frame.
“Oh, it will be, honey,” said Sophia, as she patted her black hair, which was tightly tied into a bun. She wore a tight black dress and a thin Swarovski necklace also in black, which complemented her fair skin tone. Hand in hand, they walked into the deserted corridor of the cruise liner.
Dressed in a blue Louis Philippe suit complete with a Titan watch on his wrist, Alex strolled down the extravagant lobby of the passenger rooms, with a black Louis Vuitton suitcase. Alex had no time to admire the exquisite interior of the cruise ship; he had other things to do.
Charlotte cursed under her breath, as she almost tripped over her pink maxi gown. Wearing a big gown and stilettos was clearly not a good idea. And today of all days, why was she dressed in this attire? She kept swearing as she walked toward the lift. Her short brunette hair kept falling on her face, making her more irritated than ever.
Anna smiled to herself, as she walked toward her room. It was the beginning of a fabulous vacation. Finally, a holiday without her being accompanied by bodyguards, and under constant 24-hour surveillance. Being a princess was not easy. Everyone was constantly watching her every move, and she wasn’t able to enjoy a normal life. She wanted a small break from her royal duties and wanted to explore the world, all on her own. So, she had flown from Belgium to the States, a place she had always wanted to visit. Her first trip was a cruise from Miami to Cozumel.
It had hardly been a minute since Anna had entered her room when she noticed that there was a leak in the tap. She picked up the phone and dialed the number for housekeeping.
“Is this housekeeping? It has hardly been a minute since I’ve entered the room and the tap in the restroom is already leaking.”
“Apologies ma’am. A plumber will be sent to your room,” said the voice on the other end.
A few minutes later, Anna heard a knock at the door. She opened the door and saw a tall man dressed in loose, dark-blue clothes, with a surgical mask on his face.
“Plumber?” asked Anna.
“Yes,” he replied in a gruff voice and entered the room. As soon as the door shut, he took a cloth from his bag and placed it over Anna’s mouth, before she could react. She immediately lost consciousness, after which he took a long hypodermic syringe he had hidden in his pocket and pierced it into her skin. He then took her body and placed it on the bed, making her look as though she was just taking a nap.
He then left the room, taking the room card with him. As he walked out of the room, down the corridor, a piece of cloth, which he had hastily shoved in his pocket fell….
Dressed in a short, red top, with loose black palazzos underneath, Emma walked to her room, with a dreamy look on her face. After a whole month of projects, constant calls, and sleepless nights, she finally had a break from her routine. She could almost taste the Mexican air on her tongue, though the cruise had hardly left Miami.
Suddenly a white cloth on the floor caught her eye. She bent down to see what it was. Emma observed a faint ether-like smell that emanated from the cloth.
Hmmm. Ether? Could this be chloroform?
She suddenly started laughing. I guess I’ve been reading way too many Agatha Christie novels. I should stop being skeptical of everything.
Suddenly, the door behind her opened, and a young couple walked out.
“Are you searching for something?” asked the pretty woman, when she saw Emma’s hunched figure.
“No, I’m not searching for anything. I just found this piece of cloth here. It has this strange smell, so for some weird reason, I got intrigued by it.”
Upon seeing the confused expressions on their faces, Emma added, “It’s uh, nothing. Probably someone dropped their handkerchief.”
“Umm, ok,” the woman said looking at her in a weird way.
“I’m Emma,” she said, as she held out her hand. “I’m just so excited for this trip.
“Yeah, I’m very excited too,” the woman said curtly. “I’m Sophia, and this is Jack,” she said, pointing to the man beside her. “Is your room here?”
“Yeah, my room is at the end, over there,” Emma said, pointing to her room.
“Oh ok,” said Sophia, slightly frowning. “Are you coming for the party tonight?”
“You mean the disco party on the seventh deck? Yeah, I will.”
“Ok,” Sophia said. “See you at the party then.” She then turned around and walked away with Jack. The two of them, who were happily talking with each other a few moments ago, now seemed to be arguing with one another. Jack glanced back at Emma once and turned to talk with Sophia, as they turned around the corner.
Emma looked in the direction where the couple had gone for a while. Why did she have to make herself look like a fool in front of complete strangers? She looked at the cloth in her hand and smelled it again. The ether-like smell had almost disappeared. She shrugged and dropped the cloth to the floor.
Emma went to her room, which was at the end of the corridor, beyond which there was nothing but a pale green wall, with a picture of a cruise ship at the center. She looked down at her watch; it was almost five. She decided to rest for a while and then go to the party after freshening up.
“Oh God,” said Emma, as she switched on her phone. “6:20? Seriously? I’m so late!” She quickly changed her dress and freshened up.
Just as Emma stepped out of her room, the door in front of her opened, and out stepped a woman. “It’s 6:43,” she said.
“Yeah, I hope I’m not late for the party. It starts at 7, right?” Emma said.
