Murder on the Acadia
Copyright © 2023 by Bob Altemeyer
Murder On the Acadia
On a fine June day in 1999 Roger Galten, 63, a professor in the University of Chicago’s Department of Psychology, stared mournfully at the two folders he had tossed on the table before him. He was sitting on the porch of his summer cabin, which bordered the Wisconsin Dells about a three hour’s drive north of the city, and a charming breeze off the lake before him cupped an arm around his shoulder and whispered, “Let’s go fishing.” But Roger had promised his colleagues he would name the winner of the contest by noon, and regrettably unleash the glory-seeking publicity hound who served as one of the university’s vice-presidents. Who would bark out a big story about, unfortunately, nothing.
The contest, dreamt up by the VP a year ago, purported to name the Most Identical Twins in the World. As far as Roger was concerned, such an accolade belonged in the Guinness Book of Records right behind “World’s Loudest Snorer.” It wasn’t that he found twins dull. He served, after all, as one of the three directors of the Chicago Twins Project and had devoted much of his career to studying identical and fraternal twins.  But the contest oozed Phineas Taylor Barnum Sleaze from every pore, in Roger’s mind. “It has nothing to do with who the people are,” he argued when his two co-directors gushed over the vice-president’s brainchild. “They could be ax-murderers. It’s just that they are alike. You might as well celebrate lamp posts. Count me out.”
Thus, the irony that he was going to choose the winning pair this morning rather than do a hundred things with more appeal, including setting the files on fire. For Roger’s colleagues could not agree on a winner and had prevailed on him to save them from another fine mess they had gotten themselves into. He thought of flipping a coin and trundling down to his boat. But Roger had built himself around a core of integrity, so if one of these sets was more identical than the other, he would find it. “But I’ll hate having to live off that small a difference,” he thought to himself.
The inside cover of the file labeled “Thatch” sported a shoulders-and-head photograph of two identically dressed middle-aged Caucasian women. They had platinum blonde hair that had an ashy tint to it, smartly pulled back, and each was wearing a grey suit jacket over a white mock-turtleneck blouse. Roger was reminded of something from long ago, but he couldn’t say what. He noticed they were smiling brilliantly with exactly the same smile. He pulled out the pocket magnifier he used for reading restaurant menus and bewildering assembly instructions and could not find a difference between the two faces. “These two have practiced being identical,” he said to himself, “and they’re damn good at it.”
The first page in the folder gave the bare-bones demographic details of the pair. Hecuba and Kecubinia Thatch were born in Nebraska in 1955, so would be 44 this year. They had completed Grade 12 in Topeka, Kansas, and each had a one-year post-secondary degree in cosmetology and hair styling from a school in Omaha. They presently operated a beauty salon in Lincoln, Nebraska which kept the same roof over their heads that covered the salon. They gave their net wealth as “Between $10,000 and $20,000.” Neither had ever married. They had not been recruited by the Twins Project but had heard about it and volunteered.
Roger wondered about the odd names but recognized that parents—especially impoverished ones—sometimes gave extravagant names to their children to give them some sort of boost in life. He also noted that the Thatch sisters had never trotted to the altar, but this happened more among identical twins than usual as some “Idents” can become so attached to each other that everyone else forever remains an outsider. From the looks of the looks of it, Hecuba and Kecubinia were extremely attached. The fact that they had joined the study on their own gave Roger no pause. Once their early findings had bounced around the news services, many twins had asked to join in. The Thatch sisters could not have anticipated two years ago that someday a blowhard VP would organize a contest to find the most identical Identicals.
Next in the file lay the autobiography Hecuba and Kecubinia had submitted. They were born in Grant, Nebraska, the fourth and fifth of five children born to Sedge and Heather Thatch, itinerant farm workers who year after year followed the growing seasons on the Great Plains after World War II. They had an older brother and two older sisters.
Their parents “caught something” in the fall of 1963 and passed away in just two days. The five Thatch children were placed with an aunt in Council Bluff, Iowa, and when she suddenly became ill, they moved on to an uncle in Harrison, Arkansas. Then another uncle in Kirksville, Missouri took them on for a while. From there they went to Topeka, Kansas to live with their maternal grandparents.
The foster homes varied markedly in many ways. For example, religiously the children were raised as Mennonites, “Nothing,” Lutherans, and devout Catholics. But wherever they went, it was always temporary. The Thatch kids could tell when they were about to be hung out on another branch of the family tree, and “Heck” and “Keck”—as they were called by their siblings and foster parents—picked up warning signs in the summer of ‘68 when their grandfather “took poorly.”
The two sisters said they had always been so identical in looks and mannerisms that no one—not even their siblings—could tell them apart. And they had grown closer and closer as they went from one home to another. Now disaster loomed because the children were told their grandparents could not feed them all. They would keep one child, and their previous hosts each agreed to take back one child. Their brother Andronicus was 18 and ready to strike out on his own. Heck and Keck begged their grandparents to let the two of them stay, together, in Topeka, and they made themselves indispensable. At the same time, their sisters got blamed for stealing from the grandparents’ cash box. When the dust settled at Christmas 1968, Hecuba and Kecubinia were still with grammy and grandpa, and their sisters had been farmed off to Arkansas and Missouri.
Their grandfather died in 1971. When Heck and Keck graduated from high school in 1973, Keck surprised everyone by moving to Kansas City to become a TWA stewardess. Heck stayed behind to look after her grandmother. But Keck discovered she missed her sister too much to be apart, and so quit the course after just two weeks. The pair had been together every day of their lives since, they said.
Their grandmother was a seamstress and had taught all the Thatch girls how to make their own clothes. In 1974, after placing their grandmother in a nursing home, Heck and Keck went to work in the Maidenform facility in Crete, Nebraska. They saved their money and enrolled in a beautician college in Omaha. Graduation led to work in local beauty parlors, and eventually the pair made their way to Lincoln where they opened their own salon in 1990. The city housed both the state capital and its major university, and business proved steady.
Their brother had organized family reunions every few years which Heck and Keck always attended. But Andronicus had died recently, and the last reunion had been quite sad.
Roger sighed a little as he turned to the next file in the folder; for he felt sorry for the Thatch women. He was not a fool. He had learned to touch autobiographies with a ten-foot pole and then beat them with it. He knew that intensely bonded twins could form a hard knot in a family that others had to accommodate. He suspected Heck and Keck had sabotaged their siblings’ chances of staying with their grandparents, so they could stay together. He also knew that twins who made a point of being identical usually used their identity to get away with things. So he wouldn’t be surprised if, for instance, Heck and Keck had taken turns going to the cosmology classes, and gotten two trainings for one tuition. Having a doppelganger who was also your soul mate could open many doors. But Roger believed Heck and Keck had to do whatever they did to overcome the poor circumstances of their youth. “They’ve managed to make a little lemonade out of the lemons life gave them,” he thought.
The rest of the folder contained the scores on the battery of physiological and psychological tests used by the Twins Project. The measurements were taken by a hired graduate student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who signed a document saying he had complied with the hard-and-fast procedure laid down for the testing. After various physical details (height, weight, blood pressure, heart rate) had been secured, Heck and Keck had been placed in different rooms and given a slew of personality tests and attitude scales. The sisters were separated to guarantee the integrity of the data; some twins wanted to look more similar than they really were. But there was no reason to suspect collusion, since “the contest” was not even a twinkle in the evil eye of the vice-president at the time and the subjects had no idea what psychological tests would be used.
Roger did a double take as he examined the scores, because it looked like someone had photocopied one set of results and stapled the two forms together. Heck and Keck were exactly the same height, to the millimeter. They weighed precisely as much, within a few grams. Their blood pressures were identical, and their hearts beat as one. The scores on the psychological tests marched along, two-by-two, in almost perfect step. They had the same interests, beliefs, likes and dislikes, anxieties, profiles on psychiatric inventories, and so on. They came within two points of each other on the IQ test the project used (107 versus 109).
Any statistician would know this was partly an illusion. Hundreds and hundreds of cases had accumulated in the project’s files, and some of them would just happen, by luck, to look more similar than the twins really were. The most similar pairs would be amazingly similar partly because “measurement error” broke the same way for them a lot. But Heck and Keck landed a good two notches beyond “amazingly similar.”
Roger wondered how the second folder, labeled “Greenleaf,” could match the first. So as he flipped it open, he scooted his chair back from the table in anticipation of getting up momentarily and phoning Chicago that the Thatch sisters had won. The photo on the top of the documents reinforced this notion. Steven and Tom Greenleaf, white and obviously senior citizens, stared back at him with the blank expressions demanded for drivers’ licenses, mug shots, and passports. Unlike Heck and Keck, they were dressed differently—one in a suit, the other in a kind of safari jacket. However Roger’s magnifying glass showed them to be facially identical. One of them slouched noticeably more than the other; one needed a haircut, the other did not. “These guys look like they never noticed they were identical twins,” Roger thought.
The demographic note said the Greenleafs were Canadians, born in Toronto in 1936 and so were now 63. Roger was not surprised that both sets of finalists were older than average. The project had reasoned that the older a pair of twins got, the greater the opportunity for them to become different. One could get high blood pressure, the other could develop phobias, and so forth. So they put in a “correction factor” for age, giving older participants higher agreement scores than the data indicated. Roger suspected they had laid on too much correction. But he couldn’t do anything about that now.
The Greenleafs had both majored in biochemistry at the University of Toronto and then gotten their PhDs at the University of Guelph in plant science. Steven took a position in the Canadian Agriculture Research Station housed on the campus of the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, and his brother joined the Plant Science department of the Faculty of Agriculture at the same university. They stayed at their positions until Steven took early retirement at 55 in 1991. Tom was still a prof. Neither had ever married, and they had lived together all their lives. Like the Thatches, the Greenleafs had volunteered to participate in the Twins project soon after they heard about it. When asked about their financial status, both men said they were billionaires.
Although Roger’s eyes had been dutifully scanning the words on the page before him and passing the news to the back of his cerebral cortex, the front of his brain had mainly been thinking about what lure he would try first when he reached Hidden Cove. Now the word “billionaires” firmly fixed his attention on the Greenleafs’ autobiographical statement. They had been interested in plants for a long time. They had won the Grand Prize in the Toronto Science Fair while in high school for experiments on plant genetics. Although their parents were fairly well off, they had each won scholarships and fellowships all the way through some top-notch programs. Openings in their field were scarce when they ran out of schooling, and they went to Winnipeg because two good jobs opened up there. They acclimated to the -30C to +30C range in temperatures on the Canadian prairies and did some brilliant research over the years without interruption, except for a brief period in the late 1960s when Steven was loaned to the American government for a study that was not described in the autobiography. Otherwise the Greenleafs, like the Thatches, had not spent so much as a day apart for the last 25 years and hoped that would be true for the rest of their lives.
Steven said he retired because he had lost interest in the mundane research projects that Ottawa kept assigning him. He had enough money to equip his own lab in an industrial park in Winnipeg and he relished being able to explore every day for as long as he wanted wherever his mind wandered. Especially because he felt his work offered so much for humanity. He recognized that while agricultural advances were helping feed vast millions around the world, they also had their costs. More and more land was being converted to growing crops, fertilizers and pesticides were being overused, and the reliance on genetically-engineered plants made the world’s food supply vulnerable to any future disease that would attack the one strain of corn, soybeans, canola, and so forth that were increasingly being planted now. Furthermore, he keenly felt the devastating loss of forests on the planet because his great passion, and Tom’s, was birding.
Thus, Steven began studies to develop (and patent) “super varieties” of disease-resistant rice and other grains. He had a dream one night, he said, that suggested a genetic modification which not only produced the targeted resistance, but improved crop yields by nearly 10%. These super seeds superseded most of the grains on the world market and were immensely valuable. Almost every large corporation in the world, from Boeing Aircraft to General Foods to Shell Oil, wanted to acquire exclusive licensing rights, and of course other researchers immediately tried to develop their own versions on the discovery. But the patents had been very carefully and broadly established and only the combined “Greenleaf codons” had the double-barrelled positive effects, And because of determined court work by Monsanto Chemical and others over the years, patents on seeds were virtually unbreakable and vigorously enforced in most of the world.
In the end Steven licensed the patent rights to an agriculture consortium that had a relatively good record of protecting the environment. He received $2 billion up front for giving the consortium an exclusive ten-year license, and 5% of net profits as well every year. The consortium agreed to set aside a fixed percentage of income for “habitat recovery.” This fund would buy tracts of farm land around the world and restore them to their earlier state. Or else it would buy habitat that was about to be destroyed. The consortium guaranteed a minimum of $1 billion per year for the fund, with provision for additional money when sales increased beyond a certain point. This was but a drop in the bucket in terms of need, but it would enable various endangered species of birds to begin a comeback.
Steven named Tom a full partner in this enterprise, equally sharing all its rewards. Both the Canadian government and the University of Manitoba sued them, claiming the patents, or at least some of the income, rightfully belonged to them. But Steven had carefully documented his independent studies, no one could say he hadn’t “dreamt up” the genetic improvement on his own, and the brothers hired the very best attorneys that money could buy.
Roger Galten did not believe for a second that Steven had developed the super seeds on his own. Instead, he suspected the brothers had done the research together over several years, before Steven reached 55. Then Steven “discovered” the genetic manipulations that would improve crop yields, etc. after he retired. Well, more power to them, Roger thought. He was altogether on the side of academics in the “creative innovation” debate.
When he turned to the test scores, Roger found a set of results every bit as remarkable as those posted by Heck and Keck. The Greenleaf brothers were extremely close, and may have prized their identical-ness as much as the Thatch sisters even though they made no show of it.
Roger closed the second folder and stared at the lake. He understood why his colleagues had disagreed about who should win the contest: There was no objective basis in the data for favoring Heck and Keck over Steven and Tom, and vice-versa. So Roger watched the gentle waves sliding across the lake some more. Then he decided to give the title to the pair that had gotten less out of life so far. He phoned the news to his colleagues and went fishing, believing that the “damn twins contest” was forever behind him.
Roger had been wrong about many things in his life. But never as wrong as his conclusion that he was done with the damn twins contest.
 This mystery novel has nothing to do with authoritarianism. I wrote it as part of a series of dinner party mysteries for my wife and a group of friends, who formed a company of splendid, hilarious actors. All of them proved so devious that “the Murderer” was only caught one time. This particular story was inspired by a Pacific cruise taken by some of these friends on a Pacific & Orient liner, the Arcadia. I sent them the installments every day while they were on the cruise, during which–I am happy to report–none of them was the least bit involved in a murder. However, each of the characters in the story was inspired by some aspect of my friends’ lives. All of them are avid birders, for example. But I was not above writing against type. The role of “Zoe” was given to a Deacon in the Anglican Church.
A Twins Project has been running at the University of Minnesota since 1979. But the Minnesota Twins study never sought the most identical twins in the world and it has nothing to do with this mystery. “Roger Galten” however exists, in a sense. I became “Roger Galtenflyer” in 1958 when an array of academics played “Telephone” with my name at the end of my Freshman Orientation Week, as they spurted me down a reception line to the president of Yale University. (I worried Alfred Whitney Griswold would call me “Roger” thereafter whenever we met, but I never saw him again.)
By late afternoon, when Roger returned to his dock from Hidden Cove with the agreeable trout that had found his chosen lure irresistible, Kecubinia Thatch had received a phone call from a vice-president at the University of Chicago informing her that she and Heck had won a contest they had never entered. Thirty minutes later an Omaha-based stringer for People Magazine telephoned the Thatches to arrange an interview-with-photo-op in Lincoln the next day. Neither of these events would have surprised Roger. He knew the hound in the Administration Building would start baying as soon as it could. Nor had those calls any consequence for him. However, by the time he sat down to eat his catch of the day, his co-director who had voted for the Greenleaf twins had phoned Tom Greenleaf and announced that he and his brother had almost won the title of Most Identical Twins in the World. And that phone call had consequences for Roger that he never could have imagined.
Roger’s blabbermouth colleague described the contest and outcome to the Greenleafs because he wanted them to know he thought they deserved the title. In fact, he revealed, it had been a split-decision called on the narrowest of margins. “So don’t feel bad when you hear these twin sisters are the most perfect match. You’re really just as identical.”
The call lit a fire in Tom, and when he told Steven the news it lit an identical fire in him too. Not surprisingly. The Greenleafs had never made a big deal out of their “twinfulness,” but it had unfathomable significance for them. They felt, on the deepest possible level, that they were one entity. They weren’t just soul mates. They shared one soul. For as long as they could remember, they had felt they were ultimately the same person just manifesting itself in slightly different ways. Very slightly. It was the opposite of a multiple personality disorder. Instead of there being several identities where there ought to have been one, Steven and Tom had one personality where there ought to have been two. People deeply in love sometimes have this feeling, for a while. The Greenleaf twins had it all their lives. “Life,” that is.
So the news that experts decided another couple was more identical than they threatened their core, existential belief. They did not particularly care if others knew how truly alike they were. But the Greenleafs were scientists themselves and believed science reveals the Truth. So they wanted the researchers to take another look, a better look. Steven and Tom thought that if the matter was studied thoroughly, they would turn out to be the most perfectly matched pair of people in the world.
So a week after Roger had made his call, his co-director who had wanted the Greenleaf twins to win the contest, reached him at the lake. The Greenleafs had made the project an incredible offer, he said. “They want a more elaborate testing of the Thatch twins and the Greenleaf twins. They especially wanted more physiological exams such as blood analyses and brain scans. And Roger,” his colleague continued, “the Greenleafs are willing to pay all the expenses involved in the testing, and give our research project $10,000,000, and give the Thatch twins $500,000 if they come out on top, $250,000 if they lose.”
“That’s great,” Roger replied. “You guys collect the data and give me my share of the ten million.”
“Well, that’s the sticky point. The Greenleafs somehow learned the verdict against them was a split-decision. They are so sure they will win a bigger, better, deeper contest that they want it run by one of the people who voted for the Thatch twins. Therefore I can’t do it. So I want it to be you. Our third partner is willing to let you do it since you agreed with him the last time. Ergo, it’s got to be you, or the Project loses $10,000,000 and the Thatch sisters lose at least $250,000 they definitely could use.”
Roger realized he was trapped and would have to run the study. But he asked for time to think it over. Two days later he emailed his conditions to his two co-directors.
1) We three will consult over which tests to use in Phase II, but the final decision will be mine. I don’t want you two trying to fix the outcome by inserting tests that you think favor your favorite. This has to be a solid scientific endeavor that will provide some interesting information, not some ego-feeding, slap-dash, PB&J knock-off of our decades of research.
2) All other decisions about the running of the study will be mine and mine alone
3) I want the contest expanded to include whichever set of identical-twins-raised-apart in our files appear most similar. I don’t expect them to win, but their scores would be of considerable scientific interest. I want them paid $250,000 just like the loser of the identicals-raised-together contest. If perchance they win—and they might because we are venturing into uncharted waters and the “Aparts” have sometimes amazed us, they will get $500,000 instead.
Roger’s colleagues agreed to his terms and notified the Vice-President: Research of the proposal. She quickly agreed, and the project told the Greenleaf brothers they would get the expanded testing they wanted, provided another set of twins was added on. “Fine,” Steven and Tom responded, and they then expanded the offer. Wouldn’t it be important to have the contestants living in the same environment for a while before the testing, to create a shared, homogeneous “background” for the study? You do this all the time when testing seeds. Then why not have some fun at the same time? For example, the psychologist running the study and the three sets of twins could go on a cruise together and celebrate the event. After all, everybody is going to get something good out of this venture, the Greenleafs said. Then after a couple of weeks of good times together, the testing could take place when the ship reached a suitable port.
