Murder on the Acadia
Copyright © 2023 by Bob Altemeyer
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 in Roger’s mind, the contest oozed Phineas Taylor Barnum Sleaze from every pore. “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 ‘the F’ out.”
“You’re that against it?” his colleagues exclaimed.
“Yes, but I never use the big, big ‘F.’”
Thus, the irony that Roger 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’d hate to have 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 because some “Idents” become so attached to each other that no one else can form a deep attachment to them. 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 publicity from 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 somewhere some blowhard 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,” devout Catholics, and Lutherans. 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 their 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 plant 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 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 also agreed to set aside a fixed percentage of income for “habitat recovery.” This fund, administered by the Greenleaf Foundation, 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 toward him 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 an ocean cruise taken by some of these friends on a Pacific & Orient liner, the Arcadia. I sent them installments while they were on their way to Australia, 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 Deaconess in the United Church of Canada.
A Twins Project has been running at the University of Minnesota since 1979. But the Minnesota Twins study never sought the most identical twins and it has nothing to do with this mystery. “Roger Galten” however exists, in a sense. I became “Roger Galtenflyer” briefly in 1958 as an entering freshman as I moved down a reception line that ended with my university’s president. A minion at the Intake Port introduced me to the wife of the freshman dean as “Robert Altmeyer.” She said, “It’s so good to meet you,” and passed me on to her husband, “Dear, this is Ronald Altflyer.” By the time I got to the president I was Roger Galtenflyer. I worried that Alfred Whitney Griswold would call me “Roger” thereafter whenever we met on campus, but I never saw him again.
 This is an extremely “cozy” mystery. Not a drop of blood is spilled, and although things get a touch risque at one point, the language throughout would be suitable for Victorian parlors. In which parlors “the big, big D” would be recognized as a line from H.M.S. Pinafore. I have sprinkled modifications of lines from this and two other Gilbert & Sullivan operettas, The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado, here and there in the text for the fun of it. It won’t matter if you do not know these plays. It’s just a bit of fluff for those who do.
Most of all, Murder on the Acadia is meant to be playful. We can use a splash of mirth in our lives today, and I have played with words, with the characters, and with the clues. I hope you have as much fun as I did. As someone wrote in 1601, the play’s the thing. (See what I mean?)
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, with catlike tread, 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. He longed to find a woman whose sense of moral duty would rescue such a one as he from his unfortunate position.
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 was an older member of the A&O line, smaller than the newer ships that look so out of place, dwarfing their surroundings, when docked at some island. It was due for a refit in a few years, but if it could talk it might say:
“A wandering vessel I,
A thing of beds and hatches,
And ballast, gongs and latches,
And beauty time can’t sullify.
My voyages are long,
To foreign shores a’ranging,
And the buffet’s always changing.
To stay at home would be wrong.
Staying at home would be wrong.”
The Acadia 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 on which you would not take your sisters and your cousins and your aunts. 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 re-connection, 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 was 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.
The captain of the Acadia, who was a right good captain who commanded a right good crew, gave orders to set sail at noon on January 24th. The various members of the “Twins Group” boarded ship at Pier 27 that morning and were shown to their suites by their steward, a middle-aged Indonesian man named Putra Alatas. Most of them explored the vessel 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. Their appearance shouted, “You must want to know who we are, we’re the twins American. From People Magazine, Would you like to be a fan? We figure in lively paints. Our hairdo’s are hardly quaint. Our outfits will make you faint. OH, Different is what we ain’t.” Many of the passengers had seen the June People spread, and some even asked for Heck and Keck’s 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.
 Actually, the plane in North by Northwest was flown by a California crop duster named Bob Coe. And the plane that “crashed” into the tanker truck was a different plane that was rolled up to the truck and set on fire. https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-d&sca_esv=573232648&sxsrf=AM9HkKkgcZHyOK0arYpc9P39Boqnl5PqTQ:1697223822220&q=What+is+the+crop+duster+in+North+by+Northwest%3F&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwini5y42_OBAxVCGjQIHfqGCIAQzmd6BAg-EAY&biw=1711&bih=684&dpr=2.22 )
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. She had been deeply moved, it seemed to Steven, by his description of the sometimes unhappy outcome of the courting behavior of the male tit-willow.
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 a Type 2 shoulder separation. “You’ve damaged two ligaments in your shoulder and will have to keep your arm in a sling for a week or two. I’ll give you some pain killers and cold packs to control the swelling. 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 punishment, aside from the inability to use her left arm, other 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 Putra 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. A short, round woman sang out that she had jacky and tommy and polonies today, and small Ranuncalale in pretty bouquets. 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 was particularly interested in the latter because, like Darwin, he studied different versions of a species–starlings in his case–that had evolved different features on different Pacific islands. At one point he exclaimed, “It’s Survival of the Fittest that drives adaptation. Everything else must defer, defer to the Lord High Evolutioner.” Prissy eagerly agreed, although she had only a faint understanding of his meaning. But Steven returned to being 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 was the very model of a modern major gentleman. 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. Putra 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 Putra 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.
Putra 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, Putra 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.
It must be pointed out that Slack did not remain long in his final posting. He was too “old school” for a police service undergoing badly-needed reform. To Slack, his object so sublime was undone over time, to let the punishment fit the crime, the punishment fit the crime. So he was disappointed when, for example, murder no longer led to hanging, and when the County Commissioner brought up the subject of an early retirement, Slack’s bureaucratic sense recognized what was coming and signed off.
He 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 in the well-appointed Staff Dining Room, 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.
Professionally, Slack was as much at sea at sea as he had been in Devonshire. The Dutch assistant he had inherited asked for a transfer in 1996, and Slack hired his former sergeant, Ian Lake, to ride the high seas with him. In 1999 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 Putra 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. Right? Right!
“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 embarcation area on G Deck. It was boring work and reminded him of the endless hours he had spent as a copper fighting crime by looking up records in boxes and boxes of files. When constabulary duty’s to be done, a policeman’s lot is not a happy one. 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 (not!) 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. “She was very old, small, and fragile,” Lopez said.
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 Putra 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 Putra 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.
Putra 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 in Suva, the capitol city of Fiji, It rode easily alongside King’s Wharf, which had very cleverly been built on reclaimed land alongside Queen’s Wharf during World War I to give the island an ingenious pair of docks. The ship had raced through a rain squall during the night and had arrived an hour ahead of schedule. 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 Putra 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 Putra 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. He might have been more sensitive, or not so anal retentive, but he was an Englishman. He was an Englishman.
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!”
With time on her hands on February 7th, Jane West returned to Room E153 to uncover whatever she could about the missing nun. She found Daniel Lopez’s fingerprints as well as her own in the room, but no others. Somebody had wiped the place clean, down to the underside of the toilet seat, probably before Jane’s first visit to the cabin yesterday.
Jane looked at the grey hairs caught in the hairbrush. The DNA in hairs is usually too degraded for analysis, but the roots often have intact chromosomes and Jane saw that one hair still had its root. “It only takes one,” she thought. “It’s all we’ve got in the way of forensics on the nun—who for all we know was a fit young man in religious drag pretending to be nearly crippled.”
Jane asked Daniel Lopez if anyone had been in E153 during the last 24 hours. He responded that the maids asked if they should clean the room, but he said not to go in until Security said it was OK. Jane then asked him if he could share any further impressions or stories about Sister Martha. Daniel replied that he had asked, after they had said the Rosary together, why she preferred to meditate on the five sorrowful mysteries. She replied that it might seem strange, because the first Joyful mystery, the Immaculate Conception, was her favorite. “I’ve always believed virginity is next to godliness, the highest virtue a person can have,” she said. But for some reason she was drawn to the sorrows of the passion of Christ. “We all have sorrows in life. You have to learn to deal with them.”
Jane thought, but did not say, “It’s no mystery to me why someone committed all her life to virginity would have sorrowful thoughts.”
At dinnertime on February 7th Inspector Slack received a message from Interpol. Neither of the two sets of fingerprints sent for analysis—those unidentified prints widely found in B2—matched any Interpol records. This gave Slack pause. “Nowadays,” he thought to himself, “about the only English-speaking people whose fingerprints aren’t on file are hermits and ‘The Funnies.’” (“The Funnies” is British police slang for agents of intelligence services, such as M5 and the CIA.) “And we haven’t got any hermits in this case. But why would an intelligence agency send spooks into the Thatch cabin? And in his experience, spies worked alone, so the presence of two sets of unidentifiable prints implies that two different agencies were involved” he speculated.
Slack however had overlooked a third category of untraceable fingerprints, from people in witness relocation programs.
Sergeant Lake had not received a reply to the inquiry he sent to A&P home office about how Zoe Peregrine had obtained a suite right under the Thatch cabin. So he sent the message again, to a broader range of addressees in Southampton.
Just before 8 PM Slack was handed a message from a freighter bound for Pago Pago from Australia. Alerted by the “Request for Surveillance” message from the Acadia, it had recovered the body of a woman which had evidently been in the ocean for several days. The corpse was somewhat decomposed, and had been “visited” by sea life that had nibbled away the extremities. But given the prevailing westerly current in that part of the Pacific it would have entered the ocean some distance to the east, where the Acadia was sailing on February 3- 4. The woman appeared to be middle-aged, and was wearing a nightgown that had the letter “K” stitched in at the top.