“Ummm, yeah,” the woman said, suddenly startled at seeing Emma.
“I’m Emma, by the way.”
“Nice to meet you.”
“And you are…” Emma said, expecting her to tell her name.
“I’m Charlotte,” she replied. She stood there, and after a few awkward moments, she gave Emma a brief smile and then went down the corridor.
Emma looked after her. Had she told her something wrong? Why did she look at her like that?
Emma’s gaze suddenly fell on the door diagonally opposite hers. A bronze plate on the door, had the number 643 etched on it in black. Was Charlotte referring to the time, or was she talking about the room number? If she was, what did she have to do with it? After all, she didn’t stay in that room.
Emma slowly inched towards the door. Curiosity had now gotten the better of her, and she wanted to know if ‘643’ meant something about that room. She looked around her to make sure that no one was watching, and placed her ear against the door. She couldn’t hear anything from inside, so she decided to knock. She curled her fist into a ball and could feel her heart beating fast as she knocked at the door. If someone opened the door, she decided to act as if she was lost, and had come to the wrong door. The door suddenly gave in.
Hmm. The door was just open? Emma went inside and switched on the lights.
She saw a woman lying on the bed. Great! She had just broken into some sleeping woman’s room. But why hadn’t she woken up even when she switched on the lights? Emma was curious, and slowly walked up to the woman and looked down at her. Now up close, she suddenly looked familiar. Emma gasped when she realized who she was; she wasn’t any woman, she was Anna, the Princess of Belgium! Emma started trembling when she realized that she’d broken into a princess’s room. Maybe she hadn’t woken up as soon as the lights were switched on, but she could wake up any moment.
Emma tried to go out of the room as quickly as she could, without making any noise at the same time. As soon as Emma came out, her mind became filled with a million what-ifs. What if someone had seen her go in? What if the princess had seen her come in? Emma could already see her name in the headlines- ‘Emma breaks into Belgian Princess’s room in cruise.’ She saw a janitor walk down the corridor. What if he’s coming to arrest me for breaking inside her room? The janitor walked past her, without giving as much as a second glance, and Emma heaved a sigh of relief.
Emma was still shivering all over and decided to go to the party to clear her mind.
As she went inside the party hall, she could see many already dancing and a few singing on stage. She walked towards a corner and observed everything from there. She shuddered as she thought about the princess.
“You feeling cold?” asked a voice behind her.
Emma turned to see a red-haired woman with bold red lipstick and thick mascara in her eyes, which made her look intimidating.
“No, I’m fine,” Emma replied.
“Don’t feel like dancing?”
“No, I usually don’t dance. Aren’t you dancing?”
“I would have, but I’m just not in a good mood right now. Not been a good day.”
“I could say the same thing. Came for a solo cruise trip, thought I could enjoy myself, but now I just can’t get this…” Emma suddenly stopped herself from saying ‘feeling of guilt out of my head.’
“Get this thing out of my head.”
“Hmmm. I know what you mean. Today’s been one hell of a day for me too. Name’s Isabella by the way.”
“It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one having a bad day. I’m Emma.”
“You want a drink,” Isabella asked, pouring a glass, that seemed to have materialized out of thin air.
“Yeah sure,” Emma said, taking the glass from Isabella.
As she drank, she suddenly felt her mind becoming hazy, and her eyes started seeing double. She tried to grab onto something. She could hear a ringing in her ears before everything turned black.
Emma opened her eyes and first found herself blinded by lights. Once she got adjusted to the lights, she saw that she was in an empty room, with nothing but a few miscellaneous items scattered around. She tried to get up but found that both her hands and legs were tied.
Great. How do I get myself out of this mess?
The door suddenly opened again, and Emma couldn’t believe whom she saw. In walked the red-haired woman she’d seen earlier.
“Well, well. Look what we’ve got.”
“You tried to pose as a friend and drugged me. Why?” Emma said through gritted teeth.
“You thought we’d let you tell the authorities that you found a drugged princess? It would be only a matter of time before the police found out.”
“Wait, what?! You drugged her?”
“Yeah, when we saw that you had found the cloth soaked in chloroform and had also managed to go into her room, we decided to have you tied up, in case you blabber to the authorities.”
“We? Who’s we?”
Just then, the door opened, and in walked Sophia and Jack.
“You two?” asked Emma, confused.
“Guess what, darling? We’re Isabella’s friends,” said Sophia.
“Look, I promise I won’t tell anyone about-”
“Oh,” Jack laughed. “So, you think we’re just going to let you go? If you hadn’t been so inquisitive, we wouldn’t have bothered you at all.”
“I didn’t do anything, please… let me go. Why… did you drug her?”
“Well, as we’re not going to leave you anyway, I guess it won’t hurt to tell you,” Isabella said, as she looked at Sophia and Jack, who just shrugged.