Roger said, ”No” to this proposal. He didn’t like anything that could compromise his control of the study, and this was “empty variance” just like sugar was “empty calories.” And then the Greenleafs—who knew very well what makes a scientist tick—said they would pay for a one-semester leave of absence from his university so he could get away from it all with no classes to teach, no committee meetings, and lots of time to dive deeply into the results of last year’s studies and maybe write a book.
The ocean cruise had no romantic appeal. Roger had lost his wife to leukemia in 1988 and had never developed an interest in anyone else. He felt no need to see the South Pacific, or even to escape Chicago during the coldest time of the year. But he was working on a book, an important one he thought. And the chance to finish it trumped all the reasons for saying no. So he said, “Yes.”
The Twins Project had combed through birth records around the world for the Golden Fleece of its never ending quest: The rare cases of identical twins who had been raised apart. So far it had data on about a hundred such sets, and few of them had the dramatic backdrop of Mark Twain’s prince and pauper. Jill and Jessie Harmony in Albuquerque for example had been adopted by families that lived on the same street. They had kept their birth name, they had played with each other almost every day, and while they had gone to different churches on Sunday, they attended the same schools Monday through Friday. Everyone who knew them treated them as twins. On the other hand, Samuel Gilroy and Nathaniel Lee had practically grown up on different planets. They were born in Pensacola, Florida to a light-skinned African-American woman who had been impregnated by a white man. One child was adopted by a black family that moved to rural Georgia, where he was always treated as a “Negro.” The other was adopted by a white couple in Pensacola who raised him as a white. While physically identical, they grew up to be very different people psychologically.
A search of the project files identified Bill Doniver and Bob Hunsberger as the most similar identical twins who had been raised in quite different circumstances. Caucasians, like the Thatches and Greenleafs, they had been born in 1942 in the Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh to a woman listed as “Mary Piper.” She had not provided a home address, nor did she give any way to contact her in the future. She did not request that her sons be adopted by the same family. She only asked that one of the boys be named “Bill.” The Doniver family of Clinton, PA honored this wish when they named their adopted son “William Doniver.” The other child was adopted by the Hunsbergers of Sewickley, PA and given the name Bob.
Bill Doniver grew up on a farm just west of the Pittsburgh International Airport. His earliest memories featured planes rising overhead into the prevailing winds—mostly Piper Cubs since so many “Grasshoppers” had been purchased from Army surplus inventories after the war. He began school at a time the local theater still showed stirring matinee movies about the Battle of Britain and daring pilots who flew on guts and rye. As well, American films about the air war over Europe and the Pacific abounded. So at recess, Bill wrote in his autobiography, you would find him running around the school yard with his arms extended, shooting down “Huns” and “Japs” wherever he found them. Lots of little boys did this then, but the interesting thing about Billy was that he always “flew alone.” Whereas other boys played as teams, or fought each other amidst a steady refrain of “At-at-at-at-at, Got you!” “No you didn’t!” “Yes I did!” Billy Doniver flew solo, patrolling the edges of the playground where he swept down in his Merlin-powered Spitfire on bushes that were German bombers and chased away crows that were Me-109s. Other boys wanted to run along beside him, but he always said he was saving the wingman slot for “someone special.”
Billy’s solitary play reflected a central theme in his life. As he put it, “I always had a sense of being ‘not one of them.’” Children can pick up seemingly invisible messages of distancing from others, and although he probably imagined it, Bill felt that he was not really, totally a member of the Doniver family, that he belonged somewhere else, and that he was missing something that would make him complete.
When he was twelve the Donivers revealed that he had been adopted and his biological mother’s name was Piper, and she had wanted him named “Bill.” The next year Bill found a book about Piper Cubs in the library and discovered they were manufactured in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania by a company founded by William T. Piper. William had a son, William Jr., born in 1911, and a magazine article showed a Piper family picture of William, Sr., William, Jr., two other sons, and a young woman identified (perhaps mistakenly) as a daughter. Bill imagined his biological mother was either William Sr.’s daughter or William Jr.’s wife. In any event, he guessed she had become pregnant and went to Pittsburgh to have her child and then immediately placed him for adoption—strongly suggesting his birth had to be hidden.
Bill kept his “imaginings” to himself, but his biological mother’s name raised his interest in flying to new heights. As soon as puberty grew him legs that could reach the rudder pedals, he began flight school. He took to the air as though he’d spent his whole life in a cockpit peering through a spinning prop. He was one of the “naturals,” as they say, who instructors conclude must have flown before because they always did the right thing in the trainer. When Bill soloed for the first time, it was not his Baptism but Confirmation. He thrilled at being isolated, as only a pilot alone thousands of feet up in the air in a small plane can be. It was what he was and exactly how he wanted it. He never had a copilot during his long career, even when he flew twin-engine planes where the rules require one.
By 16 he had his pilot’s license, and soon had converted his savings to a 25% ownership of a used Piper Cub. He flew it any time he could to anyplace he could reach and refuel for the trip back. When he graduated from high school, he joined the Air Force where he qualified for pilot training. He did not become a hot-shot jet fighter pilot, however, but mastered single-engine and twin-engine piston aircraft such as the long-lived C-46 “Commando.” He said he would have stayed in the Air Force, but in 1968 he was recruited by a small outfit with a lot of money named Air America. He went to work for the CIA with his eyes wide open, for its clandestine missions in Indochina were an open secret among pilots in the area. The pay was attractive and Bill had confidence in his ability. “I knew I’d get through, but if I was going to die in Vietnam, I would at least be driving the bus that took me to my grave.”
Bill Doniver wrote that he found dangerous flying more intoxicating than the “loads” he sometime carted to grass strips atop mountains for Laotian drug lords, and he worked for Air America until 1975. He took the last plane full of Americans out of Saigon while rockets were cratering the runways. Bill said he had never found modesty becoming, and he proved he really meant it. “I can take off from places with weights that only a madman would attempt, find any destination that’s on a map, and lots that aren’t. I have exceptional night vision, and can put down on the darkest night in spots nobody else can even see. Sometimes I find clothes lines and barbed wire tangled in my tail wheel because I fly so low to avoid radar. Believe me, you’ve got to know everything about your mount when you have no margin for error. I can tell when a sudden vibration means a patch of dirty air, and when it means the stabilizer control needed a one-eighth turn. I know just how steeply I can dive in an emergency to pick up speed and still keep the wings on the plane. I know how thin I can mix my fuel at any altitude without stalling. I can remain airborne 30 minutes longer than anyone else on a long trip.”
Bill had spent the years after Vietnam being the pilot who would fly almost any mission for the right amount of money. He poured his earnings back into his planes, always searching for more stealth, speed, and the latest electronic developments. “My services are always available to our government, and I’ve never done a job for one of America’s enemies. And I’ve never flown a mission that I knew was against the law. But I learned a long time ago not to ask too many questions about what was behind me in the plane. The Air America saying was, ‘What’s in the compartment ain’t my department.’”
Bill is the sort of pilot who, if you went into a cantina near an airport and said you were looking for someone to fly two passengers and a couple of droids to Alderan, “no questions asked,” people would say, “What’s a ‘droid?” After you explained, they would say, “Then you want Wild Bill.” He is the sort of character played by Humphrey Bogart in black and white movies in the 1940s: A charismatic, more or less amoral rogue. Physically tough when he needed to be, he had learned a long time ago that the best defense in a fight was not Kung Fu or Tai Kwan Do, but being somewhere else.
Bill wrote he had never married, and never would. He had met lots of women around the world whose company he much enjoyed. But when they started to lash him to the deck, he made sure he was somewhere else.
Bill’s twin brother Bob had quite a different start in life, but also ended up something of a lone eagle. Or at least, a “loner.” The Hunsbergers moved their large family of adopted children from Pittsburgh to Berkeley, California, a year after Bob was born, at the behest of their church to do “missionary work” among the Bay Area’s abundant heathen. Bob thought he was his parents’ “natural” child until he was thirteen, when he was told he had been adopted. His first mother was named Mary, he learned, and she lived in Pennsylvania at the time but had moved to San Francisco. But that was a coincidence. The Hunsbergers knew nothing about what had happened to her.
The news stunned Bob and he began to quietly search for his biological mother in old Bay Area newspaper articles and city directories. One day “Ma” Hunsberger noticed a directory he had snuck out of the library because he was compiling a list of women living alone in San Francisco in the early 1940s named Mary. “Ma” asked him what use he had for a book like that, and when he told her, she insisted she had never told him “Mary” had come to San Francisco. This made Bob suspicious and he slipped the moorings off a relationship that had never been particularly strong.
Bob’s adoptive parents both died of cardiac arrests soon after while participating in a “Sack Race for Jesus Hop-a-Thon” at a church picnic. After graduating from high school, he took a job as a janitor and continued his quest for “Mary.” He placed an ad in the San Francisco Chronicle’s agony column and got a reply from a middle-aged woman named Effie Perine. She had been the secretary to a private eye in the 1940s and recalled a Mary who had “come from back east.” She was a “real knock-out,” and had enough money to get her boss to drop his other cases just to work on hers. Effie did not know what Mary wanted. Her boss used his secretary to run errands at all hours of the day, but always kept her in the dark about what was going on. But she said most of a private eye’s work involves checking up on lovers suspected of cheating.
Like many other young people with no affiliation with the University of California, Bob hung out in Berkeley coffee shops in his free time, and in the autumn of 1964, he got caught up in the Free Speech Movement. “Mostly, I think I just wanted to have sex, and there was plenty available in the protest. I wasn’t a student or anything,” he wrote. “But it seemed like a good cause, and the leaders welcomed ‘working class’ types who actually worked. I was a ‘townie’ for them.”
The tenants in the apartment building Bob tended were always losing their keys, and he learned a few crafty ways to open the doors to their suites to help them out. One night in 1966 he realized a career path was opening for him, and he took a correspondence course on becoming a locksmith. But instead, he became a burglar. He was slim and agile and could move silently when he put his mind to it. He was strong enough for “second storey work, where he climbed up the sides of houses to the bedrooms where his providers inevitably kept their jewelry and cash. He could see in the dark extremely well, and sometimes lifted necklaces and bracelets without a flashlight in rooms that other people would have found pitch black.
When the police arrested his major “fence” in San Francisco, Bob moved to Los Angeles. He became the “Beverley Hills Cat Burglar” and kept many a Hollywood star awake during the wee hours of the morning, imagining they heard someone creeping along their roof. But he was caught one night by a famous British director who held him a gunpoint until the police arrived. Tried and convicted by a jury of his peers, he served a one-year sentence in 1973. Returning to his old habits upon release, he was caught again and served a four-year stretch in a state prison.
Bob Hunsberger wrote he had gone straight after his second spell in prison, encouraged by California’s “Three strikes and you’re out” policy. Instead, he became a certified locksmith. The LAPD however visited his shop whenever a spate of break-ins afflicted the rich and famous. They caught a burglar last year who said he had gotten electronic devices for disabling sentry systems from Bob, but no charges were laid.
Bob wrote that he “always had a mystical feeling that part of me was missing.” He thought getting a wife would complete him, and he married a woman named Susan soon after he arrived in Los Angeles, but she had divorced him after his second conviction. He said marriage could be great and he wanted to wed again. But he wanted a “decent” woman who would give him some respectability and help him go straight, and not many decent women were interested in marrying an ex-con who was “known to the police” and one of the “usual suspects” whenever somebody lost her diamond rings. So he was apprehensive about being abandoned by any woman he fell for.
Neither Bill Doniver nor Bob Hunsberger had any idea he had an identical twin, and when the Twins Project discovers such pairs, it offers to pay their way to Chicago to meet their long lost mirror-image and take some tests for the research program. When Bill and Bob met in the project’s offices in 1995 no one could tell them apart, physically. They were the same height and weight, they had the same polite mustache cut in the same style, their hair was the same color, and was no longer growing on their pates in the same places. Even their tans were the same. They were every bit as alike, physically, as the Thatch sisters, and the Greenleaf brothers were to each other. Which is to say, exactly.
However, Bill and Bob did not post identical scores on the various paper and pencil tests they answered separately at the institute. IQ, for example. While widely believed to measure “natural,” “inborn” intelligence, an IQ score is heavily influenced by experience. Bill had traveled more, studied more, and learned to think in three dimensions more than Bob had, and he punched out a much higher score on the intelligence test they took. But the two men had, nonetheless, substantially the same attitudes on social issues. Neither had much respect for law and order, for example. And their scores on the personality inventories proved remarkably similar. Both showed profound ambivalence toward women, for example, although an attachment theorist would say Bill was a classic avoidant lover and Bob a prototype anxious lover. They hence did not match up as well as identical twins raised together usually did. But they stood out as the most similar twins who had been raised in quite different circumstances .
The project staff was not surprised that both Bill and Bob were extremely happy to have been united, and that they each felt “more whole” than they ever had before. Bill had gotten his wingman, and Bob had the answer to his mystical feeling that something was missing.
And the brothers followed through. Pooling their knowledge, they decided their biological mother had been Mary Piper, and after bringing them into the world as either an unmarried girl or as a married young woman who was separated from her husband. she had moved to San Francisco from Pennsylvania. “Their father, or their maternal grandfather, was probably named Bill. Bob immediately dug into his newspaper files and directories, but could find no Mary Piper in them, much less one from Pennsylvania, nor one connected to a William Piper. He sensed nevertheless that they were right about her origin.
Perhaps as a way of pledging themselves to each other, the brothers agreed to change their last names to Piper. This kind of “marriage” had happened before in the project’s history.
It took the Thatch sisters and the Piper brothers one second, combined, to agree to further testing in return for at least $250,000 and a luxurious ocean voyage. Heck and Keck expected to win the grand prize of $500,000, and would wear genuine Paris designs for their next appearance in People rather than the imitations they had made themselves. The Pipers knew the odds were stacked against them, but hey, $250,000 was—when all was said and done—$250,000.
The People Magazine article about the Twins Research Project appeared in late June. It somehow named the vice-president flackmeister as the program’s head and featured a full- length photo of Heck and Keck Thatch looking very snazzy and way more identical than Photoshop 5.0 could have pulled off. Roger noticed they were wearing the same grey outfits they had used in their Twins Project photo, revealed now as long-waisted, two-piece suits with a mid-calf length skirt. For some reason a People editor had put a slight green haze around them in the photo. The article ended with the announcement of Phase II of the “Most Perfect Twins Contest.”
The university’s travel department found a suitable cruise for the lead-up to the second testing. An Atlantic & Orient ship named the Acadia would be docking in San Francisco on January 22, 2000 as part of an around-the-world cruise begun several weeks earlier in Southampton, England. It would sail two days later across the Pacific to Hawaii, and then proceed at a gentle pace to Australia with stops scheduled for Samoa, Fiji, and Auckland, New Zealand. The University of Sydney had the facilities Roger needed for his expanded range of physiological tests. He would study the results while the cruise continued to Singapore, where he planned to announce the winner. The contestants could fly home at any point thereafter as the ship made its way back to England.
If you have ever gone on an ocean-going cruise, you have probably been on a ship like the Acadia. It had eleven decks, many restaurants, a score of shops, enough bars to service a college reunion, and diversions from topside swimming pools to (very safe) hang-gliding off the stern. It was designated an “adult boat,” aka a “love boat,” by A&O. If you wanted to take your children on a cruise, the company could offer you quite a range of choices. But the Acadia was strictly for grown-ups, some of whom simply wanted to get away from children, others of whom wanted to fool around with other adults. It would have been rated “NC-17” had it been a movie. Or “X.”
Roger wanted a block of adjacent suites so he could keep track of the goings and comings of the Twins Group. The Greenleafs tried to obtain such a block on “A Deck,” near the top of the ship, which sported the vessel’s truly splendid accommodations. But most of these were already occupied and no one would budge since it meant taking cheaper suites lower down while their acquaintances on A Deck stayed put. However, A&O found travelers on B Deck would happily accept a free upgrade to A Deck—financed by Greenleaf greenbacks. Thus Roger got the adjoining suites he wanted.
The layout of the compartments, located forward on the port side of the ship, is shown here:
Dr. Galten, perhaps unconsciously protectively, assigned the Thatches to Suite B2 and put himself in B4. The Greenleafs were placed in B6, and Suite B8 housed the Piper twins.
Each suite had a large living space, tastefully appointed with sofas and chairs and a writing desk. A small kitchen area held a mini-fridge and the usual traveler’s coffee pot and microwave. The bedrooms had twin beds that could be separated or merged to form a king-size surface. A bathroom and a closet, large for a ship, adjoined the bedroom, with a small safe tucked away in a corner of the closet. Each suite had a balcony accessed from the bedroom, and a string of these balconies ran down the length of the ship on A Deck, B Deck, and C Deck below. The balconies had connecting doors that could be fastened shut with a simple twist handle, and each suite also had inside doors connecting it to adjacent suites for reasons that need not be explained. These adjoining doors could be locked from either side.
Do-It-Yourself laundry facilities did not exist on A-C Decks as daily laundry services was included in the fare. The Greenleafs had furthermore signed on for “deluxe housekeeping” which provided thorough wiping and cleaning of the fixtures every day and cleaning the floor-to-ceiling windows that gave views of the balcony and vistas of the sea from the living room and bedroom. Fresh fruit and flowers, expensive chocolates, and a generous supply of alcoholic beverages appeared in each room daily. Valet service was almost instantly available during the daytime on A-C Decks.
The Cole Porter “Anything Goes” motif was further enhanced, promotional material discreetly revealed, by an absence of TV cameras in passenger hallways, elevators, and staircases. Atlantic & Orient found this a strong selling point in 2000 for its target customers of divorcees, swingers, drifting-apart-couples seeking reconnection, fortune hunters, gold-diggers, lonely singles, and other pleasure/romance seekers. (Two years later, after 9/11, anyone skipping down a hallway with a bottle of champagne and his toothbrush would be recorded six ways coming and going.)
Passage was expensive, and almost no one tripped all the way around the world on the ship. Instead, most people would sail someplace, get off, fly someplace else, and so on. Only a few very expensive suites on A Deck sat empty on the San Francisco to Hawaii leg, for example, and most of them filled up with the upgrades from B Deck. Otherwise the ship would be stuffed when it weighed anchor on the 24th, to the delight of Atlantic & Orient Cruises.
Bill Piper flew Bob to San Francisco from Los Angeles on January 22nd to see if they could dig up any information on their mother. But the trails could not have been colder. They did locate some earlier addresses, but the buildings had all been torn down and entire neighborhoods had disappeared, just like Mary Piper.
At the last minute, Tom Greenleaf had to fly to Brazil to deal with a severe ecological threat. The government was reneging on a promise to leave the habitat of the exceedingly rare Cyanopsitta spixii undisturbed, which stretch of jungle also provided habitat to other endangered macaw species. Somebody, especially somebody with deep pockets, had to protect these beautiful birds from extinction. Tom told Galten he would join the cruise as soon as the matter was resolved.
All the others boarded ship at Pier 27 on the morning of January 24 and were shown to their suites by their steward, a middle-aged Indonesian man named Suparman Alatas. Most of them explored the vessel as it prepared for a noon departure, and did not meet one another until the Acadia had sliced its way through the strong current under the Golden Gate Bridge and assumed a 255° WSW heading to Hawaii. Roger invited the five contestants to his rooms for a Meet and Drink orientation. He said the trip was intended to put all of them in the same stable setting for an extended period of time so that the situational influences on their test scores would be lessened. He bemoaned the fact that Tom Greenleaf would miss some of this “homogenizing,” but he understood Tom would join the project as soon as he could. Roger emphasized the scientific value of the undertaking. He finished by saying he knew everyone wanted to win the prize, but if he discovered one team was trying to hurt another team’s chances, he had the power to take the offenders out of the running.