When Slack received the message on the evening of February 7th about the body recovered from of the sea, he strode immediately to B2 and without preliminaries announced with blunderbuss force, “Your sister’s corpse has been pulled out of the ocean.” He believed he was addressing Keck, who he was certain had killed Heck and thrown overboard. So he was purposely abrupt to see if “the woman in B2” would look all that surprised at the sudden news. Based on his experience with criminals whose plans went awry, he expected a delayed reaction as “the counterfeit Heck” figured out what to do, and no weeping, at least for a while. But instead “the woman in B2” collapsed almost instantly in tears, clutching her sides and shaking. Although Nurse Nightenday rushed to her “Heck” remained inconsolable for quite a while, but eventually recovered enough to ask for particulars. Slack mentioned the “K” on the body’s nightgown, looking intensely again at the reaction that followed. He thought “Fake Heck” would show a fleeting tinge of relaxation because the discovery would corroborate her (false) account of events. But instead she began to cry uncontrollably again—a sign that the news confirmed her worst fears. Slack began to think that the woman before him really was Heck, and she had nothing to do with her sister’s death.
Nightenday had been throwing knives at Slack with her eyes for the distress he had caused. Her patient, still trembling in the nurse’s arms like a terrified child but fighting to regain her composure, asked Slack to see if Steven Greenleaf was in his rooms, and if so, would he come see her now. He was. He did. Heck, who apparently had anticipated this moment, asked him if she could use some of the money that she would get from the Twins Contest to transport her sister’s body back to Nebraska. Steven said not to worry about it, paying this cost was the least he and his brother could do in the circumstances. Slack said he would ask the authorities in Pago Pago to take possession of the corpse when the freighter arrived the next morning and have it flown to Honolulu for temporary holding. He added the Samoan authorities would need Keck’s documentation, so he asked, “Hecuba, are your passports still in the safe?” She said yes and gave him the code. “It’s 09-14-63. That’s the day our parents died.”
As he was leaving, Slack asked, “Hecuba, do you have any idea who killed your sister?” She sat silently for quite a while, apparently trying to decide whether to say something or keep it to herself. Finally she murmured, “No, I don’t. But you know I spent time with Dr. Galten and he had some suspicions about Bill Piper. He thought Bill was highly protective of his brother, probably because he had yearned so long for his ‘missing half’ as he had put it when they met in Chicago. Then he discovered how vulnerable Bob was. If someone really hurt Bob, Dr. Galten thought, Bill would almost certainly get back at them ‘with both barrels.’ I wouldn’t have told you this except it came from Dr. Galten, and he was a psychologist and everybody knows they have tremendous insight into people. Dr. Galten liked Bill, but he said that Bill’s willingness to do jobs for whoever would pay for them made Bill a little psychopathetic.”
Slack gave Jane West the job of taking the passport to the Suva police to be flown to Samoa. When she learned her mission, she suggested to her boss that he might want DNA verification that the woman recovered at sea really was Keck Thatch. Why not have some of the blood sample Nurse Nightenday drew from her twin sister Heck accompany the corpse to Hawaii where a DNA test could be done. And why not include the rooted hair found in E153? And for that matter, she had time to collect cheek-swab samples of DNA from the other members of the Twins Group “for the purpose of elimination.” Why not include them as well?
Slack was strongly inclined to turn down suggestions from a subordinate. But he recognized that these steps would display the thoroughness of his investigation and his use of advanced science—even though he doubted their usefulness—so he said, “Fine.”
When Dr. Ellingham learned that Keck’s body had been recovered, he instructed Florence Nightenday to stay with Heck during the night rather than to rely on a ship’s attendant. He wanted his nurse to be extra vigilant because, in his opinion, Heck might definitely try to take her own life now in one way or another.
When the Greenleaf twins moved heaven and earth (and a considerable amount of moolah) to procure four adjacent upper-class cabins on the Acadia, they hardly anticipated that in a while they would barely need three of them. But only Heck remained in B2, no one was living in B4, Steven had B6 all to himself, and only B8 gifted the maids with two rumpled beds each morning. The cleaners enjoyed the lightened load, and when Puyra asked them why it was taking as much time as before to straighten up B2 to B8, Theresa said they were always looking for the missing diary.
Suite B10 also had but one passenger, and Priscilla McMaster’s aggressive defensiveness made Sergeant Lake suspicious. On the morning of February 8th he discovered she was paying for a cabin on D Deck for a Buff Anderson. Lake went to ask Mr. Anderson about his connection with Priscilla only to discover that he had not returned to the ship after going ashore at Suva. So Lake went to Prissy for an explanation. She made it clear that she resented being questioned, but when Lake persisted she stated that Dr. Anderson was a young PhD working in her laboratory in Winnipeg, and she brought him on the cruise to help plan research projects for the coming year. The arrangement would earn a Board of Decency stamp of approval, she said, as she had purchased separate accommodations for him. However, a problem had arisen back home, and Buff had flown off Fiji the previous afternoon to deal with it.
Lake wired Canadian authorities to have Anderson contact him when he arrived in Winnipeg. He then asked around and discovered that Buff Anderson had a reputation aboard the ship. A handsome young man, he often invited attractive women to his cabin, and many has apparently found the trip worthwhile. He trysted with crew members and with female passengers who may or may not have been traveling with their husbands. Several of the staffers who had spent time with Buff commented that he was fit, agile, and very good at what he did. “He reminded me of an Olympic gymnast,” said a waitress, “although ‘decathlete’ might be a better comparison.” Lake realized Buff was probably the young man who had led three women ashore at Pago Pago.
Florence Nightenday told Dr. Ellingham that Heck had had a restless night on the 7th. At one point while she was tossing and turning she began mumbling. Florence leaned over the bed and heard Heck whisper, “Oh Keck, why you?”
Jane West had noticed Dr. Galten’s laptop computer in his suite, and she suggested to Inspector Slack that she might have a go at searching it. She thought she could gain access if she knew some things about Galten such as his birthday, anniversary, children’s names, and so on. Slack said “OK,” mainly because he did not have anything else for her to do then.
Ellingham examined Zoe Peregrine’s shoulder and said she was progressing nicely but still needed to keep her left arm in its sling for a few days. She celebrated by sending a message to the ship’s captain suggesting a carousel be installed on the top deck of the Acadia. “It could be set up to run at different speeds, so that during a ride the passengers could go from a “walk” to a “full gallop” in just seconds. At top speed it would be spinning so fast that riders had to cling to their mounts with all their might to avoid being flung nine stories down into the ocean. It would be great!”
Just before noon on February 8th, Inspector Slack was handed a radiogram from the ship’s message center. A South Pacific Island supply ship had found the body of an “older grey-haired woman” about 50 miles south-southwest of where Keck’s corpse had been recovered. The remains had been extensively scavenged by large fish. Both legs and arms were largely missing, and much of the head. The torso was dressed in shreds of a nun’s habit that was attached by a long rosary tied about its waist. Tattered remnants of basic, unadorned underwear remained on the body. A member of the freighter’s African crew said it was “an old-style Sister like at the Missions.” The tunic had a pocket containing two holy cards, a small black change purse with seven dollars and some quarters in it, and a swipe key to Cabin 153 on E Deck of the Acadia. A well-worn black shoe was found floating nearby. The corpse was so mutilated that identification seemed impossible, so the freighter’s captain had it wrapped, weighted down, and given a “respectful Christian burial” at sea.
The discovery puzzled Jane West. On the one hand it confirmed her boss’s belief that the disappearances of Keck Thatch and Sister Martha on the same night were unconnected. The ship had clearly sailed two or three hours between the time Keck’s body went into the ocean and Sister Martha’s followed. But, she thought, if Dr. Galten’s memory of something that went bump in the night had merit, Keck was killed about 1-2 AM. So what on earth was Sister Martha doing wandering around the ship during a storm at 3-5 AM? Jane checked with the crew who stood the midnight watch on February 4th, and they all said they would have recognized the nun had she been in their areas. But no nun, none, had been seen. However, Jane knew that staff standing the “graveyard watch” during an intense rainfall do not spend a lot of time patrolling the decks and—if someone is strong enough or has help—a small body can be hoisted over a railing in the twinkling of an eye—once you get it there. And Daniel Lopez had said Sister Martha was small.
So was she murdered in her cabin? Someone had done a “Clorox Number” on E153, but absolutely no one had a reason to kill her as far as Jane knew. Her only alleged connection to the Twins Group was through Keck (or possibly Heck) Thatch, based on Lopez’ story. But Keck was dead by the wee hours of February 4th and Heck was unconscious from a wicked dose of Rohypnol. Jane’s boss thought the nun had slipped in some complicated way on the wet deck and fallen overboard. But what would she have been doing wandering the ship at 4 AM? “I’m going in circles,” Jane realized.
In the early afternoon of February 8th, the Suva police laboratory radioed Dr. Ellingham that microscopic examination and ultraviolet tests of the wrinkled pillowcase had only turned up spots of saliva, and several hairs that matched samples taken from Dr. Galten’s head. But the second, smoother pillowcase had larger amounts of saliva, tears and—on the opposite side—residues of the synthetic latex commonly used to make gloves worn by doctors, nurses, dentists, and so on. The amount of residue indicated someone wearing such gloves had pushed down very hard on the pillow, and the remnants on the other side showed someone had pushed back. But not hard enough. So who was strong enough to kill Galten this way?