“Well, when we got a tip that Anna was going to Miami on a solo cruise trip, we booked tickets for a flight to Miami and on the same cruise as her. We were lucky to get rooms near hers as well. She’s a royal, so we knew that she’d carry some valuables like diamond necklaces and ruby bracelets. Selling all these treasures in Mexico will fetch us millions,” Isabella said with a triumphant look on her face.
“Carrying out this plan was easier than we expected. Jack and Sophia, came early to the cruise. We found out that Anna’s room had a leaking tap. It was easy to convince the housekeeping staff that I was a new staff, and had been asked to switch with her. As expected, Anna called me (housekeeping), and I communicated with Jack to go to her room. He was dressed as a janitor, and once he was inside, it was easy to place a chloroform cloth over her mouth and inject a hypodermic syringe, which would have her knocked out long enough. We’ll be in Cozumel before she wakes up. Jack stole the room card and gave it to Sophia. Her physique is almost similar to that of the princess, so the cameras wouldn’t be suspicious when she went into the room to steal the jewels.
The drawbacks? Jack dropped the chloroform-soaked cloth, and Sophia forgot to close the damned door. You sneaky little cat found both the cloth and went inside the room, so we have you tied up here.”
“That cloth was a mistake,” Jack said, looking menacingly at Isabella. “I was the one who wore those horrible loose janitor clothes. I was the one who knocked out the princess and found out that Emma had gone inside the room.”
“Wait. You were the janitor that walked past me?” Emma asked, shocked.
“But you weren’t able to knock out Emma, were you? I was the one who made her unconscious,” said Isabella, oblivious to what Emma had just said.
“How could you expect me to do that in the corridor where there are cameras? My job was just to inform you guys,” said Jack.
“Maybe I forgot to close the door, but I’m the one who stole the jewels,” said Sophia, holding a big, black bag.
“You know that all of us share that treasure, right?” Isabella said, suddenly in a softer tone, as if afraid that she’d take away all the loot.
Sophia smiled and was about to say something, when the door opened and in walked a woman in a pink gown and a tall man, with a group of men, dressed in black.
“Oh shit,” murmured Jack. “Now look who got us in this mess.” Isabella looked at him with her hands balled up as if she wanted to hit him right there.
“Wait, weren’t you the person whom I saw at…” Emma began.
“Agent Charlotte, FBI,” she said as she walked inside with an air of authority. “You think you’re going to get away with that,” Charlotte said, pointing at the bag Sophia still had in her hand.
“I…ummm…” Sophia started.
“Hand over the bag,” instructed Charlotte. A reluctant Sophia gave the bag to Charlotte.
“I’m Alex, Princess Anna’s bodyguard, and these men are all royal personnel,” said the man, talking for the first time. “When we learned that Princess Anna was traveling alone, we came here to watch over her. We were first suspicious when she didn’t come out of her room since she went inside yesterday afternoon. We used the CCTV footage to check the activities along the corridor where her room was. We saw Emma go inside and come out with a terrified look on her face. We went to the princess’s room after Emma left, and saw her sleeping on the bed. We noticed that she didn’t wake up even though the lights were switched on. We called out her name several times, but she didn’t respond. We suspected that she could be drugged. We also found her suitcase on the floor which was open and her clothes scattered on the floor. We realized that she’d been robbed. We found out this room where you’ve been hiding the jewels and placed a camera inside. When Sophia and Jack went inside, we surrounded the room. But the twist? We found out that Emma wasn’t the culprit after listening to the conversation you guys had.”
“Cuff them,” Alex said, instructing the officers to handcuff the protesting Isabella, Sophia, and Jack.
AR-549 smiled. Things couldn’t have been easier!
Charlotte took out a thick mask and covered her face with it.
Alex looked at her in surprise. “What are you doing?”
Charlotte suddenly started laughing hysterically. “Alex, didn’t you ever wonder why I never showed you my FBI badge? That’s because I don’t have one! Did it never occur to you how I found this room where the jewels were kept? I came here, not to save the princess, but to steal the jewels and make a fortune out of it in Cozumel, once our friends here,” she said, pointing to the three of them, now looking at her confused, “finished all the hard work for me.”
Everyone in the room was quiet for a moment. Alex was the first to break the silence. “Charlotte, you think you can get away with this? You know that the room is filled with royal personnel heavily armed, and even if you go out of this room, the authorities on the ship will catch you. The ship is only going to land in Cozumel tomorrow.”
“Oh, so you think that I’m dumb enough to steal the jewels and wait for the ship to land tomorrow? No, no. I have a helicopter waiting for me, so if you’ll excuse me.”
Charlotte took out a bottle that was hidden in her dress and sprayed it around her. The room was filled with haze, and everyone started coughing.
Charlotte walked out of the room with the bag of jewels, a twisted smile on her face.
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