Heck & Keck, Steven, and Bill & Bob only heard about half of what Roger said, for they were all busy sizing up one another. No one could get a “read” on Steven’s chances without seeing his brother alongside. But he seemed untethered and uncomfortable for someone who was, in a sense, the Master of Ceremonies. But obviously, it seemed to everyone, he believed he and Tom would win the contest for they were willing to plunk down a big wad of dough to make it clear they really were the most perfectly matched twins in the world.
Steven however was not so sure any more. Keck and Heck Thatch were about as identical as you could imagine. They held their hands precisely the same way when they shook yours. They smiled at the same instant with exactly the same smile when Galten said something funny. They inhaled and exhaled together. Sometimes they even blinked at the same time. They must have spent years developing their “Singularity,” Steven thought. It was not natural like his and Tom’s. But they would be tough to beat—maybe impossible.
Neither Steven, Heck or Keck thought the Pipers posed much of a threat. While Bill and Bob were physically indistinguishable, you could quickly spot differences in how they acted. Bill was relaxed, friendly, quite ready to chat and talk about himself, about how he and Bob had discovered one another, and so on. Bob on the other hand looked apprehensive and furtive. Bill also noticed how anxious Bob was and began figuring how the two of them would spend the Participant Prize.
After the orientation ended Steven grabbed his binoculars from his suite next door and walked to the Forward Elevator to go atop ship and observe seabirds. While he waited for the elevator, a woman of his vintage arrived and stood nearby. He glanced casually at her, and she returned the glance. Then a look of astonishment burst upon her face and she raised her hand to her throat. “Tom!” she almost screamed. “What are you doing here?”
The woman was Priscilla McMaster, the President-Elect of the University of Manitoba. Steven understood why she mistook him for his brother, as she and Tom were both professors at the university, while Steven had worked for the government on an adjacent site and had never met her. But her presence here was totally understandable-not! How could she be standing before him now on a cruise ship on the Pacific Ocean? What an amazing coincidence!
Priscilla McMaster had turned 59 at her last birthday, and currently headed the Department of Pharmacology at her school. She grew up in Charlottetown, P.E.I. as the daughter of Scotland-born Eric and Jean McMaster. Her father was a physician and her mother a nurse and the couple became well established in medical circles on the island. “Prissy” was a happy, curious child, and rather mischievous. She liked to pull legs and wings off insects in a precise, orderly way to see what effect it would have on them. She did very well at school and, like the Greenleaf brothers, brought home awards from science fairs. She hung out with other science-oriented kids in high school and didn’t do much dating. She surprised her friends when she auditioned to play Lady Macbeth in her high school’s annual Shakespeare production.
Priscilla attended the University of Toronto and then did graduate work in biology and biochemistry at the University of British Columbia, where she became involved with the environmental movement. The large drug companies offered her jobs when she got her PhD, but by then she saw these companies as more of a problem in providing affordable health care in the world than as any part of the solution. So she became an academic, and eventually one of the few “unsponsored, unconnected, and uncontrollable” pharmacology researchers in the world.
The odds were stacked against her having much of a career. No drug company was interested in financing her research because she made it clear it would be truly independent. Reviews of her studies by scientists supported by Big Pharma almost always turned thumbs-down. But the ambitious and determined Priscilla somehow got a lab started at the University of Manitoba in the 1970s with abundant federal government support. Thereafter she racked up a string of large grants from a variety of federal agencies. The joke around her department was, “Priscilla must know where all the bodies are buried in Ottawa.”
Priscilla found a research journal that would publish her studies refuting corporate claims of wildly successful drugs that had no side effects or long-term dangers. The excellence of the work in her laboratory, plus the fact that Company A was happy to replicate a finding that damaged Company B made her a thoroughly loose cannon that hit target after target. But eventually she embarrassed all the major firms, and then the multi-nationals launched an underhanded campaign about “discord” among her staff. These rumors spread at the professional meetings that medical researchers are forced to attend during the winter in the Caribbean, Las Vegas, and Hawaii. Big Pharma also maligned her scientific ability, saying she actually had very little skill at conceptualizing issues and designing experiments. But by then she had become the “conscience” of the profession and—with for one little problem—the researcher with the most clout.
What one little problem? Priscilla had married another graduate student while in graduate school, but he switched out of environmental studies and went on to earn an MBA in investment banking. Somehow tension developed in the marriage, perhaps because the husband got tired of posting bail for his wife after her numerous arrests at protests against the Big Timber companies that his employer helped finance. So, they got divorced after 10 years of Unbliss, with no children or even a dog, to fight over. They parted as amicably as they had lived for the last nine years, which was not very amicably.
Thereafter Priscilla worked her way through a trainload of young male companions, who were usually post-docs whom she recruited for her laboratory with her large research grants. Some of her “boy toys” barely knew the difference between a pestle and a pistol, but. all were handsome and athletic. Priscilla had a very possessive attitude toward whoever served as the current “Chosen One,” but then couldn’t care less after she replaced him.
The grapevine in her lab quivered that Prissy only occasionally slept with her fine young men, She had a firm grip on her libido, like everything else. She used the men (whose names she now kept on a laptop to shore up her memory) as trophies and status symbols—although she would demand their services whenever she wished. She wanted to be able to plug them into her evenings as easily as she used the other player in her bedroom, her DVD device.
When tongues wagged in the university back in the 1980s about all this, Prissy curtly responded, “No one would have said a thing about this if I were a man, would they.” She enjoyed the scandal of it all, for it showed she knew how to play with “the big boys.”
Nevertheless, Prissy knew many expected her, the first woman to serve as president of her university, to fail. And they would do whatever they could to make sure she did. It would help her immensely if she could announce a major gift to the school in her acceptance speech. And it turned out she might be able to do just that.
The Office of Giving and Endowment at the university naturally kept track on what the wealthiest people in the province were getting up to. It discovered Tom and Steven Greenleaf were sponsoring a voyage aboard the Acadia in January as part of some “twins contest,” and as a matter of routine it passed this information up-channel in the administration, cc’ing it to the President-Elect.
Prissy had arranged for a leave that semester to finish some experiments before abandoning herself to her new office, so she asked for more details. She knew Tom Greenleaf through mutual committee assignments and grasped how sheltered (and unattached) he was. So she booked passage on the Acadia’s Pacific cruise, hoping to ensnare him in a shipboard friendship/romance and a mega-million-dollar gift to the university. She brought along her current star student, Buff Anderson, and stored him down on D Deck in case Tom turned out to be gay or otherwise unresponsive. As for herself, she greased the right palm at Atlantic and Orient and secured Suite B10.
Thus she was watching the corridor outside her room in the early afternoon on January 24th when she saw (she thought) her quarry pass by, heading to the elevator. Despite the look of astonishment that she flashed at Steven a minute later, their running into each other then and there was as coincidental as that of the spider and the fly
Steven and Prissy had never met, but he recognized her from photos published when her new posting was announced. He explained that he was Tom’s brother, and Tom would be joining the cruise later. Prissy immediately noticed that Steven not only looked exactly like Tom, but his bearing, speech, and mannerisms matched Tom’s to a “T.” She quickly recalibrated and set her sights on the man before her—at least for the time being. She sensed from his avoidance of eye contact and the way he constantly shifted his weight that Steven was as inexperienced and naïve regarding women as his brother. “One’s got as much money as the other,” she thought as she doped out from his binoculars that Steven was heading to the top deck. “I’m going up to look at the pool. Where are you off to?”
Bill Piper led Bob to the nearest lounge as soon as The Presidio disappeared beneath the eastern horizon. There he easily struck up conversations with other passengers because, no matter where somebody came from, Bill had probably been there too. Bob watched in admiration as his twin began telling “war stories” about planes he had landed with dead engines, and the time headwinds had forced him down in a sunflower field, out of gas, a hundred miles short of his destination. And did you know he was flying the N3N-3 that chased after Cary Grant in North by Northwest? “Let me tell you how I crashed into the tanker truck. I nearly cashed out that time.”
Bill and Bob’s “twinness” went largely unnoticed because they dressed differently and Bob disappeared into Bill’s audience when he told his tales. But they would have been upstaged by Heck and Keck Thatch anyway, who looked identical from head to toe and wore stunning outfits. Many of the passengers had seen the People spread, and some even asked for their autographs as word spread that “the most remarkable twins in the world” were on board. The Thatch sisters feasted on the attention, as it confirmed what they had always believed: They were super special, because of the other.
That first evening Dr. Galten, constrained by his unwelcome role of Bus-Monitor, stiffly explained that he would like the group to meet together for breakfast and dinner every day, and all agreed. The next evening Steven invited the others for drinks before dinner in B6, and Heck and Keck did the same in their suite the next night. Bill and Bob ended this display of good cheer on the 27th.
The Acadia usually cruises at 22-24 knots, and so took a little over four days to sail from San Francisco to the Hawaiian Islands. Its passengers were blessed with warm, sunny weather from the morning of January 25th on, and the Twins Group soaked themselves to the bone in leisure. They played some shuffleboard and cards, strolled the Promenade Deck, exposed themselves judiciously to sunshine around the pools, read their favorite authors, and went to the shows in the ship’s theater. The group made extensive use of the ship’s bars and lounges as well, where the Greenleafs provided open tabs. Paintings and sculptures were admired in the art gallery. Steven staked the other contestants to a $200 daily credit in the onboard casino, a sum which could last for one minute or several hours before the law of averages conquered all. A few members of the group worked out in the gym. Most attended relaxation sessions on the sun deck where their cares and everyday anxieties could magically disappear.
Dr. Galten approved of the calm for the same reason a physician tells you to relax when he’s taking your blood pressure. Tension introduces “noise” in measurements. He would therefore NOT have been pleased—had he known about it—at the emotion-churning “shipboard romance” developing between Bob Piper and Keck Thatch. But no one knew except Bill and Heck. Bill Piper was glad his brother was connecting with someone, but he was suspicious about Keck’s motivation. She was a good ten years younger than Bob, and he hadn’t done anything on the cruise that would create interest in him. But Keck kept asking Bob about himself. She listened sympathetically as he described his youth, the quest for Mary Piper, and his failed marriage. She did not even twitch when Bob told her he’d been in prison twice.
The Thatch sisters however received a shock on the third day of the voyage. They were posing for photographs with other passengers (taken with real cameras, wouldn’t you know) when Heck noticed a woman who seemed to be spying on them. She and Keck had gotten used to being watched, and they liked it, but this looked sneaky. Furthermore, Heck thought she recognized the furtive observer, although she never would have guessed this person would show up on the Acadia. She walked up to the “spy” and made a positive, and very negative, ID. Whereupon she hurried back to her sister and they ran to Dr. Galten’s suite. “There’s a crazy woman aboard this ship who may try to kill us!”
Zoe Peregrine was born in Henderson, North Carolina, a small town near Asheville, in 1949. She had an adventurous youth, so inclined to mischief that she could have inspired an O, Henry short story. Her adolescence coincided with a turbulent period in the area. The hotel burned down, apparently as an act of arson. The high school science lab was vandalized. It was impossible to keep the pay telephone in front of the general store working because someone was always wrecking it. The seats on the school bus that Zoe rode were cut up and the seat backs were covered with graffiti.
After graduating from high school in 1967 Zoe traveled for a while with a circus roaming the southern states, where she tried without success to earn a spot in the trapeze act. In the autumn of 1971, she enrolled in the education degree program at Western Carolina University. It took her five years to graduate because she was suspended several times for pranks such as setting off stink bombs in her dormitory and climbing the water tower outside Cullowhee and painting “Go Western Go” on its top. She told her classmates that she pulled these stunts “just because I felt like it,” and “I wanted to see what it would be like.”
Zoe took a position following graduation teaching kindergarten in her home town, where she soon married John Smith, a plain man with a plain name who taught science at the high school. She apparently did not know John well, and seems to have married him impulsively.
In 1978 the Smiths escorted some Grade 12 students to London during spring break. John intensely disliked being in a strange place among people whom he could barely understand. But Zoe found the experience thrilling and she began traveling as much as she could. She went on exotic tours on weekends while John stayed home watching television and working contentedly on his stamp collection. “How was it dear?” “I got gored by a bull.” “That’s nice, dear.”
Zoe found herself particularly attracted to tours that involved intense physical activity, and she became an avid canoeist, kayaker, cyclist, hiker, and camper. She discovered Outward Bound, and went on a mountain climbing trek. Such trips particularly satisfied her because they not only took her to new places, she loved the soaring rush of adrenaline that shot her to maximum effort. It was even better if an element of danger was involved.
About this time Zoe’s husband told close friends that her behavior in public was causing problems. Zoe wanted to make love in dressing rooms in stores, in parks, in their car at the shopping center, at the neighbors’ house during parties, anywhere there they might get caught doing the deed. He was understandably terrified in these situations, and she gave him the nickname of “Chicken Johnny.”
They talked about this and other problems caused by their wildly different dispositions and interests, but to no avail. So in 1981 they divorced, very amiably—which usually means each person was glad to get rid of the other one. A few years later John married a spinster who liked nothing better than staying home making quilts and reading scripture.
Zoe had lost her job as a kindergarten teacher by then because the school board found out she was teaching her five-year-olds how to blow up “little things” with gunpowder poured out of shotgun shells. She moved to Greensboro and started a travel company entitled Adventure Seekers Only. The name shows how she had moved from pursuing physical exertion, which you could get hiking and biking, to riskier exercises such as hang-gliding off Appalachian cliffs. Soon she was organizing tours abroad in untamed wildernesses. She took her clients on adventures that she had never gone on before, so she could “get the rush” too. Thus, she was using her business to pay for her deep need of risk-taking, sensation-seeking experiences.
Long before the reality TV show “Survivor” reached home screens, Zoe began chartering “survivalist” excursions in which the group went into a forbidding area with minimal supplies. Zoe and her customers had to live off the land for a week or two, improvising tools, shelter, and so on using whatever was at hand, and eating whatever they could catch. Soon even this was not enough for Zoe, and she started organizing daring tours that positively courted danger.
Unfortunately, in 1996 a client named Andronicus Thatch was eaten while traveling in a group kayaking blindfolded up a crocodile-infested river in the Congo in leaking craft carrying no supplies while dressed as zebras and trailing dead chickens behind them. Members of Andronicus’ family sued, saying the trip was obviously reckless.
Zoe produced the waiver that all her “adventurers” had to sign before going on one of her trips. Zoe had lost clients, now and then, from the start. She could no longer remember all of them. Then two adventurers perished who had agreed to bring only summer clothes for a two-week camp-out on a remote Alaskan glacier. When their next-of-kin began to howl, Zoe procured expert if expensive legal help to craft a bulletproof pre-trip waiver to deter lawsuits. Only an idiot would sign such a waiver, but it goes without saying that all of her clients thoroughly qualified, It turned out that risk-taking sensation-seekers gripped by an addiction to foolhardy adventure were even more attracted to Zoe’s trips because surrendering their rights made the undertaking yet more reckless. The waivers proved good for business.
The ironclad “trip pre-nup” helped Zoe prevail over Andronicus’s sisters when the two sides clashed in Thatch vs. Adventure Seekers Only. The sisters, Nobodies who ran a beauty parlor in Lincoln, Nebraska, kicked up a big fuss about their brother’s death at a family reunion. This led to a civil suit against Zoe’s company. The judge pointed out that another of Andronicus’ sisters, Murgatroyd Thatch, happened to be a very experienced “outdoorsman” and she had described Andronicus as being “insane” in his choice of wilderness adventures. So he had a history of wild risk-taking which got Zoe’s company off the hook, especially given the trip pre-nup.
But Heck and Keck had now started a public campaign against Zoe’s operation, calling for government hearings into a business that deliberately exposed mentally ill people to probable death for its own profit. The “campaign” so far had little effect on business, and may have brought a few new customers to Zoe’s next tour. But the Thatches suddenly became famous, and their new profile definitely threatened Zoe. Then it turned out the sisters had a chance to earn a bushel-basket of money in the Twins Contest, and Zoe felt her business and the main pleasure she got in life might be taken away. So, when she found out about the cruise, Zoe booked passage on the Acadia to see what she could do to sink the Thatch sisters’ chances.
Roger Galten led Heck and Keck down to the ship’s security office, which was located in the Embarkation area on Deck G. There a man named Lake—who like most of the officials on the ship spoke with an English accent—took notes while the sisters explained their history with Zoe and why they were alarmed at her presence aboard ship. He promised he would look into it and tell them what he had learned.
Lake left a note for Zoe on her cabin door and she visited him an hour later. She explained that she was taking the cruise to scout locations for future adventure tours. She hoped she could find a tribe that still practiced cannibalism, shrunk heads, and worshiped poisonous snakes. When Lake observed that the Acadia only berthed at highly civilized spots, Zoe said she would get off the ship at Auckland and take a schooner to various locations. She added, “I had no idea the Thatch twins were on this cruise, but believe me, I want nothing to do with them. They are trying to ruin my business.”
Lake, who had been a sergeant in a county constabulary in England, found various problems in Zoe’s story as he wrote up the interview for his boss. But he thought she would stay away from Heck and Keck now that she had been spotted. He went to Suite B2 and told them they could relax. Then as he was heading back down to the office, it occurred to him that Zoe was quartered in C2, directly below the Thatch sisters.
Steven Greenleaf kept running into Priscilla McMaster. He would have sworn she was following him, but often she was (thanks to tips from the steward for tips to the steward) already where he was going, sitting in the Assembly Room on F Deck awaiting a talk on volcanic eruptions or such, with an empty chair beside her. They naturally remarked on this, and Steven concluded they had similar interests. Their relationship grew. Prissy seemed genuinely interested in him. After a couple of days of remarkable coincidences, Steven invited Prissy to have dinner with the Twins Group on the 28th, and she became an adjunct to the party. After all, her suite was alongside the others on B Deck.
The Acadia arrived in Honolulu on January 29th, and as Roger Galten went to join the others who had gone to the Promenade Deck to see the city from the ocean side, he saw Steven photocopying something in the ship’s library. Galten greeted Steven, who was startled and began to stammer. He explained that the black book he was copying had data on bird migrations in the South Pacific over the past 73 years, including rare observations of Fregata minor in the Marshall Islands during 1935 to 1939. Roger inferred, from this desperate over-explanation of an act he’d not even mentioned, that he had caught Steven at an awkward moment. So, he said he was going to watch the passing skyline and invited Steven to join him. Which Steven did ten minutes later, only without the book or photocopies he had been making.
When the ship tied up at Pier 2 near the heart of the city, Steven invited Prissy to attend a recently announced talk at noon at the natural history museam by Athabaska Rivers, the world-famous ornithologist second only to Rachel Carson in the hearts of birders everywhere. Prissy accepted and seemed entranced by Dr. Rivers’ presentation on “Predator Threats to Endangered Species in the Marianas Islands.” Athabaska recognized Steven in her audience and afterwards took him and Prissy on a tour of an Oahu conservation project. Prissy seemed quite interested and raised the possibility of Athabaska’s visiting her university as part of its Distinguished Speaker Series, or even become a Scholar in Residence for a semester if she wished.
Steven did not know it, but Athabaska did not “just happen to be in town” when the Acadia tied up in Honolulu. She kept track of where the Greenleaf brothers were, as she was continually asking them for money for various projects. It helped quite a bit that her daughter had worked for the Greenleaf Foundation for several years now. Athabaska had been on Guam the day before, reviewing data on saving the Rufus fantail, and she wrote her speech on the plane that carried her to the hastily arranged program staged essentially for Steven’s benefit. But as pleased as Steven was by the attention given him by Athabaska, he was even more delighted by Prissy’s reactions during the day. His brother Tom had mentioned Priscilla McMaster over the years after committee encounters at their university, and he had indicated she had no interest in birds other than eating one on Thanksgiving. But Prissy definitely seemed to be changing.
As for the other members of the Twins Group, Keck and Bob Piper set off to explore Honolulu. Bob took this as a real compliment, because Keck spent almost all her time with her sister, but now she wanted to be with him for a whole day instead.