When Ellingham told Inspector Slack of these results, Slack had the doctor put under arrest and confined to his cabin because, Slack said, Ellingham often wore latex gloves and he easily could have overpowered a groggy 60-year old academic. Slack also said the ship’s doctor seemed to know a lot more about the murders than anyone else did, such as looking for Rohypnol in the toothpaste tube and matching the torn sheet with Dr. Galten’s box spring. Slack’s experience told him that when someone knows the details of a crime that well, he probably committed it.
Dr. Ellington sent a note to the ship’s captain protesting his arrest. He pointed out that most adults could have suffocated a half-asleep senior, and security personnel also sometimes wear latex gloves. And Steven Greenleaf had worked in research laboratories where vinyl gloves were worn as a matter of course. And Heck Thatch wore them at work in her beauty salon. And the maids wore them when cleaning the suites. Thus, Slack should also arrest almost everyone connected to the case, down to the maintenance staff.
The captain feared Slack very well might. He ordered Ellingham released.
The lab tests on Dr. Galten’s pillows made it inescapably clear to Inspector Slack on the afternoon of February 8th that, for the second time in three days, a murder had been committed on his patch and he hadn’t noticed. True, he had no reason to change his mind about the vanished nun; but the deaths of Keck Thatch and Dr. Galten were almost certainly homicides. The first killing was bad enough because he doubted Keck was even missing. But the second murder particularly exposed him because he had insisted Galten died of natural causes. In both cases he had locked horns with Dr. Ellingham, and both times he had lost. He seemed doomed, recalling his past, to being shown up by lucky amateurs. Now Ellingham had been released by the captain and would doubtless continue his own investigation.
Slack got out a piece of paper and calculated how much income he would have for his retirement in Dorset if he were to lose his job when the Acadia reached Southampton. The unsettling result made him determined to solve the murder of Roger Galten while the trail was hot. He was certain someone from the Twins Group had done the deed and probably killed Keck too. He sent Sergeant Lake to interview its members about where they were the night Galten was suffocated, February 6-7th.
Lake worked his way up the hall. Priscilla McMaster pointedly observed, again, that she did not belong to the “Twins Group.” She said that on February 6th everyone except Heck had dined together as usual. Afterwards she and Steven Greenleaf had visited the casino. He had gambled with modest amounts of money and had come out a little ahead. They had strolled a bit on the Promenade Deck, which was purposely left dark on cloudless nights so the stars would be stunningly visible. He dropped her off at her stateroom about 10, she invited him in for a nightcap, one thing led to another, and they spent the night together. “If you are thinking I worked my way to Galten’s bedroom along the balconies during the night, you have a much higher opinion of my body than my GP does,” she said. “And Steven’s snoring would have awakened everyone as soon as I opened a door.”
Except for the snoring, Steven Greenleaf’s story exactly coincided with that told by Priscilla. Furthermore, Nurse Nightenday later said she saw the couple outside Prissy’s suite when Nightenday left B2 shortly after ten o’clock. “Prissy put her arms around Steven and gave him The Kiss of the Century. It was so fixed and determined it reminded me of the mesmerizing kiss Grace Kelly planted on Cary Grant at her hotel door in To Catch a Thief.” The nurse was embarrassed and hurried past the couple, who may not have even noticed her although she brushed up against Steven as she squeezed by.
The Piper brothers said they had attended the show in the ship’s theater and gone back to their suite about 9:30. Steven had sent them a bottle of very expensive brandy to help Bob forget his grief. The brothers had “done right” by about a third of the bottle and then fell asleep fully dressed. Bob had trouble getting up for breakfast the next morning, but Bill had trained himself to be sharp at dawn even if he had drunk himself into oblivion at midnight.
Heck Thatch stated that after Inspector Slack left on the 6th she had dinner in her room with Florence Nightenday, and they watched Shakespeare in Love. The nurse left about 10. (Heck was not on a “suicide watch” on February 6th, as Keck’s body had not been discovered yet.) Heck climbed into bed about 10:15 and soon heard shouting next door in Dr. Galten’s suite which frightened her. She put her hands over her ears, and could not tell who was involved.
Heck said she then had trouble relaxing and once asleep she was awakened by a strange sound from Dr. Galten’s room, “sort of a cry, but like a loud grunt that a wrestler makes. At least that’s what it sounded like to me.” She noted the time, 3:16 AM, and stayed in her bed, listening intently. She thought she heard (or perhaps “felt”) the balcony door in the adjoining suite open or close with a thud. She didn’t fall asleep again until after 4:30. She told Lake she hadn’t gotten up to investigate or knock on the connecting door to Galten’s room because she was too frightened. “Sometimes when you’re really afraid in the dark, you just freeze,” she explained. “I was afraid that if I moved, whoever was there would see me move. Keck and I could face anything side-by-side, but now I get scared stiff all the time.” Lake asked why she hadn’t told anyone about the events that night. She replied, “Because it will probably make the killer come after me even more.”
Heck said she eventually dozed off, being awakened the following morning by the banging on Galten’s door as people tried to rouse him. But once more she was too frightened to get up, and stayed in her bed, until Putra Alatas came into B2 to see if she was all right. He told her then what had been discovered in Dr. Galten’s suite.
As Lake was finishing his interview with Heck she added, more in a whisper than anything else: “It may be nothing, but given what happened I should tell you that a couple of nights ago, when Dr. Galten wanted to leave the door between our rooms open, he told me there was someone on board who meant to harm him, so maybe I could protect him instead of the other way around. That’s all he said. I asked him, ‘Who,’ but he wouldn’t tell me. So I got the impression that this was someone I knew. But maybe he was just saying that to make me feel less alone.”
Lake said, “Do you have any idea who he meant?”
“No, although naturally I thought it was a man. It’s all very frightening now. I’ve told Steven I want to leave the cruise at the next stop. I’m sure someone was trying to get at me through Dr. Galten’s bedroom the night he died. Dr. Galten must have awakened and the intruder had to kill him first. But the murderer couldn’t get into my room because I had locked the connecting door and the balcony door was locked too. That shows me the killer expected the connecting door to be unlocked. This is all so crazy. I can’t believe I’m thinking it. This trip has become the worst nightmare possible!”
Ian Lake had been a copper for nearly 30 years, and the Inspector Exam had resolutely blocked his advancement beyond the rank of Sergeant on the three occasions he sat for it. Being a career sergeant in the British constabulary left a lot to be desired. You had to put up with prima donna bosses, get blamed for the uppity-ups’ failures, and usually be first through the door of every villain’s hide-out. But with all the downside, sergeants developed a keen sense of when someone was lying to them. And Sergeant Lake wondered, as he headed to the staff dining room for dinner, how many of the people he had interviewed that afternoon had come within a country mile of telling him the truth.
Jane West, unlike her great aunt, did not have an intuitive grasp of human nature. Lacking such, it might seem strange that on the afternoon of February 8th she decided to share her thoughts about the murders on the Acadia with Dr. Martin Ellingham, who had no grasp of human nature whatsoever. But she found herself confused by the developments in the case and starving for insight. The doctor had a sharp mind and he might have learned something she had not about the passengers involved. “It’s time for a thorough analysis of all that’s happened,” she said to herself. “Otherwise, you just get swamped by the details.” So, while Sergeant Lake was interviewing the occupants along the hallway on B Deck, she dropped in on Ellingham’s office.
“What do you make of what’s happened, Dr. Ellingham?” Jane began.
“Well, most importantly, no one can get Rohypnol in the ship’s pharmacy, so the drug must have been brought on board in either San Francisco, Honolulu, or Pago Pago. I don’t think there was time for someone to obtain a prohibited drug in the short time we were in the last two places. So that means Keck’s death was planned before we boarded in San Francisco by someone who was waiting for the right opportunity to pull it off. It may not look like it, but we’re dealing with a premeditated, well-planned murder.”
“I agree,” Jane said. “Furthermore, the Rohypnol was cleverly used. It enabled the murderer to kill at a safe, chosen time, namely after the twins brushed their teeth. Rohypnol could also have been put in the mouthwash, say, or the wine. But the twins might not have used mouthwash at bedtime, or drunk some wine then. However, they would have brushed their teeth. Also, the fact that the murderer wanted them knocked out at bedtime shows he or she intended all along to kill one, or both, of them at night. It wouldn’t do any good to have them pass out in mid-morning. He—I say ‘he’ but it could just as easily be a ‘she, and it could have been more than one person—wanted them unconscious in a situation when they were alone and he could easily commit murder.”
Dr. Ellingham was delighted to be talking with someone from Security who had been thinking about the details of the case. “But there’s a problem with this explanation,” the ship’s doctor replied. “I don’t think you could jam enough crushed Rohypnol tablets into the top of the Colgate toothpaste tube to knock out two people for so long. Heck must have been unconscious for at least nine hours at 10 AM when I forced her awake, and she was still groggy. You’d need to make the “toothpaste” all Rohypnol at the top of the tube to get such a long effect. Yes, the drug is tasteless; but that means the sisters would have noticed that their toothpaste had no flavor. So the murderer was not using ordinary Rohypnol pills,” Ellingham concluded. “They must have contained more gamma-hydroxybutyrate than is present in the pills one gets in a pharmacy or on the Internet. But who could get, or make up, ‘Extra-Strength Rohypnol’ on their own? Before boarding the ship?”
“Heck’s fingerprints were on the toothpaste tube, and two sets that I think are the key to the mystery,” Jane observed. “These two appear here and there in the twins’ suite, but don’t match anybody in the Twins Group or any of the crew, or anybody on file at Interpol, Did the chemical analysis you ordered show an extra-strong version of Rohypnol had been used?”
“The technician did not look at that. So I asked him to reexamine the samples. He said it looked like plain old Rohypnol to him, which a few passengers have brought on board in the past. But I half-expected that. The potency could have worn down.”
Jane switched the conversation from the time to the date of the murder. “I think the killer decided to strike on February 3rd because everyone was told the ship was going to sail through a storm that night. The weather since San Francisco had been consistently clear and fine. You can see why the killer was waiting for a stormy night?”
“Certainly,” the doctor answered. “What better time to throw a body overboard? On a clear night, people could be out on a balcony on C Deck or the Prominade Deck or looking out the window, and someone would likely see a body go flying by.”
“There’s something peculiar about the wet rug in B2, Jane said, continuing the profitable exchange of information with the doctor. “A puddle of rain water had accumulated by the balcony door, so it was open for minutes, not seconds. The killer was doing something during that time. However, the moisture doesn’t get tracked anywhere. There’s naturally some dampness close to the puddle. But the rug is basically dry everywhere else. Inspector Slack thinks the killer left B2 through the connecting door to B4. But Professor Galten says that door was locked, and how could you walk through a puddle and not leave wet footprints if you went out the connecting door? Doesn’t that mean the killer left via the balcony? But in a storm? This is like a murder in a locked room.”
“Did you examine the covers on the two beds?” Ellingham asked. “I was preoccupied with Heck when I arrived and didn’t pay attention to them.”
“I did,” Jane answered with some satisfaction. “The blanket and top sheet on Keck’s bed had been thrown back toward Heck’s. This says to me that the killer, however he got into the suite, lifted Keck’s body out of the bed, and carried it out onto the balcony. The covers were damp, which is understandable given the balcony door was open for some time.”
“But I agree with you: Why was that door open so long?” Ellingham wondered aloud. “Maybe the killer had trouble getting Keck over the balcony railing. Maybe Keck regained consciousness enough to put up a struggle. Maybe that’s why the killer didn’t finish off Heck then and there, but instead closed the balcony door and…did what? Went where?”
“Ran away somehow. Ran away,” Jane answered, “although it seems impossible.”
Dr. Ellingham wondered aloud, “Who had a motive to kill Keck, or both of the twins?”
“Well, who didn’t?” responded Ms. West. “The other contestants probably thought that if one of the Thatch twins disappeared, the sisters would be eliminated from the contest. Certainly, taking out both of them would seal the deal. Beyond the other twins, we know that Priscilla McMaster paid for a cabin on D Deck that was occupied by a young man named Buff Anderson. He hit on me the first day out of San Francisco. And he suddenly left the ship in Fiji. I mention him because people commented on his agility, and Priscilla’s presence on this voyage can’t be a coincidence. Buff’s sudden disappearance the morning after Dr. Galten was killed raises a lot of suspicion.”
“At first my boss thought Keck Thatch killed Heck Thatch,” Jane continued, “and was now passing for her. I totally doubted it, and I think he now realizes the woman in B2 is Heck Thatch. I don’t think Heck killed Keck either. Reversing a whole life-time of deep affection and commitment because, say, Heck feared Keck was falling in love with Bob Piper, is simply silly. That’s the kind of bad ending you find in a mystery where the ‘solution’ goes so completely against what you’ve been told all along that it doesn’t make any sense. I can’t imagine either Heck or Keck hurting the other. Heck’s half-dead now, and she might try to join Keck in Heaven, or at least in the ocean, at any moment. I’m glad you had the door to her balcony locked, and that you’re having your nurse closely monitor her now.”
“Yes, Hecuba is living up to her name,” Ellingham replied.
“What do you mean?”
“‘Hecuba’ is a character from The Iliad. And Euripides wrote a play titled Hecuba. She was the queen of Troy, and she lost her family to the Greek conquerors during the Trojan War. She then became a pitiful figure, lamenting all her losses in scene after scene. Shakespeare has Hamlet compare Hecuba’s grief favorably to his own mother Gertrude’s, whose reaction to the loss of her husband was to immediately marry his brother.”
“Our Hecuba seems consumed with grief, and suicidal,” Ellingham continued. “My nurse found a pack of razor blade cartridges in her dresser drawer that had not been there previously. Heck must have gotten someone to get them for her. She cried when we took them away. I doubt anyone ever has felt a bigger loss than she has, but we can’t watch her after she leaves the ship.”
“She’ll probably take Keck’s body back to their home” Jane commented. “But I wouldn’t be surprised if she ends her own life then so they can be buried together. Whoever killed Keck has killed them both. Give the blades to me and I’ll check them for fingerprints.”
“OK. What about Dr. Galten’s death?” Ellingham continued. “Maybe it has nothing to do with Keck’s murder. However, how often do you have two members of a small group killed by coincidence? But where’s the connection? Killing him doesn’t make any sense, because the twins contest ends with him. But the killer may have been so angry with him he didn’t care. Or maybe the killer wanted the contest to end for some reason. Or maybe killing Galten became necessary because of the first murder.”
“You mean the killer did not board the ship intending to harm Dr. Galten, but it became necessary to escape punishment for killing Keck,” said Jane. “OK. But it occurs to me that Galten got killed because of something he did on February 6th. There was plenty of opportunity to smother him sooner, but the killer apparently didn’t have a reason to. Then a reason appeared, and it had to be done quickly because Galten was murdered that very night. Maybe someone had a dark secret, Galten discovered it, and it was going to ruin him or her.”
“Any ideas what happened on the 6th then?” asked Ellingham.
“Dr. Galten announced that he would fix things so Heck could remain in the contest.”
“Really? I didn’t know that. It casts a new light on his murder. That would probably have angered the other contestants,” replied Dr. Ellingham: “Especially Steven, because he very much wanted to come in first.”
“There’s also a curious little twist to that February 6th meeting of the Twins Group” Jane West said. “Apparently as the meeting broke up Dr. Galten told the others that he had been awakened by some sort of vibration or sound during the night when Keck was killed. Galten asked everyone at the meeting if they had sensed it too. Nobody had, and Galten said he’d likely realize what ‘the sound’ was sooner or later, that things like that came back to him. Then somebody killed him a few hours later.”
“So, you think Galten was smothered because he might be able to identify Keck’s killer,” Ellingham responded. “But I wonder if Galten heard anything at all. He may have been trying to smoke out the killer, getting him to make a mistake.”
“How did that ruse work out for him, then?” Jane noted wryly. “But it may be a mistake to think both murders were committed by the same person. Galten’s death might have nothing at all to do with the Twins Contest. Or if it did, there could still be two murderers, “X” and “Y”, working independently for entirely different reasons. Or two murderers may be working together, in a way that gives each of them an alibi. Do you think it’s just a coincidence that the murders took place in adjoining rooms?”
“No, I think there’s some connection between them,” Ellingham replied.
“Well, there’s the door,” Jane quipped.
When Ellingham showed no sign of grasping her joke, Jane continued, “But I agree, it again seems too much of a coincidence.”
Doc Martin changed the subject. “You know, we’ve got a third death among the passengers now that could have been another murder. What do you know about the nun?”
“She was a small woman, quite old, very religious,” Jane replied, “and came aboard in Honolulu. From the sound of it, she was bucking for sainthood. She spent almost all her time praying in her cabin, and took her meals there. Slack thinks she fell overboard and is totally unconnected to the Twins case. But apparently Keck sent Heck off on a diversion the morning she died and went to visit Sister Martha. Both she and the nun died that night. That’s another coincidence that can’t be a coincidence. But they apparently died at different times, with Keck going into the ocean a couple of hours ahead of Sister Martha.”
“Have you found a link between Keck and Sister Martha?” Ellingham asked.
“That’s the big mystery here. Sister Martha was a nun in Hawaii before Heck and Keck were even born, she apparently spent the last 50 years there. Heck says they never knew a nun, anywhere, and Heck would know anybody Keck knew. The Thatch twins were together from morning to night, practically joined at the hip. Yet the steward on E Deck says one of them was knocking on Sister Martha’s door on the morning of February 3rd.”
“But no one answered,” Ellingham asked to make sure, sensing something.
“Isn’t that strange, given that Sister Martha spent most of her time in her cabin, and she would not have been having breakfast somewhere?”
“Yes, now that you mention it,” Jane replied. “But if you’re thinking she was already dead, she wasn’t. The steward saw her at lunchtime that day.”
“Well, she might have been off on a stroll that morning. But maybe instead she heard Keck—if that’s who it was—outside in the corridor. Maybe Keck called out to her. And Sister Martha did not want to open the door. You say that Keck told the steward she was an old friend of Sister Martha’s?”
“Yes. And Keck knew who this nun was, by name. I asked about that.”