Bill Piper wanted to visit Hickam Field, adjacent to Pearl Harbor. As he was leaving the ship on G Deck to board one of the taxis on the pier, Zoe sidled up to him. She said she’d overheard some of his adventurous stories one afternoon in one of the bars. Would he mind if she tagged along wherever he was going? This sort of thing happened to Bill often, and Zoe was “a looker.” And he thought he had seen her before somewhere, some time ago, maybe in one of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world. So he said yes.
Heck showed up at Roger Galten’s door about noon, saying everybody else had gone and did he have plans for the day. She seemed a bit lonely, and Roger had fatherly instincts. He was working on his book, but he shut down his laptop and took Heck on a bus tour of the Waikiki Beach area. He thought his company cheered her up a bit.
As usual a sizeable number of passengers ended their voyage in Honolulu and were partially replaced by a handful of newcomers for the next leg of the Acadia’s journey. They came up the gangplank to the Reception Desk on G Deck where they produced their tickets and identification, and were then escorted to their rooms. One of the arrivals was a notably bent-over nun who walked with a cane. (Had “walkers” been common in 2000, she surely would have used one.) She told the purser she was Sister Martha Thecla Stuart, which her passport and an official photo ID confirmed. The purser politely asked why she had booked passage for a trip through the South Pacific to Auckland on an ocean liner. She replied that she had been a nun for nearly fifty years, almost all of them in Hawaii, and she was about to go to the “Old Nun’s Home” on the Big Island. Her Order wanted to show its appreciation of her faith and dedication, so it had given her the pleasant job of visiting South Sea islands to recruit girls for a life of service to Jesus and Mary.
With so few new passengers to process, the purser (who had been raised in the Church of England) had time on his hands and felt chatty. He said he’d never heard of a Saint Thecla. The nun answered, in a quiet but firm voice, that this saint was an early Christian who accompanied St. Paul on some of his trips. She was very independent, and had baptized herself rather than let a man do it. Some people regarded her as the patron saint of liberated women. The nun added, in a rather automatic teacher-to-pupil way, that she assumed the purser knew who St. Martha was. He did not, just offhand, so being the person in authority he switched topics, observing that her passport said she was born on March 25. “Isn’t that some sort of holy day?” he asked. “Yes, it’s the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, nine months before Christmas,“ she said. “It used to be a Holy Day of Obligation and everybody had to go to Mass on my birthday. But now you can skip it and it’s not a sin. Things were better before the Sixties.”
The purser grunted a bit in disagreement and took one last look at her passport and noticed it said her place of residence was Boise, Idaho. She explained that her Order had a rule that you had to say where you were from on such documents, not where your current convent was, and she was just following the rules. She had lived in Hawaii for almost all her life, and she would sign a paper saying so if he had one. She let out a little sigh. The purser smiled, returned her papers, and said it would not be necessary. He asked a porter to “show Sister Martha to her cabin.”
The porter picked up her old, battered, black suitcase and led her to her room on E Deck. It took quite a while because Sister Martha took small steps and even so had to stop now and then to catch her breath. The porter noticed his charge moved her lips while she was standing still, apparently praying whenever possible. Eventually they reached Cabin E153, an inboard room with no windows and, like the others on its side of the corridor, the least expensive place a passenger could lay her head on the ship. Sister Martha gave the porter a well-thumbed holy card bearing an image of St. Christopher, the Patron Saint of Travelers, as a tip.
Bill Piper had quite a time ashore with Zoe. After visiting Hickam Field, which shares runways with the main Honolulu commercial airport, Zoe wanted to climb over a fence that segregated a “secure” area of Hickam from the rest of the installation. Bill knew most of the operations within would be dangerous for free-ranging civilians, and some of the activities in this area were classified, But Zoe said that fences meant something interesting was on the other side, and so she climbed up the chain link fabric. Bill called for her to get down. When a sentry jeep came speeding up, Zoe told the patrol she had just been trying to get a better view of the planes and scooted back to the ground. But on the taxi ride back to Honolulu they passed a go-karts center and Zoe insisted they get off and take some spins around the track. She turned out to be an aggressive driver, leaving it up to others to avoid collisions with her. Eventually she drove her kart at top speed into a concrete wall. She was dazed but complained after she had gotten her bearings, “You just can’t go very fast in these things.”
Bill got Zoe back to the ship an hour before it was due to depart for American Samoa, and he found an excited, almost manic Brother Bob bouncing off the walls in B8. Bob said he‘d just had the best day of his life, one he would never forget. “But maybe the first of many more to come,” he almost shouted. “I think Keck is in love with me.”
Although he poured drinks for the two of them to celebrate Bob’s good fortune, Bill was troubled by the way the trip was unfolding. He loved his brother, but he knew Bob was standing on the Platform of Love with a lot of baggage and no ticket. “The Thatch twins look like they know the score and can make the game go any way they want,” Bill thought. He didn’t know what Keck was up to, but he suspected she was playing Bob for a sap.
Bill would have learned how right he was, and a lot more, if he had been in B2 when Keck joined her sister after spending the day with Bob. “How’d it go?” Heck asked. She had been on the ship for several hours after the bus tour of Waikiki with Dr. Galten.
“Oh fine,” Keck replied. “He’s such a dope. You almost feel sorry for him. He’s going to be easy and bleed all over the place. How about you?”
“It was different. Galten’s not going to fall for the usual act. We can’t play The Game with him. If we try to get him real attached to us, he’s going to break away because he knows he has to be impartial. But he seems to have a soft spot for us. Don’t play the ‘poor us’ card; look spunky. He doesn’t hate spunk. Add a touch of ‘daughterly affection’ and he’ll want us to win.” It was as if the sisters were deciding on a make-up formula for a client in Lincoln.
“OK. Write it up in the diary, and let’s go to bed.”
“The Game” that Heck referred to dated back to junior high school and was based on the intense bonding that had developed between Heck and Keck earlier. For as long as they could remember, they had been united against the world. Nobody, not their siblings, not their parents, not anyone else could matter as much as they did to one another. Then, when they were twelve, each fell in love, and each boy dumped them. Brokenhearted, their anguish totally fused them and they vowed they would never love anyone else. Particularly any guy.
This happened in 1968, right about the time their grandparents were going to split up the Thatch brood. So besides “love-bombing” the old folks, Heck and Keck stole the grocery money and laid the trail of evidence that led to their sisters’ banishment. Together, and secure in their grandparents’ home, they began using their identical appearance for sport and gain against others. Particularly any guy.
Not that they hadn’t before, in general. They always backed up one another when one of them got into trouble. “She was with me” became a favorite saying. Heck or Keck also had a built-in alibi when accused of some mischief, because others would swear she was doing something else somewhere else at the time. They also enjoyed playing “Good Girl and Bad Girl,” whereby they confused others by appearing to be two dramatically different people from one day, or hour, or minute, to another.
This last subterfuge grew to become “The Game.” Heck or Keck would go trolling for a victim, say in a bar. When a guy approached, whoever was playing “the Bait,” would encourage him and a relationship would develop. They would date several times, but the sisters would take turns being the girlfriend. The fellow did not realize he was seeing two different women who were playing a malicious game with him. They would drive him nuts, being all warm and cuddly for a while, and then cold and cranky for no reason whatsoever. Now many people have romantic partners who have troublesome mood swings. But they have just one partner. Heck and Keck pulled this off as a Sisters’ Act, and they became very good at it. They enjoyed taking advantage of their victims, but mostly they did it for the joy of deception. They had so mastered being the same person that they could fool someone even during an intimate relationship. It confirmed how close they were. Ultimately, the sisters would end the affair. Whenever possible, one watched from a safe distance while “Bad Girl” plunged in the knife, so they could both enjoy their triumph.
In this case, they were playing The Game with Bob Piper for a distinct reason. While they did not think he and Bill posed much of a threat to their winning the Perfect Twins Contest, they wanted to make sure. So, they set out to create so much emotional turmoil in Bob that he would be as different from “Cool Hand Bill” at the second testing as possible.
The American Samoan Islands rise from the South Pacific some 2600 nautical miles from Hawaii, and as their ship left its berth in Honolulu at 8 PM on January 29, the crew of the Acadia expected to dock in Pago Pago (pronounced “pango pango”) in the morning on February 3rd. Extra time had been built into the schedule because the South Pacific can be quite stormy in February. Although the ship’s stabilizers could smooth out moderate seas, the bridge gave wide berth to low pressure systems brewing along its course. So its route sometimes zigged and zagged, which took time. The captain also tried to give the sunbathers a blue sky every day. Atlantic & Orient knew what floats its boat.
People in a hurry do not take ocean cruises, and while Bill Piper habitually noticed the ship’s heading, it mattered little to the rest of the passengers whether the ship was gliding southeast or southwest through the waves. They cared much more if a pod of dolphins locked onto a parallel course, and the cry of “There’s a shark” sent everybody bolting to the railings.
The routines developed in Professor Galten’s group on the voyage out from San Francisco continued, from the breakfasts and dinners together to the spa lounging, pool lounging and lounge lounging in between. Most of the group attended the shows performed on the ship’s stage at night, knocked back a few in the bars, and kissed their $200 goodbye in the casino before bed.
Word continued to spread about the Twins Contest, and patrons tried to spot Bill and Bob because they did not dress alike. Some passengers noticed that Steven was part of the group, but while he was seen out and about, no one had seen “two of him” together. He was often accompanied by Prissy, but tongues wagged about her because people had noticed her talking earnestly with an attractive but much younger man. This chap seemed unattached, and was playing the field in a field full of unattached women searching for some love. He was reputedly outstanding in the field, if something of an outlier.
Roger Galten observed that Steven was becoming romantically involved with Prisilla McMaster, but felt it was none of his business. Roger did not know about Keck Thatch and Bob Piper, however, because Keck emphasized to Bob that they had to play it cool to stay in the competition. She pointed out that the Thatches probably had more to lose than the Pipers, and yet she was following her heart, so he owed their love his cooperation. Nevertheless, Bob had trouble keeping his mind off Keck, and often trouble keeping his hands off her too. But she never reciprocated when they could be seen. In fact, she displayed a total indifference to him when anyone else was about. “She’s really good at acting,” Bob said to himself.
Two events marked the trip to Pago Pago more than any other. At 6:21 AM on February 1st the Acadia crossed the Equator. Persons who had never crossed the line before, “Pollywogs,” were obliged to appear before King Neptune to be initiated into the Order of the Shellbacks. Most of the passengers were Pollywogs but the Atlantic & Orient business plan frowned on the Shellback initiations involving flogging and keel-hauling that navies featured in the good old days. So an “entertainment” was staged after breakfast on the top deck featuring crew members dressed in outlandish costumes as Neptune, his minions, and supposed Pollywogs who stood in for all the real first-timers aboard. The pinch-hitters suffered such indignities as pies in the face and physical attacks every bit as convincing as seen in professional wrestling, to the amusement of hundreds of paying customers who had gathered around. After the ceremony all the passengers were given water-based tattoos of a turtle proving they were Shellbacks and never had to face King Neptune again. Many flashed their tattoos to each other when they met the rest of the day.
The second event, also memorable to everyone on board who either witnessed it or heard about it later, involved Zoe. Taking her cue from the 1993 movie Groundhog Day, she had vowed to do some thing every February 2nd that she had never done before. (It did not occur to her that she did this many other days as well.) On this occasion she plunked down $50 to ride in the hang glider on the back of the ocean liner. The glider consisted of a comfy chair hooked to a parabolic wing. The chair was attached to the ship by a wire, and the rider was buckled into a harness that was doubly attached to the ship. Riders were strapped into the chair and winched up a short distance off the top deck where the sail caught the breeze produced by the ship’s motion and lifted the chair. The lines were then slowly let out and the passenger flew steadily behind the ship over the ocean. The crew used the various wires to keep the flyer’s experience as breathtaking as a roller coaster ride, and just as safe.
When Zoe had been let out as far as the “ground crew” would let her go, she unbuckled the safety harness and let it fly away on its tethers. The ride operators began pulling her back in, because she was now connected to the Acadia by only the chair wire. But she made her retrieval impossible by grabbing the wing and flying wildly in all directions. The crew yelled that the safety line could snap at any time. She shouted back, “Good!” A large crowd gathered and cheered her every swish and swoosh. Many passengers thought Zoe was a member of the ship’s crew hired to provide thrilling entertainments while posing as a paying customer.
Eventually, as Zoe was attempting a “ground loop” a gust of wind made her overshoot her mark and she slammed into the back of the ship. The ride operators reeled her up. The ship’s doctor, Martin Ellingham, found she had dislocated her left shoulder and after setting it, he put it in a sling and gave her some pain killers. “You will get some use of that arm once the swelling goes down in four or five days,” he said. “It’s not all that bad. But you did something pretty stupid, and have no one to blame but yourself. Next time you hurt yourself, I’ll just let you suffer” But Zoe faced no further punishment than the doctor’s brusque reprimand. One of the ship’s rules pasted on crew bulletin boards read, “The customer is always right. Even the crazy ones.”
Shortly before 8 AM on February 3rd as the Acadia lay berthed at the cruise dock in Pago Pago, Dr. Galten heard a knock on the door connecting his suite with the Thatch sisters. When he unlocked the door and opened it, Heck (or possibly Keck, he couldn’t say) was standing before him and, once again, looked quite disturbed. She said someone had taken the sisters’ diary from their living room overnight. “We wrote in it at bedtime and left it on the desk. And it was gone when we got up this morning.”
Roger crossed into B2 and conducted a brief search to make sure the diary was not in plain sight elsewhere in the suite. Then he called Suparman Alatas, told him what the sisters had said, and asked him make sure the housekeepers looked out for the diary during their cleaning run while the group was at breakfast.
The Thatches asked the steward if he had ever seen “the woman who was flying around on the back of the boat” on their floor. He said he had not. Ever mindful of their appearance, Heck and Keck “put on their faces” and joined the others on F Deck for breakfast.
The ship’s officers learned they would encounter an atmospheric Low after sailing that night, and had the word spread among the customers to “get some exercise ashore” because the next day might be a rain-out.
Passengers had the whole day to be land-lubbers and explore. Pago Pago’s citizenry obligingly welcomed them at dockside, offering many souvenirs and diversions. Steven and Prissy had talked about going to a bird sanctuary at the western end of the island, but Steven told her at breakfast he had to do something in town first and would meet her at noon on the wharf for the excursion, if she wished. He was most apologetic. She in turn was irritated and more than a little curious, and tried to find out more about his change of plans. But he was not forthcoming. She went ashore alone later and tried to track him down, but failed.
When they did meet at noon Steven seemed noticeably distant compared to how he had been just that morning. He began to “interrogate” her about her real feelings toward birds. He brought up two instances when she had been on University of Manitoba committees that had to decide on funding bird sanctuaries: one at the Delta Marsh research station, and the other a duck preserve at Glenlea. She had voted against any funding whatsoever. Steven somehow knew about details in the arguments she had made. Their interactions after this discussion became tense, even though Prissy did her best during the bird watching to be overjoyed at spotting Wattled Honeyeaters and Samoan Starlings. Steven continued to be stiff and withdrawn during dinner at the Tradewinds Hotel. Sensing she had overplayed her hand, she feigned a headache when they returned to the ship and went straight to her cabin, spurning his escort.
The rest of the group did touristy things all day. Bill visited the U.S. Marine sites on the island. The Seventh Regiment of the First Marine Division had been shipped to Pago Pago as quickly as possible after Pearl Harbor, and remained there during the opening stages of the Guadalcanal campaign, even though it had most of the division’s experienced men in its ranks. After the Seventh moved to “the Canal,” Pago Pago served as a staging area for American troops destined for combat on other islands. Zoe tagged along again with Bill, but with her left arm practically useless she couldn’t get into trouble no matter how hard she tried. But of course she tried. At one point she struggled to climb a coconut tree with her strong legs and one good arm. But as hard as she squirmed and grunted, she could not get off the ground.
Keck and Bob slipped away to a small beach where they could play in the surf and lie under the sun on warm sand, rather than on plastic chairs. At one point Bob became amorous and began to paw at Keck. She giggled and let him get to “first base,” but no further. “Others will notice,” she said. He steamed up, but he had, he told himself, gotten to “cop a feel,” and better times might be just around the corner.
Heck Thatch and Dr. Galten wandered more or less aimlessly in town for a while. Then they happened upon Tisa’s Barefoot Bar, and the “Island” atmosphere enticed Roger to kick his feet up, and the two “left alones” toasted the unhurried hours and chatted away through supper. Heck asked him what it was like to be a “college teacher,” and how he had met his wife. She was naïve and charming, and he let himself be drawn out. He politely inquired about running a beauty parlor and why hair styles changed so often. She told stories about her patrons involving things “women only tell their hairdresser.” Galten was amazed.
When they returned to the ship, Heck and Roger found a request from a member of the ship’s security team, Jane West, to call her. They did, and she met them in B2. The cleaners had not found the diary, and the suite looked absolutely ordinary to them with no signs of a break-in. Jane asked Heck if all the doors had been locked when they went to bed, and Heck said, “Of course.” Had the door onto the hallway been “chained” as well? No. Jane said it was a good idea to do so, Roger chimed in that he always used the chain lock when he retired.
Jane said she had looked at the throw-locks on either side of the balcony door connecting the Thatch sister’s outpost with Dr Galten’s, and both looked like they had not been opened for some time. The sliding door from B2’s bedroom to its balcony had a latch lock, and it was open. Heck said they had not set it during the entire voyage. Nor did many of the other passengers who had balconies, Jane knew. She wouldn’t, if her room had a balcony. Jane asked Heck for a description of the diary which she promised to circulate among the crew. “It’s just a small black book that would fit in a purse,” Heck replied. “It says ‘Diary’ right on it.”
Jane asked Heck to fetch one of the sisters’ backup swipe keys. “We have a technician who will plug it into our computer and see if anyone tried to use its combination last night anywhere on the ship. Sometimes thieves find a card and keep trying it on different doors until it works.” Heck went into the bathroom and took the backup key from Keck’s toiletry bag, which happened to be on top of hers on the sink. Jane and Dr. Galten then left.
Jane reported all this to the head of Security when she returned to the office. He couldn’t have cared less. This sort of thing happened all the time, and the missing item almost always turned up the next day. Twice in the past few years professional burglars had worked over the Acadia, once as a member of the crew, once as a passenger. They each had stolen master cards from the cleaning personnel. But no burglar had visited the Thatch suite. The safe would have been easy pickings for a pro but had not been opened, and nothing of value had disappeared. “Mark my words, West,” her boss said with a shrug, “the diary will turn up in one of the lounges tomorrow. One of these women just left it there and forgot.” Jane replied that they seemed to place a lot of value on the diary, and would not likely have taken it from their suite. “Then I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them has hidden it, or maybe even thrown it away, to send a message to the other one,” came the response. “Just because they’re twins, they can still hate each other.”
Bill and Zoe, and Bob and Keck returned to the ship just before the sailing time of 8 PM. When Bob banged open the door to B8, Bill could tell he was on a real “high.” He had spent another wonderful day alone with Keck, Bob said, and now she wanted to go dancing with him in The Seafarer Lounge. “I guess she can’t get enough of me,” he crowed. He showered, put on his suit, and went off at 9 to be with her, “out in the open where everyone could see.” Their relationship had “turned the corner.”
Bob came back half an hour later totally shattered. Keck had exploded at him while they were on the dance floor. How dare he think he could put his hand wherever he liked on her body! How dare he presume that she cared for him! How could he possibly believe she could fall for a low-life ex-con like him! She never wanted to have anything to do with him. “It was like she was a completely different person,” Bob moaned through his tears with his face in his hands. Then he bolted out the door. Bill was in his underwear and quickly got dressed. But he could not locate his brother when he searched “the usual spots.”