“Then wouldn’t an old friend let you know she was coming by to have a chat? And why did Keck have to get rid of Heck to pay this secret visit?”
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t either. But Keck may not have been a friend at all, or even an acquaintance. I wonder if the nun had seen something involving Keck, or knew something, that ultimately led to her own death. That makes more sense to me than anything else.”
Chapter 33: “Author’s Message”
The swirl of facts and hypotheses swaddled Jane and Ellington in a thick silence. Finally Jane said, “I almost feel like we’re characters in a murder mystery. Do you ever read them?”
Ellingham replied, “Not if they’re grim and not if there’s lots of blood involved. I like tasteful, complicated mysteries that make sense at the end. I can’t say that enough: They have to make sense. Anyone can think up a baffling set of circumstances, such as, ‘The body was found in a windowless room with all the doors locked from the inside.’ The trick is to come up with a solution that’s not overused or absurdly improbable. I know there have to be ‘red herrings’ along the way, but if the author is being fair you can see through them with a little thought. I enjoy playing “the game” with an author. But I hate it when a writer brings up stuff in the last few pages that turns the whole plot upside down. That’s such a cheap trick. And usually when you think about it afterwards, lots of the last-minute revelations contradict what came before. Those stories infuriate me. I feel like somebody has robbed me of hours of my life, and sometimes a night’s sleep. It makes me want to write a murder mystery myself to see if I can do it right,” the doctor said. “And that means a mystery where the solution is baked into the story from early on.”
“What do you mean, ‘baked into’”? asked Jane West.
“In almost all murder mysteries tons of suspects have appeared by the time you reach the last chapter, and then a ‘Big Reveal’ of some fact shows who did it. But usually anyone might be the murderer heading into the de nu mont. The author can select whomever she wants among ‘the many’ and gin up something to establish the killer’s motive or method. Maybe it turns out there was a last-minute will making B the beneficiary, not A. Or maybe the butler was the adopted grandson of the disgraced vicar. Or maybe it turns out A and B can’t get married because they had the same father. The point is, the author can make anyone the murderer at the end of these mysteries, regardless of what has happened before. Which means the reader had no chance at figuring out who-did-it during the story. And the evidence comes crashing down so fast it makes your head spin. The old weekly magazines like The Saturday Evening Post used to run serialized mysteries where you had a week to think over the latest developments. I found that very helpful. My unconscious mind–which I call ‘Martin 2’–would come up with things my conscious mind hadn’t noticed. But in a novel the space between the decisive evidence and the ‘brilliant’ solution is the space between the end of one paragraph and the beginning of the next.”
“My mind doesn’t work that way,” replied Jane. “I forget too much during the ‘pauses,’ and have trouble remembering all I once knew about the story. This will probably get worse as I get older.”
“You probably would let the magazines pile up and read them right before the last instalment.” “But I like a mystery where slow developments ‘funnel’ the reasoning, so that eventually only one person could have been the murderer,” Ellingham continued. “It’s not arbitrary because the tell-tale clues were planted throughout, giving the reader a fighting chance. There’s lots of chaff of course that you have to discard. You have to remember the Duke could not have fathered both Arthur and Beatrice,” Effingham effused, “because the Duchess had her lover, the stable veterinarian, ‘fix’ her husband after he had passed out from celebrating the birth of a male heir,. But you CAN figure things out from the clues that were dropped. You don’t have to resort to the scene where ten suspects are gathered in the drawing room and the detective reveals there is a secret passage between the kitchen and the gazebo so the cook, who was actually the Baron’s first wife who had had her face reupholstered, gained fifty pounds, and become left-handed was able to get to him undetected and stab him to death with his fourth wife’s hat pin after he had tried to shoot himself three times but kept dodging the bullets.”
“I call these ‘pulp mysteries’ and I prefer hardwood varieties,” Ellingham concluded, “which grow slowly because they are dense, but they prove oak-sturdy at the end. You can figure them out by considering the evidence presented all along the way, and if there is a Big Reveal at the end after you’ve pitched aside the bucket of red herrings, it confirms your analysis and explains all the mysterious things that happened. All the events of a good mystery will fit together, locked in like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.”
“Yes, no ‘loose ends,’” Jane replied. “They infuriate me. Sometimes I think an author has either forgotten about some of the perplexing things in the story, or else can’t think of an explanation that fits in with the rest, so ignores the confusing bits and hopes nobody notices. The ‘explanation’ of all that happened is sometimes papered over in a single paragraph, or even a short sentence such as ‘It was all very complicated, Maximilian.’ You suspect the real crime occurred when the author dashed off the last chapter to meet the publisher’s deadline. Some readers don’t care, but a person who has spent time thinking about the plot deserves to have things connected and the pertinent ‘leads’ explained.”
Dr. Ellingham added, “I especially enjoy it when it turns out the writer gets the reader to go onto the wrong track by presuming things that turn out to be false—even when the author has deliberately left the switch to St. Mary Downright Wrong wide open and given you a push. You know when you’re reading some authors that you’ve got to be on guard against your own thinking. It’s the same thing in making a medical diagnosis, and I’m sure, in good detective-ing, and a really valuable thing to learn whatever you do.”
“The oldest trick in mysteries uses this weakness,” Jane observed. “The author makes someone the prime suspect early on and then shows later that he couldn’t have done it after all. But meanwhile the reader has been tricked into focusing on the supposed killer, so the real killer passes through undetected.”
“Yes. And because this happens in almost every story,” the ship’s doctor noted, “people who read a lot of murder mysteries learn this and pretty much ignore whoever looks guilty-guilty-guilty in the middle chapters. So what does the clever author do then?”
“Make the murderer the early prime suspect,” Jane said, thinking back on stories that had used this machination. “Sometimes in fact the murderer deliberately makes himself the leading suspect, knowing that later evidence will exonerate him. Once the murderer has been declared innocent that first time, the reader basically forgets about him.”
“But the author has to convincingly clear him of the early suspicion,” Ellingham observed. “If the prime suspect remains highly suspicious all the way through and turns out to be the murderer, nobody is going to buy that author’s next novel.”
“Or publish the first one. But yes, readers expect a surprise at the end,” Jane said. “People don’t really read mysteries to find out who-did-it.’ You can do that just by reading the last chapter first. They read them to see if they can figure out who-did-it. They are playing a game with the author that goes, ‘I’ll bet you $$ you can’t fool me, and I sure hope you can.’ That’s why people get mad if someone tells them the ‘surprise ending’ ahead of time. They’ve been robbed of the fun they were having.”
“There’s another well-worn trick that takes the opposite approach,” Ellingham opined. “A character appears so completely innocent the reader wonders why he’s even a suspect. But it turns out he’s the killer. It can be an innocent bystander, or someone barely mentioned, or even the detective. This gambit is used often because it produces great surprise at the end.”
“But you learn,” Jane added, “to especially look out for ‘the last person you would ever suspect.’ And so authors counterpunch by putting in a totally innocent-looking character who is, in fact, totally innocent, leading the reader to bark up the wrong tree and leaving him there.”
Dr. Ellingham was so enjoying this discussion on February 8th that he uncharacteristically asked a question that might be taken to indicate that he was interested in the other person: “What kind of mysteries do you like?”
“Oh, I prefer movie mysteries, and my favorites are all Alfred Hitchcock films,” Jane West responded. “We were talking about there being two murderers on the Acadia. There could be no reason for either of them to kill their particular victim. They do it for each other. That’s the premise behind Strangers on a Train. ‘Criss-cross.’ We could be living through ‘Strangers on a Ship’ now.” And another Hitchcock movie, Rope, starring Jimmy Stewart, dwelled on thrill killing where no one had a motive to kill the victim, just the desire to have “the ultimate thrill.”
“But my favorite is Vertigo,” Jane went on with feeling. “I really liked our layover in San Francisco. I visited the places shown in the film: the art museum, Russian Hill, and the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. I could easily imagine Jimmy Stewart wandering around, clutching at memories of the woman he loved and lost. Like Bob Piper is doing now.”
“Vertigo is also my favorite mystery film,” the ship’s doctor replied. “Many people say the ending of Psycho was the single most unexpected and startling moment in movies, when we finally meet Anthony Perkins’ mother. And people were stunned when Janet Leigh, the star of the movie, got killed halfway through the story. You naturally identify with the person whom you begin the story with, and if he gets killed, you feel vulnerable, psychologically, like the ground you’re standing on may open up at any moment. But I think the ending of Vertigo when Kim Novak dies was just as startling and unexpected as Psycho’s, even though it’s at the end of the movie. Hitchcock made some awful films, but he was incredible in his prime.”
Jane changed the subject. “Why did Inspector Slack have you arrested?”
“Oh, we haven’t liked each other for some time. But the whole thing about the latex gloves was insane. I dug up the evidence about the latex on Galten’s ‘spare’ pillow. And you see these gloves all over the place. The stewards wear fancy ones when they’re delivering food to a room or restocking the liquor cabinets. My nurse uses them whenever she gives an injection. You people always put them on when you’re investigating a crime scene. Most of the workers in the kitchens wear them. You could find a pair of used latex gloves in waste baskets all over this ship. Think how many we’ll use if we ever have to deal with a pandemic!”