By 8 AM on the morning of February 4th the Acadia had been at sea for twelve hours but was only 163 miles west of Pago Pago. The ship had run into the anticipated storm at about 11 PM which slowed it down while its stabilizers groaned away, keeping the vessel on a very even keel. But besides the slowing effect of the weather, the Acadia was continuing the “drifting” phase of its Pacific journey, giving its customers the length of trip they had paid for but saving money on fuel by running at little better than half-speed. It crossed the International Date Line about noon—a fact we shall ignore.
The “Twins Group for its part was little better than half present-and-accounted-for at 8 AM when it gathered for breakfast in the Longitude Room on F Deck. Dr. Galten had taken his accustomed seat at the large round table, as had Steven Greenleaf and the Pipers. But the Thatch sisters had not appeared, nor had Prissy. Bill joked that the group had become a men’s club, and as the four fellows tucked into their meat and eggs, discussing sports and women a little more casually than they usually did, they expected “the ladies” to show up at any minute. Steven said not to worry about Prissy, who might be ill-disposed. But Keck and Heck had never missed a group gathering. Bob Piper seemed very ill at ease.
The men went for the group’s usual “constitutional” tour around the Promenade Deck after eating, and when they finished it as they had started, without Heck, Keck, and Prissy, they went to B Deck to knock on some doors. Prissy answered hers wearing the luxurious white bathrobe that the ship provided each customer on A-C Decks. She had put on her make-up and done her hair. She had not felt like eating, she said, and volunteered that her plans for the day were “undetermined.” Steven said nothing.
Meanwhile, Dr. Galten had gone to the end of the corridor to see if the Thatch sisters were awake yet. They did not answer his knocks, and he assumed they were having a sleep-in. But when he still got no response half an hour later, about 9:45 AM, he summoned the steward and asked him to open the hall door to B2. Suparman Alatas inserted his master key-card and gave the door a little push. But it immediately jerked to a stop because it was “chained” from the inside. Galten called out to the sisters through the opening and getting no reply, asked the steward to call Maintenance. Ten worrisome minutes passed before a worker arrived with his tool box. He produced a high-speed Dremel saw that quickly cut through a link in the chain, sparks a-flying and permitting entry to B2.
Cloudy skies and drawn drapes made the living room dark. More light came from the bedroom, where the curtains on the balcony wall had been pulled back around the door. One of the Thatch sisters lay very still in the bed closer to the door. The other bed, by the balcony door, was empty, but appeared to have been slept in. Galten tried to awaken Heck/Keck, but when she proved totally unresponsive, he had Suparman call for the ship’s doctor.
Dr. Ellingham came quickly and decided the woman had taken a strong sedative, or even been drugged. He injected her with a general stimulant, and she quickly responded, but was still quite groggy. Galten, who was taken aback a bit at the sight of a Thatch sister without her make-up and with her hair piled into a yellow mop inside a sleep net, spotted an embroidered “H” on her nightgown. “Heck!” he said, “Can you hear me, Heck?” But the response was, “I’m not Heck. Heck is my sister.” Roger then asked, “Do you know where Heck is, Keck?” But the answer was just a mumble.
Suparman had moved between the other bed and the balcony door. He put his hand on the sheets before him and found them cool and damp. No one had been in the bed for some time, he inferred. Then he noticed that the rug by the balcony door was quite wet, and a simple fingertip taste test revealed it was soaked with fresh water, not sea water. He also noticed that the connecting door from the Thatch bedroom to Dr. Galten’s in the next suite was unlocked.
A few minutes later, after Ellingham’s injection had gone to work, his patient said she was Heck Thatch, but she had been having a vivid dream that she was Keck—a frequent dream she very much enjoyed and did not want to leave. When told that Keck was missing, she took various stabs at where her sister might be (“At breakfast? On the Promenade Deck?”). But then she said, “Keck wouldn’t have gone anywhere without telling me.” She began to show increasing concern, tried to get out of bed, fell to the floor, and began thrashing around in a panic. Dr. Ellingham, having just given her a stimulant that he now surmised might have saved her life, gave her a mild sedative to put her back to sleep.
All this time, the other men in the Twins Group were watching from B2’s living room, whispering to one another in concern. Bob Piper kept saying, “Which one is it?” and “What could have happened?
The steward tried to reassure the group. With nearly a thousand passengers aboard, including many seniors, people sometimes lost track of one another. Keck may have just awakened early and right now might be curled up in the ship’s library reading a book. So he had an announcement made on all decks asking Heck and Keck Thatch to return to their stateroom. This was done three times, and when no one turned up, Suparman called Security. This time the head of the department himself answered the call. His name was David H. Slack.
When Inspector Slack retired from the Devonshire constabulary in 1994, he left behind a legacy of Thorough-Mucking-About and Usually-Getting-It-Wrong that no criminal investigator would want to inherit. He solidly represented the school of detection known as, “Follow the obvious.” This enabled him to solve simple crimes that almost anyone could work out. But if a criminal had the least gift for disguise, deception, or diversion, Slack usually came up three eggs and a garnish short of an omelet. Had he been a fictional character, he would have reminded readers of gumshoed policemen going back to Inspector Lestrade in the Sherlock Holmes canon who provided the dark sky that made the flash of lightning so brilliant.
Slack had been buoyed up through the service’s ranks by a demographic wave of early retirements, and heart attacks, and then corruption scandals. He ended his career as the Superintendent Chief Inspector of Devon County. Which suggests that in police work, those who can, do, those who can’t do, become teachers, those who cannot teach, become administrators, and those who can’t administer, become superintendents. No one posed a stronger counterpoint to Lawrence J. Peter’s famous principle, for Slack had risen beyond his level of incompetence over and over again.
At sea when he had been afoot in Devonshire, Slack signed on with Atlantic & Orient when it recruited retired English-speaking security officers in 1995. The pay aboard the Acadia underwhelmed one, but Slack had a well-appointed cabin with daily maid service, all his meals, and life aboard a pleasure ship that constantly sought good weather and sailed to places to which many retired people pay lots of money to be taken.
When the Dutch assistant he had inherited quit in 1998, Slack hired his former sergeant, Ian Lake, to ride the high seas with him. The next year Slack was forced to take on another assistant, Jane West, who was the wife of the ship’s new purser.
In the main, security work on the Acadia involved helping bewildered “dears” find their lost purses, room keys, and each other. And the casino always needed minding. Sometimes lovers quarreled and had to be calmed. Two swains competing for the hand of a rich widow might come to blows now and then. But Slack rarely did serious police work. In October 1998 he had busted a group of drug smugglers at the conclusion of a Mediterranean cruise. And twice professional burglars had slipped through his fingers. But he had never had a murder aboard. “Not like finding a body in the library or having a murder at the vicarage, not like the good old days,” Slack mused.
In the present case, his experience told him the missing woman on B Deck would turn up later that day, maybe in the ship’s galley, confused and wanting to fix dinner. But the hysterical reaction of Heck Thatch (if she was indeed Heck) to the news that her sister was missing told him this might be more serious than usual. So did the wet rug by the door to the balcony, which the steward had pointed out to him. The door had been slid open for some reason during a nasty storm. Slack did not pay much attention at first to the open lock on the connecting door to Dr. Galten’s suite. Passengers often left these doors unlocked after they had opened them for some reason, and Galten told him Heck had opened the door to his suite the previous morning to report a missing diary. So, he was sure “the lady vanished” in B2 would deserve the yawn almost all the security events aboard the ship did. “The woman will probably turn up this afternoon asleep on a deck chair,” he told Lake and West.
Doctor Martin Ellingham had seen enough of Inspector Slack to appreciate how well he was named. The physician, who had taken the position of ship’s doctor on the Acadia to recover from a painful divorce in Cornwall, England, was a blunt, opinionated man totally unblessed with social graces. His bedside manner ranged from “Go away” to “Take no prisoners” as he sternly upbraided his patients for whatever brought them to him. He did not suffer fools gladly, or quietly, or even at a marked distance, and had several times called Slack a moron to his face—once while dining at the Captain’s Table. The two men did not like one another, and each had tried to get the other one fired. The Acadia’s captain had asked Atlantic & Orient to dismiss them both. A&O was trying to transfer one of the “problems” to another ship while it searched for replacements. “Take your pick,” the home office said.
Ellingham had been alarmed at how heavily sedated the Thatch woman had been when he tried to rouse her. No sleeping pill had caused this, and he found no sedatives in the women’s toiletries. So he summoned his nurse, Florence Nightenday, and had her draw a sample of blood from his patient (which he did not want to do himself because he was hemophobic). He then collected every fluid container he could find in B2, from a half bottle of white wine to the mouthwash in the bathroom, a tube of toothpaste, two tooth-brushes, and a pair of identical lipsticks on the bathroom counter.
The Acadia, like most cruise ships that sailed alone on the high seas, not only had a ship’s infirmary but also a hematology laboratory. It had been installed as insurance against a viral infection or a food poisoning outbreak, events which terrified A&O executives almost as much as the thought of one of their liners colliding with an iceberg. (“At least nobody’s going to make a movie about a thousand passengers throwing up from bow to stern,” someone in Southampton said. “Unless—God forbid—it’s a documentary” came the reply.) Ellingham sent his samples to the multipurpose technician who staffed the medical lab when need arose.
Ellingham told Slack what he had done, and Slack pronounced it a waste of time. “The missing twin’s probably alive and well and having her nails done in the ship’s beauty shop right now.” he predicted. But Slack felt a cold draft of exposure wafting up his backside because of the doctor’s move. He knew a thing or three about surviving in a bureaucracy, and he would get nailed if the Thatch woman really had disappeared. So, he advised the other passengers in the Twins Group to chain-lock their doors at night. Then he told his subordinates to quietly search B2, even as “Heck” lay asleep in her bed.
The suite appeared neat and tidy. Clothing worn the day before, February 3rd, had been stowed in a laundry bag in the closet. One sister’s bathrobe was lying on a chair next to the far bed, as was “Heck’s” near her own. The toiletries left behind by Ellington in the bathroom were lined up in front of two identical cloth bags, one embroidered with an “H” and the other with a “K.” It appeared from damp towels in the bathroom and bedroom that both sisters had bathed before going to bed the night before.
Because Steven had ordered “deluxe housekeeping,” all the group’s suites had been thoroughly cleaned during the layover in San Francisco, before the party boarded the Acadia. (A&O had learned that a promise to remove all traces of previous passengers for a fee appealed to wealthy patrons.) In addition, the rooms were dusted, vacuumed, and restored to pristine condition every morning, so any fingerprints found in B2 today on oft-used surfaces would probably have been left in the 24 hours since the maids had last cleaned the suite. But other prints on walls, liquor bottles, and so on might have been placed days before.
Jane West had been a police constable in England and aspired to becoming a forensic detective. So she willingly accepted the role of “fingerprint expert” when she joined the Acadia’s security team. She had never taken a course on the subject, but she knew more about loops, arches, and whorls from her introductory reading on the Henry system than Slack or Lake did, who had relied on specialists to obtain prints from a crime scene back in England. By now Jane had taken enough “dabs” of new staff during her months aboard that she could correctly label fingerprints and tell them apart.
Now Suite B2 gave her an opportunity to lift latent prints, even though Slack had not yet told her to. She dusted surfaces with black magnetic powder and used a clear tape to transferred them onto white cards. She took impressions from doorways, furniture, lights, beds, the liquor locker, the suite phone, the kitchen and bathroom fixtures and the toiletries. She found many sets in the living room, three of which (she later confirmed) had been left by Steven Greenleaf and the Piper twins who had watched the drama in the bedroom that morning from the living room. One of these sets was very damaged; it came from Bob Piper, who revealed he had tried to have his fingertips altered after his second jail term.
Six other “living room” sets were also found in the bedroom and bathroom. Three of them, she discovered, belonged to her boss, the steward, and Dr. Galten. “One of the other sets must have come from Heck,” she said to herself, and verified this by taking the woman’s prints while she lay sleeping. “Keck’s will be the same as hers, so the remaining two sets must have come from Dr. Ellingham and his nurse,” she thought. But she later established they had not. The medicos (and the maids) had worn latex gloves while they were in the suite. So, the source of the remaining two sets posed something of a mystery.
As she was working in the bedroom Jane noticed that while the rug by the balcony door was quite wet, the rest of the carpeting was not. She closely examined the plush flooring, looking for traces of shoe prints. Nothing stood out in the heavily treaded areas around “Heck’s” bed. But two people had recently walked to the wet spot and stood by it—probably the steward and Inspector Slack. Jane could make out shoe prints in the bathroom that probably had been left by Dr. Ellingham. And along the periphery, by the shower, she saw several prints left by women’s bare feet.
Jane took a closer look at the covers on the bed beside the balcony. The blanket and top sheet had been thrown back toward the other bed. And they were damp. But she saw no sign of a struggle.
Ian Lake came in while she was “dusting” the bedroom. “The boss didn’t tell you to do this, but he’ll think of it later,” he said. “You’re showing good initiative, but don’t let him know you’ve already done this. He likes to think things happen because he says to do them.”
Lake opened the safe in the closet. It just contained the two Thatch passports.
As West’s search was winding down, “Heck” began to stir in her bed. The steward called Dr. Ellingham, who asked if the sisters had ever ordered a snack brought to their room, and if so, what? Thus informed, he had some strong green tea and rye toast sent up to B2. “Heck” took a sip of the tea and quickly ate two slices of toast. After she had finished she asked, “Where is Keck? She should be here.”
Dr. Ellingham reminded her of the morning’s events, which she seemingly had forgotten. But the doctor knew that the sedative he had administered did not interfere with forming and retrieving memories. As his patient asked more questions about Keck’s whereabouts, she again became dangerously agitated. So Ellingham injected her for the second time with a sedative, which quickly put her to sleep. “She is not psychologically ready to handle her twin’s disappearance,” he thought. From what he understood from others, it would be like losing herself to her.
Dr. Ellingham looked in on his patient in B2 about 11PM on February 4th, giving her another injection to keep her asleep until morning. He noticed black smudges on “Heck’s” fingertips which indicated someone from Security had taken her prints while she was asleep. “Somebody is taking this matter seriously,” he thought to himself, even if ‘Slipshod Slack’ isn’t.”
Ellingham had his nurse check on “Heck” at 3 AM; Nightenday found her deeply asleep.
The doctor returned to B2 at 6 AM on February 5th because he wanted to be there when his patient awoke. She began stirring about 7, and when she opened her eyes the first thing she said was, “Who are you?” Then, after looking around the bedroom, “Where’s Keck?” And then, “Why are my fingers so black?”
Ellingham re-introduced himself and said, “The ship’s security division took your fingerprints while you were sleeping.”
“My fingerprints? Why would they want my fingerprints?”
“So they can tell which fingerprints in the room are yours and Keck’s, I imagine, and which came from others,” Ellingham replied.
“Why does that matter?” his patient asked.
Ellingham decided to start from the beginning, as the woman before him showed no signs of remembering what had transpired the previous day. He said that her sister had been missing for over a day now, and he noticed that “Heck’s” fingers curled tightly about the covers when she heard this, and her respiratory rate increased. As his explanation progressed, he could see her getting more and more anxious until she was trembling. Then she lurched out of bed and stumbled, into the bathroom, Ellingham watched her vomit into the toilet, after which she began sobbing through gasping breaths. “Heck” began washing her face as tears streamed down her cheeks. “Someone has been here,” she said. “Where’s our Listerine? Where are our toothbrushes and the toothpaste? I need to brush my teeth, or something.” She looked imploringly at him, her face contorted by anguish and bewilderment.
“I took them,” Ellingham replied. “I thought you might have been drugged the other night. I had to give you a sedative to put you to sleep. I also had my nurse take a sample of your blood. It was necessary.”
“Heck” doubted she and her sister had been drugged. “We spent the day in Pago Pago apart. We didn’t eat or drink the same things. Could somebody have given us something at breakfast that day which would not ‘work’ until bedtime?”
“No, you’re right. Ellingham gave the woman some mints to change the taste in her mouth. He tried to calm her by saying “the crew” thought her sister was still on board, but had gotten lost somewhere. That seemed to slow down her mounting anxiety. So he asked the obvious question: “Is there any reason why your sister would have given you something when you went to bed?” And as he feared, the anxiety came back at a gallop. She replied, “Keck would never do something like that.” Then she nearly collapsed where she was standing by the bathroom door.
Ellingham escorted her back to bed, helped her sit up, and said, “When you woke up just now, you asked where Keck was, and just now you said, ‘Keck would never do that.’ Does that mean you are Heck?” She said she was. Ellingham continued, “Yesterday morning, when Dr. Galten woke you up, you said you were not Heck, that Heck was your sister.” “I did?” she replied. “I have no memory of that.”
“Yes, you did,” Ellingham said. “Why would you have said Heck was your sister?”
The woman thought silently for a while, shaking all the while. Then she said, “I’m still so confused. Nothing is making sense. My mind is tumbling this way and that. But Keck and I have dreams that we are each other having some adventure. We usually have them on the same night and sometimes it’s the same adventure. It’s one of the magical things that connect us. Sometimes, in fact, I have trouble when I’m awake remembering that I am Heck, not Keck. You may have woke me up during one of those vivid dreams.” And then she began weeping again and said, “Oh what am I going to do if Keck…if Keck is gone?”
Ellingham was being uncharacteristically sympathetic with his patient because—unlike Slack—he was intellectually curious and intrigued by this unique case. Also, his patient was blameless. He would bet his pension that she had been drugged, although he did not know how. Maybe through an aerosol. He did his best to calm Heck (for he believed that was who she was) and he pushed the button that called the steward. He asked Suparman to fetch a glass of water (all the glasses in the suite having been taken for examination), which he used to give his patient a strong oral tranquilizer. “This won’t induce unconsciousness the way the injections did. It’s just to help you be calmer. It’s very important that you take it. I’ll give you another one later today, and the steward or my nurse will give you others.” Heck took the pill straightaway and swallowed it with a gulp of water. Ellingham made her open her mouth and lift her tongue to show she had indeed swallowed it. He showed the steward how to do this, and how to check the outside of her cheeks to make sure the pill had been swallowed.
Dr. Ellingham took the steward aside in the hall. “I want her to lie in bed for a while, and then perhaps bring her a light breakfast. Keep a close watch on her. I’ve already removed all the alcohol from the suite. Don’t resupply it with any alcoholic beverages.”
Ellingham went down to the Promenade Deck where the Twins Group and a well-dressed woman he had not seen yesterday in B2, were having breakfast. They were deeply concerned about the recent events. He told them he believed the woman in B2 was indeed Heck Thatch, and there was still no sign of Keck. Heck was awake but very anxious, so he’d given her a tranquilizer. It was important, he thought, that members of the group visit her in ones and twos during the day to keep her spirits up. He thought she might be ready to get out of bed by the evening.
Bob Piper quickly volunteered to visit Heck. His brother Bill said he’d go too. Dr. Galten was highly concerned, but held back so as to not overwhelm Heck with too many visitors at one time.
As the Pipers walked back to their cabin, Bob said “I have the strangest feeling, Bill. I’ve had it since yesterday, and it just won’t go away. I keep feeling that our mother is aboard the ship. I know that’s stupid. She’s probably dead now, and why would she be on board the Acadia anyway? But ever since Keck ‘Did Me Dirty’ on the dance floor, I’ve heard our mother’s voice saying, ‘That’s all right, Bob. It will turn out all right.’ It would be so great to have her comfort now. I could be making it all up, but it seems so real.”
Bill said he had not gotten any such feeling. Privately, he worried a little bit more about his brother’s state of mind. Bob had probably never heard their mother’s voice, so he had no way of recognizing it. Bill had seen plenty of people crack up, and they often went off the deep end before they fell into the deep end.
Although Inspector Slack expected “Keck” Thatch to turn up somewhere on the ship, she had not appeared by the morning of February 5th as he had expected. So maybe she got off the boat in Pago Pago and did not return, he mused. A&O had installed video cameras on G Deck that recorded everyone leaving the ship and coming aboard, so he would have Sergeant Lake note the goings and comings of everyone in the Twins Group while the ship lay in Pago Pago. Slack also asked the Samoan authorities to see if any Acadia passengers had missed the boat, literally, on February 4, and to check if anyone matching the women’s description had flown off the island the last two days.
Slack thought all of this would prove unnecessary as the missing woman would pop up any minute. But Doctor Ellingham was taking an interest in this business, and the last thing Slack wanted was some interfering amateur meddling in one of his cases. He’d had enough of that back in Devonshire, thank you very much. So to cover all possibilities, and especially the part of his anatomy upon which he sat, he called a meeting with his two subordinates at 9 AM on February 5th.
“First of all,” he began, “we don’t know who the woman in B2 is. She says she’s Hecuba Thatch, but she also said when she started coming around yesterday that she wasn’t. I’m told these twins were very close, but I don’t think you ever forget who you are. So right away, it looks like Keck might have done something to Heck, thrown her body overboard, and is now going to be Heck. I think that’s what most likely happened if there’s foul play involved. It’s the simplest answer, and the simplest answer always appeals to me.”
Sergeant Lake smiled a bit.
“Or maybe the missing twin just went outside on the balcony and jumped,” he continued as his subordinates dutifully made entries in their notebooks, seemingly demonstrating that he was saying something important. “Or maybe she got drunk and did something stupid and just fell overboard. It’s happened before. But usually a man does that, not a woman.”
“It’s also possible,” Slack continued, “that somebody else got in the room, killed one of the sisters, threw the body overboard, and left.
Jane asked, “How did the murderer get out of the suite then? The hall door was chained shut.”
“Obviously ‘X,’ whether it’s one person or the county all-star football team, went out through the connecting door to the suite next door, B4. That’s why that door was unlocked on the twins’ side. The connecting door must have been unlocked on the other side.”
Jane West made a note to ask Dr. Galten if he had left his lock on the connecting door open that night. Sgt. Lake wondered the same thing. He also knew that when Slack said, “Obviously,” it meant he hadn’t thought of a problem with one of his theories and was making it up as he went along. The “explanation,” upon reflection, often had difficulties.
“Have you figured out how “X” got in?” Lake asked
“Maybe the twins invited X in for a nightcap,” Slack answered. “You could drown in the booze in these rooms. Maybe one or both of the sisters then fell asleep, and X did one of them in. For that matter, the one who says she’s Heck may have just passed out from alcohol. I know Ellingham suspects drugs were involved, but I’m not sure he’s really a doctor. He faints at the sight of blood, you know.”
“But then,” Jane West suggested, “X would leave a witness behind.”
“Well obviously, sometimes criminals do stupid things. The ones I caught always did. Right Lake?” (Lake smiled to himself again, and tried to disguise it by nodding his head.) “But we won’t know what happened that night until we can talk to the twin in the bed in B2.”
“Could someone have come into the bedroom from the balcony?” ventured Lake.
“I thought of that, and it’s not possible,” Slack replied. “Yes, the bedroom door to the balcony was unlocked. However, West here found the door on the balcony connecting to the next balcony, Galten’s, was locked and damn hard to open because of corrosion. And there’s a floor-to-ceiling sheet of steel around that door which goes right across the balcony and juts out more than a foot over the side of the ship, so Nosey Posies can’t look around the partition and see if their neighbors are sunbathing. Maybe somebody with suction cups could slip around the end from the balcony next door, or for that matter around two or three partitions if they started on a balcony farther away. But it was pitch black because of the storm, and the suction things that burglars use don’t work when they’re wet. Anybody who tried that would be taking a hell of a chance of falling straight down into the ocean and never being noticed.”
“The fact that the door to the corridor was chained, and the balcony could not be reached proves the door in the bedroom connecting to the next suite was used in this affair,” Slack concluded. “It’s the only possible way in or out. Maybe someone unlocked it while visiting the sisters earlier that day. Maybe somebody hid in the suite hours earlier—say on the balcony, even in the storm—and waited for the sisters to go to bed. These balconies are built for privacy, and the only people who can see into even a part of any of them are the ship’s crew stationed in the flying bridge. And they’re always looking frontwards, not behind them.”
“But there’s another possibility that you two may not have considered” Slack added, promoting a final thought that had just occurred to him. “These real chummy-chummy twins might be playing some sort of game for some reason we don’t know. The one who is “missing” may be just hiding somewhere on this ship, and the one in the bedroom knows where, but isn’t about to tell us because they’re trying to get somebody else in trouble.”
“Lake,” Slack announced, now that he had ended his grand tour of the problem, without asking his subordinates if they had any theories, “I want you to check the videotape from Pago Pago and then interview each member of this group. Find out who they are, what they’re doing here, and what’s been happening among them since they came on board. West, check with the night watch crew to see if they saw anybody moving suspiciously about on the ship after 10 PM two nights ago. Maybe we’ll get lucky. And get a picture of the Thatch twins circulated among the crew, so we can find this woman if she’s accidentally locked herself in a toilet, or convinced some old dear who’s gone ga-ga that she’s her long-lost niece. And then, West, dust for fingerprints in B2.”
Ian Lake smiled a third time as the two subordinates turned to their appointed rounds.
Jane West had seen a photo of Heck and Keck taken by the ship’s photographer as the Acadia sailed from San Francisco. She asked him to distribute copies in the crew’s quarters. Then as she went to the bridge to get a list of the officers on duty two nights ago, she sliced and diced the hypotheses Slack had laid on the table. “IF one of the Thatch twins was now dead, why kill just one of them? What did that accomplish? And why was the particular sister targeted? And is it suggestive that the twin in the bed closer to the balcony is the one missing, what with the puddle and all? Maybe someone got the wrong twin, she thought. Or maybe the missing ‘Keck’ never was in B2 that night. And if X wanted to get rid of them both, but for some reason couldn’t do them both at once, doesn’t that mean the remaining twin is in danger?” Jane thought. Yes, it had occurred to her that the sisters might be pulling a con. But maybe whatever happened had nothing to do with them. Maybe someone made a mistake. And she knew that suction cups work better if their outer edges have been dampened by warm water, and heavy-duty cups working on a plunger-vacuum principle could easily hold a man’s weight, and someone using them would have tested them before swinging out over the side of a ship, and in any event would have used a safety rope hooked onto the railing.
Lake had thought of some of these things too. But he had learned long ago not to present any explanations of his own to Slack. It just made him obstinate. Instead, he fed his boss facts that would lead him to the conclusion Lake had already reached, and think it was his own notion. He went off fact-searching in the February 3rd Pago Pago recording.
Jane West asked Dr. Galten if the connecting door between B2 and his suite, B4, had been locked on the night Keck disappeared. He said he’d opened the door twice that day. Once, about 8 AM, when Heck Thatch had told him their diary was missing. The second time, a few hours later, she asked if he wanted to go ashore the way they had in Honolulu.” Galten was “pretty sure” the connecting door was locked when he went to bed that night. “Just SOP,” he said. “I routinely check all the doors, the way a dog circles around before it lies down. I do remember sliding the balcony door shut that night because it had started to rain.”
Jane talked to the ship’s officers who stood the first and middle watches that night. Several of them recalled a man drinking a lot in the lounges and later walking around in the rain. He seemed depressed but at the same time, agitated. This sort of thing happened often enough on a “love boat,” but “he was soaked to the skin, and didn’t seem to notice.” One of the crew approached him but could not draw him out. No one saw him after about 1 AM.
Jane reported her fingerprint findings to Slack that afternoon, who was impressed by how quickly she had finished the assignment. He told her to radio the two mystery sets to Interpol in Lyon, France. “If these two people ever served in a western army, or worked for a participating government, or got booked in a jail, or worked in the defense industry, or did a dozen other things, their prints should be on file at Interpol.”
As instructed, Sergeant Lake spent the morning reviewing the TV footage of the embarkation area on G Deck. The gangplank was predictably trodden by slow-moving middle-aged tourists, usually in small clumps, with batches of less gaudily dressed crew members whose turn for shore leave had come up. Among the Twins Group, Steven Greenleaf left the ship first, alone. Then one of the Piper twins and one of the Thatches left together, followed about 15 minutes later by the other Piper and the crazy woman who had put on the hang-gliding show on the way to Pago Pago. She had her arm in a sling. Dr. Galten and the other Thatch left together about 11. Lake did notice a very fit young man wearing a muscle shirt who went off with three female members of the crew in tow.
The “Twins Gang” reboarded about 7 PM as they had gone off, except Steven Greenleaf returned escorting a middle-aged woman who had left by herself that morning about an hour after he did.
Sergeant Lake then spent the afternoon interviewing, in order, Dr. Galten, Steven Greenleaf, Bob Piper, and Bill Piper in their rooms. Galten brought him into the picture regarding the Twins Project and how the group had come to be on board the Acadia. Roger said he had turned in about 11 on the 3rd and slept well, maybe because he had enjoyed a relaxing day in Pago Pago. For whatever reason, he awoke around 1:30 AM thinking “some unusual sound” had occurred. He turned on the lamp by his bed and called out. Then he got up and walked around. He shone a flashlight out onto the balcony and saw nothing: all was black, the wind was howling, and rain was pelting down.
Galten allowed that he might have just dreamt hearing a loud sound. Also, the ship’s stabilizers were working hard because of the storm, he noted. Galten thought it took him about 15 minutes to get back to sleep.
Lake asked Galten for his impression of each member of the group. Roger considered Steven Greenleaf a genuinely good person who would never hurt anyone. “He is quite dedicated to saving endangered species. But it’s also clear that he very, very badly wants to win this idiotic Most Identical Pair contest. Everybody knows the Greenleaf brothers set up this cruise as a way to do that. I suspect Steven’s up to something, but I don’t know what.”
Lake asked Galten if Steven Greenleaf would break the law to make Keck disappear. Roger said he knew something about anti-social personalities. “There really is a continuum of such people. In its milder form, you have the ‘everyday sociopath,’ who manipulates and lies frequently, but seldom outright breaks the law. At the other end of the scale you have psychopaths, who have no regard for the law or the rights of others and seem to commit crimes impulsively at times. These people have under-reactive sympathetic nervous systems. It takes a lot of stimulation for them to feel anything, and they often break the law just to feel excitement. People who commit murder for the thrill of it are psychopaths, and often become serial killers. We call them ‘cold-blooded’ because they’re not angry at their victims, but crave excitement.”
“Risk-taking sensation-seekers suffer from a related illness. They also have high-threshold sympathetic nervous systems and have to go to unusual lengths to feel excitement. But they don’t have the malevolence you find in anti-social personalities, and they are more of a threat to themselves than to others. Their victims are incidental, ‘collateral damage,’ not targets. They sometimes commit acts of vandalism, or steal cars and go on wild, terrifying rides, and they can be quite indifferent to the losses of others who get hurt by their activities. but they don’t set out to kill.”
Professor Galten did not think Greenleaf had any of those characteristics. But he also knew that most murderers do not have anti-social personalities, but instead kill out of anger, for money, or for power. “Would Greenleaf have harmed one of the Thatch twins to win the contest,” Lake asked, “since they’re the main competition.” “No.” Dr. Galten answered. “I’m quite sure he wouldn’t. But the woman who’s hooked onto Steven recently, who is in B10, does seem distinctly Machiavellian,” Roger added.
This was the first Lake had heard of Prissy McMaster, who Roger said had become an adjunct to the Twins Group for a while, then disappeared for a bit, but had shown up at breakfast this morning. Lake realized Priscilla was probably the woman who boarded the Acadia two nights ago with Steven in Pago Pago, and he put her on his interview list. “The Twins Group seems to be a sort of magnet attracting others to itself,” he thought. “ Zoe down below, and Priscilla down the hall.”
Roger thought Heck and Keck Thatch were thrilled just to be to be on this trip. They had never been west of Nebraska, and the voyage was taking them completely out of their small world. They were very grateful to the Greenleafs for the cruise, and had told Galten that even if they came in last, $250,000 would forever change their lives back home. “At the same time,” Galten said, “since they came in first in the initial comparison, it’s like they had big bullseyes painted on them. I feel I have to protect them a little.”
Roger said he had never seen two people so attached to one another as Keck and Heck, not even among all the twins he had studied. They definitely had practiced being identical, and he wondered why that had become so extremely important to them. But he added that he sensed Keck was forming a romantic relationship with Bob Piper. “She left Heck alone in Honolulu and in Pago Pago to go off with Bob. Heck would probably find such a romance very threatening.”
Galten said he had trouble “getting a fix” on Bob Piper. He seemed shifty and sometimes disappeared from the group without explanation. “Steven does this too, sometimes.” Bob did not like to talk about his past, and slid under his brother Bill’s wing when any kind of dispute arose. On the other hand, Bob had a temper. The project had not measured emotional reactivity in Phase I; Roger thought Bob would prove very reactive in Phase II. “Just the opposite of a psychopath. ‘Hot’ because of all the adrenaline pumping around.”
As for Bill Piper, Galten couldn’t help but like him. “He’s a man’s man, for better or worse,” the professor told Sargent Lake, “He’s so amoral, I think he’d do anything if he got paid enough. But he’s open, funny, cool, and has dozens of interesting “war stories” about his adventures flying all over the world. Bill had told Galten he’d felt very good since he had met his “missing half.” But Bill had noticed that he and his twin differed greatly in self-control. “Bob fires off the after-burner at the drop of a hat. I’d have died twenty times by now if I hadn’t learned to stay cool under pressure.” Bill thought Bob had been dwelling on their mother too much, and his fantasies about what happened to her had made him volatile.
Galten said Bill had approached him about this difference in combustibility. “Bill realizes it will probably land them in third place in the contest.” “We’re definitely a long-shot at this stage, ”Bill had said. “$250,000 is a very nice consolation prize, although there’s twice that on the table. But unless something changes, the big money’s not coming our way. We’re along for the ride. But it’s a nice ride.”
Steven Greenleaf told Sergeant Lake that while ordinarily he would never have taken passage on a cruise like this, he had been having a good time since the ship left San Francisco. “We’re all getting along very well,” Lake quoted Greenleaf in his notes. “I have no idea where Keck Thatch has gone, but I’m sure nothing bad has happened to her. Maybe she met somebody and is having the time of her life in his cabin. For my part, I went to bed about 11:30 on the 3rd and got up a couple of times to go to the bathroom. I heard the storm outside but otherwise I didn’t hear a thing. Of course, I’m two cabins away from B2.”
Lake asked Steven why he and his brother had sponsored the cruise in the first place. “Partly it was because of the damned money,” Steven replied, “which we were quite naive about. We feel a tremendous pressure to spend the money responsibly, and we do. But we keep some for our personal use. The question is, how much? Let’s say these two contests cost us twelve or thirteen million altogether. Most of that will be a gift to the University of Chicago, and you can be sure that the CPA who runs our lives now will get tax deductions for that. And Tom and I have probably made millions of new dollars from our investments since we sailed from San Francisco. What are we going to do with that new money, buy fifty Mercedes? We can’t possibly spend all the dough that pours in every day. If we did, we wouldn’t have time to use what we bought yesterday. But when we don’t spend what comes in every day, it means even more comes in every day afterwards. We’re already putting more money into habitat recovery than any other private citizen on the planet. So we’ve decided to spend some on ourselves.”
“Secondly, we wanted to get to know the other twins well. “Tom and I always thought we were unique, being closer than any other two people we had ever met. Then we found out there were others who were just as close. Naturally we wanted to get to know them, to see how they had gotten that way.”
Lake said that some people might think the Greenleafs had taken the Thatches and the Pipers on this cruise so they could, some way or another, lessen the competition’s chances of winning the grand prize. Steven acknowledged he and his brother wanted to win the contest. But if they didn’t win, so be it. For now, he was just enjoying the trip and the others. “Tom and I are taking the risk here, being apart while the other pairs of twins are having this expanding experience together. If we cared that much about winning, Tom would be here now. But instead we care more about the macaws in the Amazon, who are at terrible risk.”
Lake asked Steven about Priscilla McMaster’s joining the group. Didn’t Steven find it remarkable that Priscilla was aboard the Acadia cheek-to-jowl with the Twins Group? No, not really, Steven replied. She was traveling with a young protégé, and they had to plan some research projects before she became president of her university. “She had a reputation for collecting “Boy-toys.” It’s part of her flair. But she’s not interested in this fellow. She just wanted to make sure her research program kept going after she changed roles. I understand that.”
Lake said he’d heard that Priscilla had dropped out of the group recently. “Well, she has never been interested in my main goal in life, protecting birds. But I think I’ve shown her the wonders of bird life. It’s hard to watch our feathered friends make their living and court and raise their young and not fall in love with them, and Prissy’s always saying things like, ‘Isn’t that brave!’ and ‘Isn’t that cute!’ when we’re observing. But one day I began to think this was just an act to get money for her university, and I pulled away That hurt her, but she didn’t force herself on me, which she would have if she was just after our money. Then Keck disappeared and Prissy came to me, saying how sorry she was that our contest was being disrupted. And we made up.”
Sergeant Lake wondered if Steven could possibly be as naïve as he seemed to be. If he wasn’t, he carried off the role of Unspoiled Innocent very well.
Bob Piper told Lake, “I was feeling good about all that’s happened since I met Bill, who is a terrific brother. This Twins Contest’s the icing on the cake. I don’t talk much when the other twins are around. But maybe that’s why Keck Thatch got interested in me, because I was kind of mysterious. We really hit it off. Bill told me to take it slow, but I couldn’t. Keck and I had a great time in Pago Pago, and when we came back to the boat she said she wanted the day to never end, and we should go dancing to the band in the Seafarer Lounge. But the minute we started dancing, she just blew her top. She said she knew what I was ‘after,’ and how dare I think she was ‘that kind’ of a girl, or would ever be interested in a loser like me. She said she wanted me to leave her alone for the rest of the trip, because she had discovered how disgusting I was. Then she whirled away and dashed out of the lounge.”
“Why do you think she did this?” Lake asked.
“I have no idea. But it hurt worse than anything I ever went through before. I went to our cabin and told Bill what had happened. He got mad, and Bill doesn’t get mad easy. Then I hit the bars and walked around the ship trying to settle my nerves, even though the weather turned nasty.”
“I keep thinking Keck’s disappearance is connected to what she did on the dance floor. Maybe it wasn’t some kind of temporary insanity, but something or someone in her life made her end our relationship, and then made her disappear. I keep thinking, if only I had gone to her cabin instead of mine when I came in out of the rain, and we had talked, she would be here today and everything would be great again. So it may be my fault that she’s gone. Maybe she felt so guilty about what she’d done to me that she…I don’t know.”
Bill Piper confirmed Bob’s story, but put it in a different light. “Bob hasn’t been around skirts as much as I have. Anyone could see this Thatch gal was doing a number on him, getting him to fall for her. And you didn’t have to be Albert Einstein to figure out why. The contest is going to be affected a lot by how similar the partners are emotionally. Bob and I are not exactly on the same page there to start with, and if he falls in love, and gets shot down, that’s going to knock us right out. We’ll be lucky to finish third. So I tried to warn Bob from the second day of the cruise that this Thatch babe was playing him for a chump. But he wouldn’t listen. When she dumped him the other night, that set him off even more. And he’s got a bad temper. The guy was crazy when he came back to our cabin that night, talking about loving her one minute, then hating her the next.”