A moment of silence grew into two more minutes of solitude as the sleuths withdrew into their own thoughts, weighing what they had discussed, reviewing the new things each had learned from the other. Eventually Jane spoke: “Galten was killed, like Keck, on a rainy night. And while I agree only a madman would have tried to move around from balcony to balcony on the night Keck disappeared, this second storm was not as bad. The carpet was wet by the balcony door in Galten’s bedroom, but not flooded.”
“You’re thinking someone could have gone via the balconies into B4,” Ellingham replied.
“They’d have to be strong and have a terrific sense of balance,” Jane West continued. “But it could be done. There are handles on the balcony doors one could hold onto while climbing about. And someone attempting such a dangerous stunt would have a safety rope connected to the ship so he could climb back aboard if he slipped. And as we were saying, there could have been a team. Someone could have held onto the climber as he worked his way around a steel partition. Anyone who got to Keck via the balconies during the first storm would have been able to get to Galten during the second. But they would have to have great night vision as well.”
“One last thought,” Ellingham said. “As you said, both murders took place when it was raining, but they also both took place while we were heading for a port—where someone could get off the ship, for example, or dispose of something. And in a couple of days, we’re going to arrive in Auckland.”
“Then let’s hope it’s not after ‘a dark and stormy night,’” Jane said as she left Ellingham’s office.
As Putra Alatas worked his way through the ship’s corridors on February 8th to the crew cafeteria for supper, he encountered Theresa, one of the maids assigned to his section of B Deck. Two days ago, she said, she was cleaning up Suite B6 after Steven Greenleaf had held a meeting there with the other people in “his group.” While she was picking up dishes, and so forth, Steven knocked on the door connecting his living room to that of B4. When Professor Galten opened it, Steven began to complain very strongly about something “the professor” had just announced. Steven called it terribly unfair and Galten said, “There’s nothing you can do about it,” and Steven shouted, “Oh yes there is. I’m going to make you an offer you can’t refuse!” “And he slammed the door. Then he saw me and apologized. He seemed very embarrassed. I think he had forgotten I was there.”
“I thought I should tell you,” the maid concluded, “because I know Doctor Ellingham was concerned about Professor Galten’s death that very night.”
The staff privileged to eat in the Staff Dining Room, as opposed to the crew cafeteria, ate as high off the hog as the passengers, and Jane West was having a quiet moment with her husband after their excellent dinner. “You know,” Jane began, “we’ve had two pairs of identical twins on board since San Francisco. Suppose there were three. Suppose Tom Greenleaf has been on the ship all along. How hard would it be for both Steven and Tom to get on board, but for us to think there was only one?”
“It wouldn’t be difficult at all,” Dash North replied. “Let’s say Steven boarded in San Francisco in the usual way, and made sure we’d recognize his face in the future and that we knew he was uber-important. Then twenty minutes later, when we had some confusion at the boarding station like a misprinted ticket or room changes, Tom came onto the ship, saying he’d just stepped off for a moment and was reboarding. We’d probably smile at him and get back to our problem. Even if we asked to see his passport, we’d probably just glance at the photo. And we did have extra problems in San Francisco, caused by the Greenleafs, don’t you know, because we had to move the previous tenants on B Deck up the stairs.”
“But how could Tom stay on the ship? Where would he live and sleep?”
“Oh, that’s not such a big problem if you have money. Tom could have replaced an accomplice who boarded the ship but quietly left before sailing.”
“But the stewards would know, wouldn’t they?” asked Jane.
“But the stewards would know, wouldn’t they?” asked Jane.
“Probably. I’d have him on my lists; you’d think he would be missed. But stewards, like bell-hops in a hotel, can be very cooperative for a fee, and nobody else would be the wiser. It seems to come with the job. The Greenleafs could certainly buy a wink-and-a-nod for $500. That’s pocket-change to them. In fact. Almost anything is pocket-change to them.”
“The thing is, because the Greenleafs look exactly alike, they could switch off at any time,” Jane noted. “So while you think Steven is one place doing a certain thing, he could be off doing something else.”
As Dash and Jane were having dessert and coffee, Sergeant Lake sat down at their table and said, “I finally heard how Zoe Peregrine came to be quartered in C2. The travel agent who handles her adventure tours does a lot of business with A&O. Zoe asked the agent to get her a room close to wherever the Thatch twins were going to be placed, saying they were old friends. I gather some money passed hands to facilitate this bit of ‘extra service,’ so the clerk in Southampton who put Zoe in C2 deep-sixed my first inquiry. But this clerk’s boss got my follow-up message, investigated, and filled me in. The clerk also put Priscilla McMaster in B10, also probably for a fee.”
“Speaking of Zoe,” Lake said to Jane, “Ellingham warned me her shoulder is nearly 100% now and out of the sling. She is a fast healer, the doc said, and despite her reckless behavior earlier she had been a model patient. She had not put any undue strain on her shoulder since she dislocated it six days ago on the way to Pago Pago.”
“That hang-gliding adventure makes me think Zoe had nothing to do with the deaths we are investigating” Jane added. “Ellingham and I were just discussing murderers, and one thing they do not do is draw attention to themselves. A murderer would try to remain inconspicuous. Zoe is just the opposite. I’ve scratched her off my list of suspects.”
“I’m not so sure,” Lake responded. “There’s some reason why she joined this cruise and got the cabin she got.”
After Lake left them, Dash asked his wife how she was managing her relationship with Inspector Slack. “Oh, it’s a struggle. He keeps getting in the way of his own inquiries and seems to have lost track of things. My Great Aunt Jane told me that once, while she was investigating a murder at a reformatory school, she happened upon a suitcase of magic tricks in the evidence room. It belonged to Slack, who was practicing—of all things—a magic act. My aunt thought she saw deeply into Slack’s soul right then. He wanted to astound people. He wanted to be amazing. He wanted to pull the rabbit out of a hat in his investigations. The problem was, Aunt Jane observed, the poor man did not have the intellect or the imagination to carry it off. There was nothing in the hat, as it were.”
When Bill awoke on the morning of February 9th, it suddenly popped into his head where he had known Steven Greenleaf before. In 1968 a young plant scientist from Canada arrived in Saigon on loan from the Canadian government. He was there to do an independent expert assessment of Operation Ranch Hand, the program that sprayed millions of gallons of Agent Orange on Vietnam and Laos. Bill flew this scientist, undercover, to locations that had been defoliated and his passenger took measurements on plant destruction and recovery. The scientist thought he had been given the assignment because he was young enough to handle the rigors of field research under highly unfavorable circumstances—like getting shot at while flying low over jungle in a small plane—and because he had a prolific knowledge of bird life and could make informed judgments of the effects of the herbicide on fauna as well as flora.
The scientist was amazed at the comeback plants and the birds were making from the devastating defoliation. “You simply can’t stop life,” he said after one mission. “It just keeps coming back, no matter what.” Unfortunately, the Pentagon used his report to justify increasing the amounts of herbicide dispersed in Indochina. Bill imagined, when he saw the vast amounts of Agent Orange being unloaded later at bases in Vietnam, that the scientist would be horrified at what his report had produced. Now, 32 years later, while he was sleeping on an ocean liner in the South Pacific, Bill’s brain had put a name to the scientist: Steven Greenleaf. “I imagine Steven would be very embarrassed if his role in the Vietnam “ecocide” ever came out,” he thought. “He could be branded as ‘The Monster Behind Agent Orange.'”
It never occurred to Bill to try to blackmail Steven. Bill made his living doing things for powerful people that, because of the wonderfulness of their image, they did not want to be caught personally doing, and he had a solid history of keeping stumm. Besides, in his racket blackmailers often suffered fast and mysterious deaths if they tried to cash in a secret.
In any event, Bill had bigger problems right now. Bob had already left their cabin and Bill knew where to find him: In B2, talking earnestly with Heck about Keck. Bill understood the draw. Heck looked just like Keck, even in her present washed-out configuration, and Bob could fantasize that Keck was still alive as he sat gazing at Heck. It didn’t matter what she said. In fact, the less she said, the better. But Bill thought Bob was growing more and more morose.
Certain events on the night of February 6th were probably piling on Bob’s misery. As they told Sergeant Lake, when they returned from the Palladium the two brothers drank a healthy amount of the Paul Giraud Napoleon brandy Steven Greenleaf had sent. But then with the courage of his cognac-tions Bob announced he was going to raise a little hell with Roger Galten. He marched to B4 and loudly complained about the “fudge factor” for Heck’s Phase II scores that Galten had announced a few hours earlier. He wanted Galten to goose up the Piper level of similarity too, on the grounds that they had grown up so differently. Galten wouldn’t do it, and Bob began threatening all forms of mayhem.
Bill hustled Bob back to their suite and decided to do him a big favor. Earlier that day Zoe Peregrine had invited the adventurous pilot to spend the night with her. She promised to give him a whole new set of wild stories to tell. But as Bill sat with Bob he said to himself, “Bob needs to get laid a lot more than I do.” So, he explained the situation with Zoe to him, and suggested he dress in Bill’s clothes, get a bottle of champagne from the liquor cabinet, and head on down to C2. Bob was drunk enough to agree and left shortly before 11 PM.