“I’ll tell you something for nothing, Sergeant. I’ve been all over and gotten to know plenty of dames really well. The Thatch twins are determined to win the contest. They’ve taken care of us. And you can bet they’ve got some plan to wreck the Greenleafs’ chances too. I figure they’ll do it through Dr. Galten, who’s going to decide the winner. They’ve been playing up to him on the sly. This supposed disappearance by Keck could be part of that. But they’re going to have trouble luring Steven Greenleaf into a honey trap like they pulled on Bob, because this Priscilla broad has already beaten them to it. And everybody can see that Steven will bust a gut to win this thing he’s set up.”
Bill then added, “It’s weird, but I think I’ve seen Steven Greenleaf before, a long time ago, but I can’t remember where. And I met Prissy too, also a long time ago. But neither seems to recognize me. I guess it’s a small world if you’ve been all over it. And there’s this gal named Zoe who’s been tagging along whenever I leave the ship. I met her some years ago when I flew her and two guys to a glacier in Alaska. They had practically no supplies. I returned to pick them up and tt was just her and two frozen bodies. Quite a fuss developed over it because Zoe didn’t seem to care about the way things turned out. So we have some history too, although she does not remember me from back then.
“The only thing goofier than running into these three people I know from the past would be if one of the real Pipers was on board. I mean the Piper family that invented the Piper Cub. I’ve always thought I came from their line. Bob and I went to San Francisco before the ship sailed so we could search around for information about our mother. But we drew a blank. Bob thinks he’s getting psychic messages from her and she’s on this ship. Well, Bob can be pretty nutty, but wouldn’t it be something if we ran into somebody on board who knew all about this, about us?”
Priscilla McMaster refused to be interviewed by Sergeant Lake. She protested that she was not a member of “the group,” she hardly knew the missing Thatch woman, and she was only involved with “this affair” at all because of her friendship with Steven Greenleaf. She had nothing to add to what Lake already knew. She’d come back to the ship in Pago Pago with Steven on the night in question with a headache and gone to bed. She had missed the storm and slept late. “The first I knew about the Thatch Twin disappearance was after the men all showed up at my door that morning wondering why I’d missed breakfast.”
When he had finished this terse discussion with Priscilla, Lake walked to the end of the hall to look in on B2. He discovered that Heck had put two and two together, and was understandably anxious about her own safety. The chain lock on her hallway door had not been replaced, she pointed out. Lake said he would have Maintenance fix it before bedtime, and would speak to his boss about increasing the security around B2 in general.
Slack however did not see the need. “The woman in B2 is probably perfectly safe, because she’s probably Keck Thatch, not Heck.” But the chain lock was replaced after supper.
Dr. Galten, concerned about Heck’s well-being, tapped on the hallway entrance to B2 about 3 pm. Heck opened the door, Galten asked if he could “pop in” for a chat, but Heck said she wasn’t feeling all that well, and hoped he would understand. Of course, he did.
Florence Nightenday had been nursing the sick-in-body, and the occasional sick-in-mind, and the abundant sick-in-soul on the Acadia for six years when Dr. Ellingham joined the crew. She had to admit her new boss knew his stuff and kept up with the medical journals much more than ship doctors usually did. But she was appalled by his rude behavior toward her and (especially) toward the passengers. His aversion to the sight of blood also meant she had to do parts of his job for him. So while she dutifully did as she was told, she also devoutly prayed he would be transferred to another ship.
Nightenday was indeed dutifully sitting in B2 around quarter to five on the afternoon of February 5th when her companion (whom everyone except Inspector Slack now believed was Hecuba Thatch) said she felt well enough to have dinner in her quarters. Would Nightenday like to dine with her? Certainly, said the nurse. Would she mind asking Bob Piper if he would join them? Bob and his brother Bill had visited Heck a few hours earlier, and Bob had been most solicitous although all he really wanted to do was talk about Keck. He accepted the invitation and arrived at six with a bottle of nice wine. Which Nightenday immediately seized.
The meal for three laid out by the steward started off well enough. But Florence quickly saw that her patient wasn’t ready for another round of company. Heck suddenly jumped up from the table and paced the living room, wringing her hands and crying uncontrollably. When the others rose to comfort her, she ran into her bedroom and stood shaking by her bed. Nurse Nightenday quickly took Heck in her arms, and Bob Piper circled to the other side of Heck’s bed, such that he was now framed by the balcony door. This seemed to awaken a memory in the moaning woman, who cried out, “It’s him!” “Who?” Bob asked. But Heck fainted in Nightenday’s arms. “It’s a good thing I had a strong hold on her,” Florence said later. “She was a dead weight. There’s a ton of padding in these high-priced suites, but she still could have hurt herself.”
Dr. Ellingham was called, and he gave Heck another mild sedative.
Roger Galten heard the commotion next door and when things had quieted down he suggested to Heck that they leave the door connecting their bedrooms open during the coming night because “it might reassure you to know help is quite near.” She thanked him, and Ellingham thought it was a good idea. But when Inspector Slack was notified, he ordered the connecting door closed and locked on both sides. “Maybe Galten killed her sister the other night,” he said to Jane West later, although no one could suggest any possible reason why Dr. Galten would have done such a thing. Sergeant Lake thought instead that his boss opposed the idea because it was a good one, but he hadn’t thought of it.
When that attempt to reassure his neighbor was obstinately blocked, Roger insisted that the lock on the sliding door to B2’s balcony be changed, and the key be kept by the steward. Galten said, “Heck, this is for your own protection.” He was indeed worried that an assailant might try to enter B2 from the balcony. The noise he heard at 1:30 AM on the night Keck disappeared had seemed to come from the balconies. But he was also worried that Heck might try to kill herself during one of her bouts of depression, the way she might imagine Keck had died.
The workman Lake had arranged to reinstall a chain lock on B2’s hallway door also changed the lock on the balcony door about 8 PM, and handed Alatas Suparman one key and Slack another.
When Inspector Slack returned to the Security office on G Deck he learned that another passenger has apparently disappeared. An elderly nun named Sister Martha had not been seen by her steward on E Deck for some time. The steward had followed company procedures and left Sister Martha a note on the door to her cabin this morning asking her to contact him. The note was still there this evening. Continuing to follow procedures, the steward notified Security.
“Maybe she’s camped out in the ship’s chapel,” thought Slack. Reminded of someone else, he thought, “Well, if she is gone, at least she won’t be interfering with my investigations.”
Dr. Ellingham expected the hematology lab to quickly analyze the samples he sent them on February 4th. Like, “The day before yesterday.” But the technician involved also serviced the electronic gear aboard ship, and he had spent the 4th and most of the 5th on the bridge tracking down a bug playing Hide-and-Go-Seek in the navigation system. The officers aboard stressed the importance in steering the ship of knowing where it was, so this job took priority. Nevertheless the”teckie” knew Ellingham would be Highly Pissed Off at the delay, so he did the analyses after supper on the 5th and sent them to Ellingham at 9 PM.
The blood sample (naturally) had strong traces of the stimulant and sedative injections Ellingham had given Heck. But it also bore traces of Rohypnol (the “Date Rape drug”) and traces of Rohypnol were found as well in the toothpaste tube and on both toothbrushes. The drug had evidently been in tablet form originally, and had then been ground into a fine powder, because tiny bits of it were still present in the toothpaste tube. Placing it in the toothpaste was clever, Ellingham thought, because the particles would have fit in with the abrasives present in most toothpastes. None of the other materials tested showed any sign of drugs.
Rohypnol is a clear, tasteless, odorless, highly soluble, powerful, fast-acting sedative that was developed to help insomniacs get a good night’s sleep. It induces long periods of Stage IV slumber, when people are most deeply asleep and quite insensitive to what is going on around them. It also profoundly interferes with the formation of memories. People under its influence usually cannot recall what happened to them for 5-15 minutes before they took the drug—a phenomenon known as retrograde amnesia. And they also can’t recall what happened while the drug was active in their bloodstream—a phenomenon known as plain old amnesia. Depending on the dosage, it can take days before drugged persons remember what happened during that time, and their thinking is apt to be confused in the meanwhile. Sometimes the victims never remember, which is why the compound is also nicknamed the “Forget Me Pill.” Rohypnol can be legally acquired in North America only with a prescription, but it can be obtained illegally rather easily.
Ellingham carried this report with some satisfaction to Inspector Slack, who now appreciated that he was investigating a crime, possibly murder. He also realized how exposed he was, because he had declared the blood analysis a waste of time. It especially looked bad because Ellingham had thought to include the toothpaste and tooth brushes in the test. Slack would have assumed, based on experience, that someone put the “Date Rape” drug in a drink around bedtime. He would thus have missed the method of delivery completely. But this meant the Rohypnol could have been planted hours earlier. How did Ellingham know to look at the toothpaste, Slack wondered.
Because Keck, dead or alive, had not been found on the ship, Slack asked the Acadia’s captain to send out a “Heightened Surveillance Request” to vessels in their part of the Pacific. The message asked other ships to look out for an Acadia passenger who might have gone overboard on the night of February 3-4.
Ellingham and Slack agreed, for once, that the information about the Rohypnol had to be shared with Heck Thatch and the other members of the Twins Group, so they could be on their guard.
Jane West knew that she had a connection to Inspector Slack unknown to him. She was the granddaughter of Raymond West, a well-regarded 1950s London author. He in turn had an Aunt Jane who, on several occasions, became involved in murder cases that Slack was investigating. (For a while Devon emerged as the “Murder Capital of England.” Then Midsomer County got going.) Slack had greatly resented “the Old Biddy’s” involvement in his investigations, but she had friends in high places who insisted she play a role.
The name “Jane” had been handed down in the West family in her honor, and when Jane West decided to become a police officer some people said she was just tripping down the path laid down by her great aunt. Jane had a totally different approach to solving crimes than her predecessor however, who had relied on insights into human nature based, sometimes mysteriously, on minor incidents in her village. Jane West wanted to specialize in forensics. She had long been fascinated by the ways science could increasingly unmask criminals. She had no formal forensic training yet and did not expect to examine many crime scenes aboard a luxury liner. Nevertheless Police Constable West took a leave of absence from the Metropolitan Police to accommodate her husband’s career, gallantly taking one for the team even though it meant sailing around the world in quite pleasant latitudes on a very extended honeymoon.
Jane’s husband was Dashiell H. North, Jr., whom she affectionately called “Dash” (and less affectionately “Junior” when she was upset with him). He had grown up in Kent but half his family tree had roots in America. His father, Dashiell H. North (Sr.), hailed from New York City, but he been stationed in England during World War II. To his great surprise he fell in love with a Hastings lass, married her, and settled down. Her uncle was an incorruptible police officer named Foyle, and Dash’s paternal grandfather, Nicholas Charles North, had been a private detective, mistakenly judged slight in physique, who often helped the NYPD solve murder cases. So Dash’s family had a high regard for the police service, and no one had reservations when he became romantically entwined with P. C. Jane West. They married in June, 1999. The families wondered if their offspring would be named “North” or “North-West,” or perhaps “North-By-Northwest.”
When she arrived on the Acadia and met Inspector Slack, the butt of so many family jokes, Jane realized she had to keep her lineage a secret. Slack in turn made it clear that he regarded her a waste of time, someone hired and lumbered onto him so her husband could be employed as the ship’s purser. Slack had no use for forensics beyond fingerprinting, footprints in the flower beds, and seeing which way the glass had fallen on broken windows. Anything new reminded him that he was old, which caused him to retrench in the “tried and true” (and often wrong) investigatory techniques he had acquired by experience. So Jane resigned herself to being a “go-fer” as long as Slack ran Security. And she devoutly prayed he would be transferred.
Jane was accordingly not surprised that Slack gave her the humdrum job on the morning of February 6th of checking up on the missing nun. She visited the steward who served the aft section of E Deck. Daniel Lopez, in his 40s and from the Philippines, told Jane that he hadn’t had much contact with Sister Martha during the few days she had been on the ship. She was very much an “old school Sister,” like the Augustinians who had taught him while he was growing up. She was unmistakable on the ship, her habit consisting of a full white tunic, a long black scapular, a white wimple that covered her forehead and chin, and a black veil. Muslim women in the Philippines who wore the hajib were more exposed than someone in her Order. She also wore a long 15-decade rosary about her waist, which Daniel noticed was so worn in places that the black paint had been rubbed off. Markedly infirm, she needed a cane whenever she went out and she walked so jack-knifed it seemed she might topple forward at any moment. She constantly reached out for railings, chairs, and so forth to steady her movements.
People noticed her of course, and sometimes devout Catholics would stop her for a chat, or ask to be included in her prayers—perhaps in anticipation of the sins they were hoping to commit soon on the Acadia. But she stayed in her cabin more than passengers usually did and took her meals there. Daniel said he usually found her hunched over devotional books when he looked in. She quickly found out he was a Catholic and asked him to pray to the Immaculate Heart of Mary for the conversion of Russia—No. 1 on the Old-School Catholic playlist. “We talked about some of the saints,” Daniel said. “She seemed to know them all. And she asked me if I would say the Rosary with her, especially the five decades of the Sorrowful Mysteries. She was very devout and gave me a holy picture.” Lopez pulled a card from his wallet, which West recognized as “The Immaculate Conception” by Reubens. “Sister Martha said she didn’t have any money to give me tips. But I would not have taken any from her, as she obviously had very little.”
Daniel said he last saw Sister Martha about 2 PM on February 3rd when he picked up the dishes from the lunch she had at 1:30. When he went to take her dinner order later that day, she did not answer his knock. “And she was not in her cabin at breakfast the next day,” Lopez told Jane. “I knocked again about 11 AM and she did not answer, so I thought I should check to see if she was all right. But the cabin was empty, and the bed had not been slept in. So I left the note for her on the door, and when that went unanswered, I called your department.”
Jane asked if the nun had been acting “different” recently. “Sister Martha was always the same,” the steward replied. “She didn’t seem tense, and she didn’t seem real happy. Just calm. She was patiently living out her remaining days until she went to Heaven. I think she expected to go to Jesus any day.”
Jane looked in on Room E153, and detected the unmistakable smell of bleach when she opened the door. Lopez said he’d noticed it every day. A few toiletries lay about: a simple brush and comb with thin grey hairs in them, toothpaste, and a toothbrush. No deodorant.
Containers of liquid detergent and bleach sat on the sink. Four clean pairs of plain, white bulky underpants, four undershirts, and four pairs of knee-high black stockings, so faded they were turning green, were found in one of the drawers. Sister Martha evidently washed her clothes in her room every night. All of the stockings and three sets of the underpants had been mended in the past. A well-thumbed copy of The Lives of the Saints, a book of devotional reading, and a Daily Missal lay on the nightstand, but no Bible. The small closet held only a plain white nightdress, a threadworn, oft-repaired shawl, an old, black umbrella, and a cheap, black suitcase that looked like its last trip should have been its last trip. No shoes. One “swipe key” to E153 was found in the dresser, but Daniel could not find the other key he had given the nun. The safe proved empty. Daniel said the room appeared unchanged from when he had last seen it on the morning of February 4th.
As they parted, Daniel said something that surprised Jane. “You know that other woman you’re looking for? One of the twins whose picture is posted in our quarters? Well, she—or her sister—was down here the morning of February 3rd. She was standing by the door to 153 here as I went to answer a call from another room down the corridor. We saw each other and she knocked on the door but got no answer. I asked her as I passed if I could help in any way. She said Sister Martha was an old friend of hers, and she was just paying a visit. She knocked again and, getting no response, went around the corner to the lifts. I went down to the room that had called me.”
Jane pursued a detail, “Did she say ‘Sister Martha’ or something like, ‘the Sister’?” .
Lopez replied, “Oh, she said ‘Sister Martha.’ I knew she must have been her friend.”
After interviewing Daniel Lopez, Jane West went up three decks to Suite B2, traversing the vast social distance between the peons scraping by on a tight budget and the splendiferous hoity-toities by merely pushing a button in the elevator. Dr. Ellingham had told the Twins Group about the Rohypnol at breakfast and Heck may have supposed that Jane wanted to talk about that when she opened the door to her suite. But instead, after the usual preliminaries, Jane asked, “Heck, did you try to visit someone on E Deck on the morning before your sister disappeared?”
The question seemed to surprise Heck, who seemed more apprehensive than ever to Jane, and she said, “What?” Jane asked again, and Heck said, “No.” But then she held up a finger and stared at the floor while she concentrated on something. After a while she said, “It’s funny you should ask, though. As we were leaving breakfast that morning, Keck said that my make-up was too light, and asked me to go back to our room and “spruce it up” so we would look totally alike. It was such an unusual request. We had done our faces and hair together that morning as usual, and things looked perfect to me. But I did what she asked and returned to our cabin. It only took a few seconds to dab on a tiny bit more blusher. Then I joined the Twins Group as it was strolling around the Promenade Deck. Keck was not there, but when she showed up a little later she said she’d been in the ‘loo.’ And that was also strange, because we never used a public restroom when we could get to our private one.”
Jane then asked if Keck had an old friend, a nun named Sister Martha. Heck again seemed puzzled by the question, but said, “No. We never knew any nuns.”
Because of the news about the Rohypnol, Steven Greenleaf called a meeting of “the group” in his suite after lunch. He began, “Heck, you must know how distressed all of us are about Keck’s disappearance. Both of you seem to have been targeted for some sort of criminal behavior the night we left Pago Pago, and I know the ship’s crew is searching the boat from top to bottom to see if they can find your sister. Naturally all of us in this contest, being identical twins ourselves, know how distressing it must be for you to have Keck missing, and we all are cooperating with Inspector Slack as he tries to discover what happened. Unfortunately, dear Heck,” Steven continued, “if we cannot find Keck, I see no way you can continue in the contest. So I have called this meeting to announce that if Keck does not return, you will be given a compensation of $250,000, which was sort of the guaranteed minimum prize, and of course you can stay on the cruise for as long as you like.”
The pale and visibly trembling woman before them replied, “Thank you Steven, but the money doesn’t mean much anymore. Nothing does, if Keck is gone. I think someone has done something terrible to my sister. I’ll stay on board for a while longer, in case we find her here. But if we don’t find her—and I would feel it if she were still on the ship-=-I’ll go back home as soon as we reach New Zealand.”
Dr. Roger Galten had spent nearly forty years in academia and had energetically fought in turf wars between Psychology and Psychiatry, and Psychology and Sociology, and Psychology and Biology—not to mention fire fights with Philosophy, Statistics, Political Science, English, Physical Education, Environmental Studies, Social Work, Anthropology, Religious Studies, Mechanical Engineering, the law school, and the MBA program. Had his department awarded medals and ribbons for combat service the way military organizations do, his chest would be ablaze with decorations at graduation ceremonies. He knew the importance of protecting one’s territory and preserving one’s prerogatives.
Thus, Roger was annoyed from the get-go that Steven had called a meeting of the group without asking him. Now Steven was making decisions about the twins contest that he, Galten, was officially in charge of. So he decided to put Greenleaf, big bucks and all, back in his place. “I’ve been thinking about Heck’s situation,” Galten said, “and how unfairly and profoundly she has been affected by the recent events. I’ve been searching for a way to let her remain in the contest, even though her sister is missing. I’ve decided on a plan that I believe is fundamentally fair. I will make a statistical approximation of what the correlation would have been between Heck and Keck’s scores in Phase II based on their similarity in Phase I and the deep brain scans we’re going to get in Sydney. It won’t be the real thing, but it should be close enough to make a call on.”
“Heck,” Galten continued, “you don’t have to do anything different, just take the tests like the others. My estimate of how tightly you and Keck would have performed might be too high, and it might be too low, but it’s something I can do and feel you have had a fair chance after such a tragic turn of events. So you can stay in the contest if you wish.”
The other members of the group began to whisper among themselves, observing that Heck’s pairing off with Galten in Honolulu and Pago Pago seemed to be paying big dividends. But instead of thanking him profusely, the beneficiary of Galten’s decision sat silently, considering his offer. Then she spoke, “I said the money wasn’t important to me, and it isn’t, not even a million dollars, not really, not anymore. But it would be nice if Keck and I turned out to be the most perfectly matched twins. Everybody would know then that our love made us as close to being one person as two people can get. So thank you, Dr. Galten.”
“You’ll stay on the cruise then?” asked Steven.
“I’ll stay until we reach Sydney for the tests. But then I’ll leave. Going to all these new places might take some people’s minds off their troubles, but it will just make things worse for me. Keck and I experienced things together for our whole lives, and now that’s gone If it turns out something’s happened to Keck, I want to get off this boat as fast as I can. For one thing, I don’t feel safe here. But mainly, I want to go home. I’m never going on a trip like this again. Keck and I would be together right now if we’d just stayed in Lincoln. It’s really true: There’s no place like home. Every part of me wants to be there.” Heck began to weep and turned her face away from the others.
Steven signaled the meeting was over and people began to rise from their seats. But since all the group was together now for the first time in days, Dr. Galten asked the others if they had heard, as he had, a strange loud noise about 1:30 AM on the night they left Pago Pago. He said he thought he would eventually realize what it was, and he could tell the answer was coming to him, “on the tip of his tongue,” but so far he could not quite grasp it.
No one said they had heard anything then and the meeting broke up.
While the Twins Group was writhing through this sad meeting, Jane West was checking Heck’s story of her “makeup fix.” She located Suparman Alatas and asked if he had seen Heck or Keck returning to B2 on the morning of February 3rd. He looked in his journal and saw the ship had berthed at Pago Pago that morning. “That was the morning the Thatch twins lost their diary. I remember they went down to breakfast with Dr. Galten, and the maids arrived soon afterwards. I told them to look for the missing book. Then I was busy helping some of the other passengers get ashore, and I was not on our deck most of the time. But no, I did not see either of the guests in B2 again that morning. However, check with the maids. They are cleaning the suites at the end of the hall now.”
Jane saw the laundry bin and service cart at the far end of the long corridor and found the maids in the rooms there. One of them, Theresa, in her twenties from Bolivia, said that one of the “famous twins” had come into B2 the morning the ship arrived in Pago Pago while they were cleaning and searching for the diary. “She said ‘Hi’ and went straight into the bathroom.”
“How long was she there?”
“Oh, just a few seconds. She didn’t even close the door. I thought maybe she had forgotten something earlier and come back to get it.”
“Could it have been the diary?”
“I thought that too, but she would have told us to stop searching, right? And she did not take anything away with her. She was not carrying anything, not even a small purse.”
“Did she talk to you at all?”
“Just the ‘Hi.’ But not many passengers ever talk to us. If they want something, they tell the steward.”
Jane went to the Security office and reported what she had discovered that morning to Inspector Slack. He exclaimed with glee, “Gotcha! That was Keck who went back to B2 and into the bathroom, not Heck! She put the drug in the toothpaste that morning, and then left. I told you she killed her sister. Then she brushed her teeth with the stuff afterwards to give herself a perfect alibi.”
Jane did not say anything. But she thought that if Keck had gone to B2 to plant the Rohypnol, Keck would hardly have told her she went back to the suite after breakfast. Jane also wondered how, if the toothpaste was laced with the drug in the morning, the sisters did not become affected until bedtime–unless they only brushed their teeth then, which seemed unlikely. Or maybe they had two tubes of toothpaste—although they only had one bottle of mouth wash. But why would Keck (or Heck, for that matter) make a special trip back to B2 to plant the drug? They were in the suite all the time, and surely one of them would be alone in the bathroom at some point. They didn’t do everything together, did they?
Jane did ask her superior how to explain Daniel Lopez’s spotting one of the Thatch sisters outside E153 about this time. Slack responded, “Obviously Lopez is mistaken or lying. But it isn’t hard to figure out what happened to the nun. She went out for a walk that night. It’s raining cats and dogs, the deck is slippery, and the wind is howling a gale. She looks over the side of the ship. The railing is not even four feet high, and she hardly has sea legs. In fact she can barely walk at all. So the wind takes her and she goes into the drink.”
Jane spotted several problems with this explanation as well, not the least being that it did not start raining that night until about 11 PM. But remembering Lake’s advice, she said nothing. Instead she went to see her husband in his office. He easily remembered Sister Martha. “We don’t get many nuns on our cruises, and I’d never seen one traveling alone before. But she explained the trip was a retirement present from her Order. It had a serious purpose, she said, as the Order was running out of novices. So she was expected to contact Catholic priests at our ports of call and make a personal appeal to send young girls with vocations to the Order in Honolulu.
“She asked how much it would cost to take meals in her room, explaining it would be hard for her to move about on the ship a lot and she didn’t like to be around all the drinking that went on in restaurants. I in turn figured her presence in the dining rooms would probably undermine our sales of martinis, wines and liqueurs at meals. I know I wouldn’t want a drink with her glaring at me, especially if I was one of our customers trying to pick up a new bed partner for the night. So I told her I’d fix it so she could her eat in her room at no extra charge if that was what she wished. She said she hoped ‘the attendant’ would understand that she wouldn’t be able to tip him, as she had only a very small amount of money with her. But she said she would be sure to include us all in her prayers.”
“I’m sure that will prove useful at some point,” his wife replied with a smile.
Later that day Jane phoned the technical guru who was supposed to be checking out use of the combination to B2’s hallway door from the backup key Heck had given her. The technician said he hadn’t gotten to it yet because the ship’s navigational system was acting up, and Dr. Ellingham had been chewing on his tail about some blood analyses. But he expected to do the card-use-search for her tomorrow, February 7th.
Inspector Slack was now certain that the woman in B2 was Keck Thatch, that she had drugged her sister Heck and thrown her body overboard, and that she was now faking being ill. So he stomped into B2 on the afternoon of February 6th to ask her some pointed questions. When he arrived, he found his suspect in earnest conversation with one of the Piper brothers. Slack asked/ordered him to leave.
“Heck,” he began, what can you tell me about the night of February 3rd? It was just three days ago, not that long.”
“You mean, after we got back on the ship?”
“No. At bedtime.”
“I’ve been thinking hard about that since we heard about the Roganall this morning. As best I recall, we did the usual things before we went to bed. I got into mine first, I think. But really, it’s a blank after that.”
“Did you go dancing with Bob Piper that night?” Slack asked.
“Yes, Bob Piper. That’s who it was.”
“But Keck went dancing with Bob Piper, not you, if you’re Heck.”
“Is that what I said? I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that. I thought you meant who was here just now. That was Bob Piper. My mind still isn’t working very well. I have trouble understanding what people are saying sometimes. Dr. Ellingham says it’s because of the drug.”
Slack snorted a bit at the mention of Ellingham’s opinion. But he was convinced he had caught Keck lying about who she was. He tried to close the trap around the woman before him.
“Did you take a bath?”
“No, a shower. We each had a shower. I remember that. But not what happened after that.”
“When did you go to bed?
“You mean what time? I’m sorry, but I really don’t remember. I don’t think we were up late.”
“What would ‘late’ be?” Slack asked.
“Midnight would be late for us. We’ve always wanted to get our ‘beauty sleep.’”
Slack asked “Heck” if she had any idea who might want to harm her or her sister. She answered with increasing frenzy. “Nobody I can think of. It’s quite a mystery to me. Maybe somebody got the wrong room. But if not, why didn’t they get me too? Am I in danger? I searched for my sister’s spare room key yesterday, and I couldn’t find it.”
“Her spare key?” Slack replied at the same time he thought, “Gotcha! Again!” “Heck gave Jane West her spare key three nights ago, and you just said you can’t find your sister’s spare key. So that means you’re Keck.”
“No, I’m Heck. I don’t know how to explain this. But if you go into the bathroom now, you’ll find my spare key in the toiletry bag that has an embroidered ‘H’ on it, and there’s none in Keck’s which has a ‘K.’ I’ve looked.”
Slack did as she suggested and found it to be true. But he said to himself as he left B2’s visibly distraught occupant, “Obviously, dear Keck, it only shows you put your key in Heck’s bag.”
Slack located Suparman Alatas and asked if the Thatch sisters had indeed been given four keys to their suite when they boarded the ship.in San Francisco. The steward checked his records and found yes, four keys had been signed out.
“Which twin signed for the keys?” Slack asked.
Suparman smiled when he answered, “Hecuba Thatch signed. But who can say, Inspector?”
When Slack returned to his office, triumphant in his mind, he found a roly-poly dapper Belgian with an elaborate waxed mustache waiting for him. “I’ve solved murders in a train, in a plane, on a river boat, on canals, and in more Art Deco buildings than at which you can shake a stick. But I’ve never solved a murder on a Pacific Ocean liner, and I’d like to offer my services,” the man said.
Slack said he was certain he could solve this one himself, thanks all the same.
Shortly after Slack had left B2 Priscilla McMaster knocked on its hallway door. “Steven told me how sad things have been for you lately, Hecuba. Why don’t you dress up a bit tonight and go out with us. Put on your make-up, do up your hair, put on one of your beautiful dresses, and get to being your old self again. Let’s you and me and Steven take a stroll around the top deck and talk about happier times. It’ll do you good to get some fresh air, and the stars are brilliant.”
Heck thanked Priscilla for her kindness, but said Nurse Nightenday was coming by for dinner, and then they were going to watch a DVD movie. And she wanted to stay where she was. She felt closest to Keck in their cabin, and she wanted be there if Keck suddenly walked through the door.
Later she told Nurse Nightenday of Priscilla’s offer, and said, “I didn’t think Keck would reappear. I haven’t gotten any sense of her ‘being’ for the past two days. I have to admit to myself that Keck is gone. But I didn’t want to go out. I especially didn’t want to take a walk around the top deck at night with Steven and Priscilla.
Prissy did go for a stroll with Steven Greenleaf atop ship that evening until increasing cloud cover about ten o’clock snuffed out the romantic glow of hundreds of stars. This contributed to a bit of a stir in the days ahead because one of the “Twins spotters,” who had indeed spotted Prissy and Steven by the pool, happened upon a passenger who was riding alone in an elevator late that night. She would have sworn it was “the really rich twin who’s alone,” but he was wearing a different shirt than a few hours earlier. Whoever this person was, he kept his back turned toward her, fixedly staring at the elevator door. When she moved to stand more in front of him, he stepped right up to the door and turned away from her. The man got off on A Deck.
Shortly before midnight on February 6th, as Roger Galten lay his head on the pillow at the top of his bed, he reflected on the lovely morning last June at his Wisconsin cabin when he had gotten entangled in the Twins Debacle. He noted that he was like some helpless subatomic particle having its spin reversed because another subatomic particle a million gazillion miles away was having its spin reversed. And the universe just wouldn’t work if it didn’t follow suit. “It is written,” he thought.
God knows he wished he could change universes. This afternoon, within minutes of announcing his decision to keep Heck in the contest, Steven Greenleaf was screaming at him about “unethical fudge factors that any scientist would know are extremely manipulable.” And then later Bob Piper was shouting at him that he was a “chiseler” and a “dirty rotten crook.” Roger thought to himself, “I was wrong about my fellow Directors last June. This is not another fine mess they’ve gotten themselves into. It’s another fine mess they’ve gotten me into.”
On the morning of February 7, 2000, the luxury liner Acadia lay docked at King’s Wharf in Suva, the capitol city of Fiji. Having raced through a rain squall during the night, it had arrived an hour ahead of schedule and the crew were busily attending to their many tasks prior to disgorging close to a thousand passengers onto the booth-lined gangway. The early arrival was creating a minor panic among the vendors scurrying to set up shop. Tourism brings significant income to Fiji, and a visit from a large ship such as the Acadia routinely produces a carnival atmosphere where bus excursions and island-hopping tours to fire-walking displays compete with trinket vendors, street artists, and outdoor restaurants to blot up as much of the passengers’ wealth as possible in a dozen or so short hours.
Steven Greenleaf, Prisilla McMaster, and the Piper brothers had gathered for breakfast as usual and they were growing uneasy. Roger Galten was missing. This reminded the diners all too well of a breakfast just three days ago when Heck and Keck Thatch had not appeared as expected, with a tragic explanation. So after hurrying through their meals they rode an elevator up to B Deck and filed to B4, Galten’s suite. Steven Greenleaf tapped on the door, and then knocked loudly and called out, yet received no response from within. The commotion brought the steward running to the scene and Suparman opened the door with his pass key.
Steven entered the suite first and found the 63-year-old Galten thoroughly dead, lying in his pajamas on his back in his bed. His body bore no signs of violence. There was a pillow under his head and another at his side. The steward summoned Inspector Slack who took charge of the scene. After a few minutes he said, “The gentleman just died in his sleep. He’s been under a lot of stress on this trip, and it finally got to him. We lose a passenger or two this way almost every voyage.”
Roger Galten’s last thought as he drifted off to sleep had been, “This twins contest is going to be the death of me.” He was right.
Slack had the body removed to the refrigerated storage room below decks that served as the ship’s morgue when necessary. Since Galten might have passed away in Fijian waters, maritime law stated a local authority had to examine the corpse. (There was no corpse to be examined in Samoa three days earlier.) A pathologist came aboard to perform a clinical autopsy aboard ship, with the assistance of the ship’s doctor.
Inspector Slack did not consider the suite to be a crime scene, and Theresa and her co-worker, who had just cleaned B2 for the first time in four days, straightened up B4 to their usual high standards. Slack noted that the connecting door to B2 was locked on Galten’s side, but that to B6 (Steven Greenleaf’s suite) was not. Both these doors proved to be locked from the other side. Slack also noticed that the sliding door to B4’s balcony was unlocked, and the floor was damp there, but not nearly as wet as B2’s rug had been three mornings earlier. “He probably woke up during the night because of the rain,” Slack mused, “slid the door closed, and then went back to bed. And died in his sleep.”
Atlantic & Orient headquarters in Southampton notified Dr. Galten’s two children, a daughter who was a NASA engineer in Maryland and a son who managed a night club in New Orleans, of their father’s death.
The maids told Suparman Alatas that a heavy faux-marble electric clock, which was about the size of a large Kleenex box, was missing from the bedroom in B2. The steward told Steven Greenleaf the clock would have to be replaced. Greenleaf said, “Just put it on the bill and forget it.”
The ship’s technical specialist returned the key to B2’s hallway door to Jane West, who had given it to him on February 3rd when the Thatch diary was found missing. He told her that its combination had not been used on any door in the ship after Heck and Keck had gone to bed on February 2. “So I would say this was not a happenstance break-in, but these twins were targeted,” the technician said. “However anyone with a master key, such as the steward or the maids, could have gotten in. Each master key has its own combination code. So I checked the lock system in B2’s door itself, and no one unlocked the door in the wee hours that night. At least not in any way that left a record.”
Anyone familiar with the circumstances of Martin Ellingham’s youth would understand his stunning lack of social graces as an adult. For he had been reared in a fading upper-class family that wanted, more than anything, to have as little contact with the rest of humanity as possible to hide the fading. This cloaking could be traced to a scandal involving Martin’s grandmother, Gretchen Bloomsbury Ellingham, and the 86-member crew of H.M.S. Indefatigable on May 17, 1940, during a “rest and recovery” party at the Wild and Woolly Tavern in Portsmouth. Martin’s tutor told him the story was just a rumor. “Somebody made a lucky guess,” he said. But Martin got the message that people were best kept at bay. He became a surgeon partly because his patients were usually obliged to be unconscious when he dealt with them.
With regard to his present patient, Ellingham believed the news of Dr. Galten’s death would depress Heck Thatch even more. Galten had kindly “adopted” her when Keck began spending time with Bob Piper. And Galten seemed to be trying hard to give her a chance to win the Twins Contest. To prevent Heck from committing suicide, Ellingham assigned his nurse to stay with her throughout the day, and arranged to have a female attendant on the ship spend the night inside B2.
When Florence Nightenday arrived at Heck Thatch’s suite, she found Bob Piper having an intense conversation with her charge. Predictably, they were talking about Keck, with whom Bob was quite preoccupied. He asked Heck, “Did Keck seem odd when we got back from Pago Pago?”
She replied, “I haven’t told anyone this, but I think there had been something wrong with Keck for a day or two by then. She wasn’t herself. Just odd little things. She got irritated easily, finding fault with the cruise and complaining to me about other members of the group. Usually we felt these things together, but I didn’t even notice some of the incidents that set her off. And she went ashore with you when we reached Pago Pago, leaving me alone again. You told me how she mistreated you on the dance floor,” she said with tears brimming in her eyes. “It was really, really unfair.”
Bob in turn said the “Keck on the dance floor” seemed like a completely different person to him, and he was convinced she was alive and, deep in her heart, still loved him.
About this time the Fijian pathologist confirmed Slack’s opinion that Galten had died of natural causes. But Dr. Ellingham suspected the deceased had been suffocated. He noticed, during the autopsy, that Galten’s eyes appeared bloodshot, which commonly happens with suffocation. He also observed white particulates (tiny bits of cloth) in Galten’s nostrils and mouth. Light bruising was evident, to Ellingham’s eye, on Galten’s face.
When Ellingham pointed out these things to the pathologist, he was ignored. Ellingham later learned that Slack had met the visiting physician when he boarded the ship and told him that Galten had probably had a heart attack. Ellingham realized the port of Suva was highly motivated to keep Atlantic and Orient ships paying call, and a verdict of “Death by natural causes” would please the company’s home office much more than the thoroughly cheesy caption, “Murder on the Acadia!” Ellingham was himself beholden to A&O. But that would not stop him from investigating a possible homicide, and he was obstinate enough to seek the truth no matter whom it bothered.
So Ellingham asked for the pillow cases from B4 to make a fiber test. But by then the maids had cleaned Galten’s cabin and the cases had disappeared into the ship’s laundry. Undaunted, he asked Theresa where they had taken the day’s dirty linen. She led him to the storage area below decks where the laundry bins were dropped off. By luck their bin, “B-FWD-P” was still there, full of the morning’s collections. Theresa told him the bed linen from B4 would be found at the bottom of the pile, because that was the second suite they had cleaned that morning.
The ship’s doctor insisted on unloading the bin himself. He carefully removed all the laundry and set aside the items on the very bottom: three bundles of twin bed sheets—each bundle consisting of one fitted sheet, one top sheet, and two pillowcases. He reasoned that Heck’s and Keck’s sheets from B2 would be at the very bottom, and indeed one of the sets was quite wrinkled. The sheets had not been changed in B2 for several days, and Heck had spent much of that time in bed. Another set was hardly wrinkled at all, and Ellingham surmised it had been on Keck’s bed, which had scarcely been used. Ellingham turned his attention to the third set on the bottom. One of its pillowcases had no wrinkles on it. The other was wrinkled and had seemingly been slept upon. Ellingham sent both pillowcases ashore for analysis in Suva. He also noticed that the top sheet from this set of linens had been slightly torn at the bottom end, as might happen if the occupant had kicked out and the sheet caught on something as it was pulled free. Ellingham went to B4 and discovered a very small nail protruding from the end of the box spring. If nothing else, this confirmed that he had indeed found the sheets and pillowcases from B4, not some other suite.
Ellingham felt duty-bound to report these discoveries to Inspector Slack, although he knew it would provoke a fight. Sure enough, Slack angrily replied “That sheet could have been torn anytime. I told you, the gentleman died peacefully in his sleep. You play doctor, and I’ll be the policeman. Get your copy of ‘Richard Scarry’ to find the difference!”
“I am being the doctor!” Ellingham shouted back. “And I have to be the policeman too, you dolt! You’re white-washing a homicide!”
This novel runs to about 60,000 words (over 50 chapters). It will be presented free in installments for your autumnal reading, if you like. The next installment will appear here by Wednesday, October 4.