Bob returned about 6 AM looking as inadequate and vanquished as someone who had brought a book of poems to a knife fight. Zoe, he said, had put him through a night of humiliation and fear worse than anything he had ever experienced. “The first thing she wanted to do,” Bob reported, “was go down to the Casino, crawl under the roulette table, and make love. I went with her, but then I just couldn’t ‘perform.’ So we crawled out, with Zoe in her sling and all, and she told onlookers she’d lost an earring. Somebody said, ‘Did you look on the hang glider?’ Zoe didn’t mind the attention at all. She just laughed. But I was double-mortified, especially when Zoe made a show of tucking my shirt back into my pants.”
“Next, she took me to the back of the ship and had me help her climb up onto the railing. She started walking atop it, and then let go of my hand. It was madness! There was nothing between her and the ocean if she fell to her left. She went about four steps and then hopped down. ‘Your turn,’ she said. But my legs were so rubbery, I couldn’t even get onto the railing. ‘It’s simple,’ she said, ‘It’s a trick I learned when I worked in a circus. Just keep your weight to the inside and hope the ship doesn’t lurch. If it does, the saying in the circus was, “Enjoy the ride down, ‘cause you’ll never have a better one.” But here you can catch hold of the railing with your inside arm. I can only support my weight with my right arm now, so I kept that arm to the inside of the railing as I walked.’”
I said, “It’s not my thing.”
“What is your thing then?” she asked.
“’Let’s go to your cabin and I’ll show you.’ God, Bill, what was I thinking?”
“Well, when we got there we drank some of the champagne and I started making love to her as best I could. With the fight with Galten, the cognac, the champagne, and the way I was shaking from our first two adventures. I wanted the light off so I could concentrate. But she wanted the place lit up like a Monday Night Football game. When I climbed on top of her and began to get down to business, she said, ‘Let me show you something really cool. Put your hands around my neck while we’re making love and choke me until I’m unconscious.’”
“’What?’ I said. ‘Are you crazy?’ Mind you, everybody on the ship knew the answer to that question.”
“’No, I mean it,’ she said. ‘Haven’t you ever done this? It’s thrilling! Do it to me, and I promise I’ll do it to you in return.’”
“’Wonderful!’ I thought.”
“Well, I tried to do what she wanted,” Bob continued his tale of woe “But she said I’d let go of her neck way too soon. She asked me to try again, and I said maybe in the morning. I tried to get out of bed but she kept me there and began dragging out a whole set of electrical gadgets, handcuffs, rubber gloves little silk ropes, and things from a red suitcase. She even had a swing in it, a blindfold and a whip. God Bill, don’t ever ask what she made me do.”
“But the really strange thing was, I noticed there were two Black Diamond Cliffhangers in the suitcase. These are hooks used by mountain climbers. You tie a rope to one and throw it up onto a rock above until it catches firm. You throw a backup line as well. You climb up, reach your next perch, pull the ropes up to you, and repeat the process. When you want to descend, you slide down the rope and give it a certain “flip and twist up” while putting some slack in the line. The Black Diamond unhooks itself, falls down to you, and you continue your descent. I recognized the hooks because some burglars use them to climb up and down the balconies on high-rise apartment buildings.”
The Acadia sailed serenely over the bright blue sea, its crew attentive to its duty, in the late afternoon of February 9th. Openings in their schedules enabled Jane West and her husband to arrange a rendezvous in a quiet lounge atop ship while many of the passengers took their pre-supper nap. As he waited for his bride, Dash North reflected on how he happened to be the purser aboard the Acadia. He learned the stalwart, unbending rules of accountancy at university, and while this would ordinarily have placed him last in line for a position of rank aboard a pleasure boat, it had the opposite effect at Atlantic and Orient, Ltd. For the CEO himself was the Monarch of Accountancy. The only ship he had ever served was his apprenticeship at an accounting firm, where he learned to manipulate long columns of numbers so splendidly that their unstalwart, very bent total precisely equaled the sum a client had wished for. Over the years he added numbers so carefully that now he commanded A&O’s navy.
When Jane arrived he inquired how her day had gone. He’d asked her that almost every day during the past two years, and ordinarily her answers had been as perfunctory as his question. But lately her activities had been usually unusual, the exceptional being unexceptional, and Dash was understandably quite captivated by the deaths on B deck. Murder can be fascinating. That’s why you can run your fingers along rows of murder mysteries in your local library, and only find a few stories about bank robberies.
“My day was quite engrossing,” Jane responded, “unless you had absolutely no interest in sex,” She knew full well the center lane of her husband’s interests, which was a subject covered even more thoroughly in your local library than murder.
“Sex? On our boat? What will the home office say?” Dash asked in mock horror.
“The sex came up later,” Jane said, having set the hook. “Lake and I went to Zoe Peregrine’s cabin this morning because he thought she might be ‘hiding in plain sight’ regarding the death of Keck Thatch.. She again said her presence on the ship with the Thatch twins was a coincidence. But when Lake revealed we knew she had pulled strings to be quartered near them, she told a different tale. Heck and Keck were running a campaign back home to get her punished for the death of their brother. She found out about the twins contest and booked passage on the Acadia, intending to spy on them and learn things that would make them leave her alone. But she watched from afar, she insisted. She said she never came near them.”
“Lake had his doubts and so we searched Zoe’s suite.,” Jane continued. “You’ll never guess what we found.”
“Then I won’t try,” Dash responded. “What?”
“She had a red suitcase containing a lot of sex toys: dildos galore, handcuffs, four lengths of silk rope, rubber gloves, a gizmo for giving electric shocks out of a wall socket, several kinds of fancy condoms, a whip, and a ‘Lady’s Swing.’” When a look of confusion crossed Dash’s face at the last item, Jane elaborated. “It’s a set of straps that essentially provide an open harness in which a woman swings to and fro, It’s suspended from the ceiling or from doorways, like a Jolly Jumper, and has a ratcheted pulley so the woman’s body can be placed at different heights and angles. This lets couples do all kinds of things they can’t do lying on a bed. A girlfriend in London said it gave a whole new meaning to ‘HUDD’—a Heads-Up Display Device.”
“Tell me more,” her husband said. He was wondering how Jane knew so much about these things. Her great aunt would have fainted–possibly into a coma–if she had come across such a “clue” during an investigation, Dash thought.
“Lake asked Zoe to open the safe in her suite. She couldn’t give us the combination, she said, because she’d never used it. But the safe was locked, so Lake used Security’s master key and found a book with a black cover that turned out to be the Thatch sisters’ diary. Zoe said she had no idea how it got there. I took her fingerprints, and I found her prints on the diary cover. She said someone must have handed her the book once, but she had no idea how it could have gotten in the safe in her suite, which she thought was quite empty.”
“Wow! That’s one mystery solved,” Dash said.
“I’m not so sure. How could Zoe have gotten the book?” Jane wondered. “There’s no evidence she was ever in B2, much less on the night of February 2nd when the diary disappeared. Zoe separated her shoulder that afternoon, so there’s no way she could have climbed up to B2’s balcony from below, or moved sideways from one balcony to another. Heck and Keck would never have let her in from the hall. She didn’t know Galten. And there are no Zoe fingerprints anywhere in the Thatch suite. It looks to me like someone has set Zoe up.”
“She might have had an accomplice,” Dash suggested.
“Yes, that’s always possible. She seems to have developed a relationship with Bill Piper, although it is apparently over now.”
“So did Zoe kill Keck?” the ship’s purser asked. “If she could somehow get into B2 to steal the diary, she could have gotten in to kill Keck.”
“Unfortunately,” Jane observed, “that’s a kind of backward logic, if we can’t see how she could ever have gotten into B2. Anyway, as Lake and I were leaving C2, Zoe volunteered some information that incriminated someone else. “Bill Piper was here the other night,” she said. “Maybe he planted the diary then. Did you know that wimp can open the doors of the suites on this ship whenever he wants to?”
“What?!” exclaimed Lake.
“Yes. When we came back from Pago Pago I discovered I’d left my keys in my suite. ‘Never mind,’ Bill says. And he took something out of his pants pocket like a big shot, put it by the card slot, and the door opened just like that.”
Jane continued the account of her day: “When we heard that, Lake sent me looking for Bill Piper. I found him holding court in one of the bars. ‘She called me a wimp, huh?’ Bill said. ‘Well, I can understand that. As for the door un-locker, I got that from my brother. I never used it to open anybody’s room, except Zoe’s that one time. It just seemed a handy thing to have. I gave it back to Bob.’ We knew where Bob Piper would probably be, and sure enough we found him sitting silently with Heck in the living room of B2. He swore he’d never used the device during the voyage. I asked him why he had such a thing. He said it was a ‘tool of the trade’ for a locksmith, and he routinely took it on trips along with his set of lock picks. People are usually glad to have his services available when they are traveling and can’t get into their rooms.”
“Nurse Nightenday brought me the packet of razor blade cartridges she found in Heck’s dresser,” Jane said, changing the subject. “It had been purchased at the ship’s pharmacy and had lots of fingerprints on it. But the most recent ones came from Heck, Nightenday, and what’s left of Bob Piper’s fingertips. I imagine Heck asked him to buy the blades for her, and like a dope he did.
Jane finished the report of her busy day. “I told Heck we had found her diary in Zoe Peregrine’s cabin and she said, ‘Who?’ I said ‘Zoe, the woman who did the hang-gliding stunt’ and Heck said, ‘Oh her. I guess she did that because we’re trying to get her business shut down. Can I get the diary back? It means everything to me.’ I said we still needed it, but once we had finished she would certainly get it back. But she positively begged me for it now, as something that contained so many of their memories. I really felt sorry for her, but I knew Slack would say no.”
As the Acadia dawdled along in the South Pacific on the late afternoon of February 9th, Jane detected a whiff of tropical vegetation in the breeze streaming through the lounge where she sat with her husband. The ship was standing northwest, into the wind, and Jane had no idea what land mass lay close enough in that direction to be sharing its perfumes. Hopefully the crew on the bridge knew where they were heading.
Dash North continued with his inquiries about his wife’s day. “Have you tracked down the puzzling fingerprints in B2?” he asked.
“No,” Jane replied. “There aren’t many of them compared to Heck’s and Keck’s, of course. But the mystery ones are widely spread. They weren’t left during a one-time, Just-popped-byvisit. It looks more like the result of a wide-ranging search. The cleaners searched the suite looking for the diary. But they wore gloves and I have their prints And the steward’s as well. These are different.”
“How about getting into Dr. Galten’s laptop?” her intrigued husband asked. Being married to a budding detective was proving very interesting.
“Yes, Galten was not very security conscious, and I got his password pretty quickly. It was ‘netlag.’ Some people have no imagination!” Jane observed. She took a sip from her cocktail and continued. “I had Googled ‘Roger Galten’ earlier, and knew from his own writings that the CIA had tried to recruit him in 1965 when he was a new Ph.D. At the time he had a post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard. A psychologist named Runquist there was the agency’s ‘talent scout,’ Apparently the CIA thought it had landed Galten, but he developed reservations because of the growing American involvement in Vietnam. All the ‘teach-ins’ were bursting out on American campuses. Galten wrote later that he thought the CIA wanted to use him in what became Project MK-Ultra, because he had expertise in both physiological psychology and psychiatry.”
“What is Project MK-Ultra?” Dash asked.
“It was a long-running attempt by the CIA to discover ways to brainwash people, particularly to get captured spies to reveal the other side’s secrets. It became notorious when Dr. Ewan Cameron of McGill University was exposed in 1975 as having performed brainwashing experiments on his own patients. It came out that the project was jointly funded by the CIA and by some unnamed security agency in Ottawa. A tremendous scandal exploded, and the CIA had to promise Congress that it would stop doing such research.”
“Obviously not. The disclosures about psychological torture of the prisoners at Guantanamo, the water-boarding tapes, and so on show the CIA has continued to try to find ways to ‘break’ people through pain, drugs, induced psychoses, and so on. But the research was conducted in foreign countries.”
“And Galten knew this all along?”
“That’s not clear. But he was writing a book about the history of torture by North American intelligence agencies, which is on his laptop. Galten says at the beginning that he’s beholden to someone in the CIA who knows the whole story. Galten calls this source ‘Very Deep Throat.’ I’ve just started the book, but I’ve learned that Project MK-Ultra was continued in Canada in 1976, thanks to the cooperation of the Canadian government. The research followed various trails. The repetition of monotonous sounds was studied. New ‘truth drugs’ were developed that tried to break down people’s will power. New kinds of physical torture were tried out.”
“In dear, gentle Canada?”
“Yes, for a while at least. Eventually the CIA began to set up ‘research sites’ in other parts of the world, especially in Eastern Europe after the fall of Communism where experienced torturers abounded. But it was careful not to fund any such thing on American soil.”
“Is this still going on?”
“Galten said it is, and there’s a closing chapter in the Table of Contents entitled ‘Current Programs.’ But I couldn’t find this material when I scanned ahead on his laptop. Either he hadn’t written that chapter yet, or someone erased it.”
“I wonder how the CIA would feel about this, if it knew about this book.”
“Precisely,” said Jane. “Most of what I’ve read is either ancient history or widely suspected. But intelligence services are especially sensitive about revelations of current operations, because if the accounts are detailed enough, it not only endangers their present sources, but someone can ‘unzip’ lots of an agency’s past programs. And that they would likely take any step to prevent.”
“And possibly, so might anyone who was involved in this torture research back then, but who has never been identified,” said Dash before the conversation drifted onto less dramatic topics.
Midnight was approaching on February 9th and the Acadia was firmly seated into its well-established evening routines. The first watch was straining to hear the eight bells that would bring relief from duty. Then some shouting was heard on the darkened Promenade Deck near the forward staircase, which proceeded down the starboard side to the aft quarter. The attendant there wondered if this augured a lovers’ quarrel that would sort itself without any help from him, and decided to wait for the next shout. He was hoping his replacement would have to deal with the fifteen minutes of free-range emotion that usually climaxed these outbreaks. But suddenly a middle-aged woman wearing one of the ship’s luxury-grade bathrobes rushed up and said a man had just jumped into the ocean. She was very distraught and beseeched the attendant to follow her back the way she had come.
The woman was so convincing the ship’s hand immediately decided this was not another drunk hallucination or brainless prank, and he fell in behind her as she raced down the starboard promenade. The woman stopped close to the ship’s stern and the attendant immediately saw that a self-inflating two-man life raft was missing from the aft railing. The woman said she had thrown it into the water. So he called the bridge and told them what had happened, and he began searching the surrounding area of the deck. An order to stop the ship was given by the Watch Commander, but it took several miles for the Acadia to come to the ocean liner equivalent of “a screeching halt.” A long boat was lowered into the water with a well-drilled rescue crew and it slowly motored back up the ship’s wake, which was glowing with phosphorescence. The searchers found neither the man nor the raft. Truth be told, they were not particularly surprised. You almost never found someone who had gone overboard in these circumstances.
In the meantime, the deck attendant had spoken to the woman who raised the alarm. She said she was Hecuba Thatch, she was quartered in B2, and the man who had jumped into the sea was named Bob Piper who had a suite three or four doors from hers. Bob had fallen desperately in love with her sister, Keck who had been murdered on board nearly a week ago (as the attendant knew). Bob had been increasingly depressed about this and had spent hours with her in her rooms lately because she was also shattered by what happened to her sister. She thought she was doing him some good with their time together, she sobbed. But apparently the crush of developments had driven him overboard. Literally.
She said that as she was going to bed this evening, “Bob came by and asked the nurse who is staying with me if he could speak to me. I came out of the bedroom and he said he wanted to see me and thank me one last time. Then he left. I went after him and all he would say, as he raced down the stairs, was he was going to join Keck forever. I didn’t think he was really going to kill himself. I mean, he didn’t have to tell anyone if that was his plan. I thought he, was making a show of how much he was suffering. He was quite an emotional guy. He moved faster than I did, but stopped once as if he were reconsidering what he was doing. Maybe he just wanted me to catch up with him. But when I did and tried to hold him where we were on the stairs, he pushed me away. I grabbed onto him but he was stronger and pulled my hands away.” The attendant noted scratch marks on the woman’s forearms, and bruises forming on her wrists.
“I followed him here and kept trying to calm him down. I said I knew exactly how he felt, that Keck meant more to me than he could ever know, but Keck would not want him to kill himself over her. He said he was sure she wanted him to join her. He dashed toward the back of the ship and I lost sight of him in the dark. When I caught up, he had stopped and seemed to be deciding one last time whether to proceed. Just as I almost got to him, he jumped right over the side. I screamed, and I went to get the raft and threw it into the water. Then I ran to you.”
The captain had been called to the bridge by now and the Watch Commander brought him up to speed. Whereupon he visibly relaxed. So long as no one found out that every now and then the two-man self-inflating rafts did not exactly stay inflated, he thought Atlantic & Orient would be found blameless in the incident and he could reassure Southampton with a one-paragraph signal. Somebody jumped off his “Love Boat” often enough that it had become part of most voyages for him. A one-hour delay for such emergencies was built into the timetable for each leg of the trip and would swallow up this incident with no change in arrival times. This fellow Piper would have been knocked unconscious when he hit the water and was undoubtedly dead by now. As he wanted to be. So the captain, whose morals had been declared particularly correct, ordered the ship to resume its assigned heading and send out another Heightened Surveillance Request. He left word to have the boat’s chaplain contact the dead man’s travelling companions, if any besides the woman, to arrange some sort of a service. Standard procedure. tried and true.
Sergeant Lake was given the job of interviewing witnesses to this drama the next day. He found only a few people who had been around at that late hour. Several reported the couple were having an intense discussion, sometimes the woman was almost screaming, “No, don’t!” She tried to physically restrain him at one point, but the man pushed her away. She followed him onto the Promenade Deck and pursued him aft. But no one heard what was being said, or saw what happened, after the couple disappeared into the shadows.
The attendant who answered Heck’s cry for help had seen the couple pass his station but they were quiet then. He responded with alacrity when summoned, but a voice inside his head kept saying, “Remember the Crosswell Incident.” Robert David Crosswell had been a passenger on the Acadia who supposedly jumped overboard in June 1997. It turned out he and his wife faked his suicide to collect a hefty insurance policy. Crosswell hid on the ship until it docked two days later, when he slipped ashore unnoticed. But a private investigator hired by the suspicious insurance company that had written a “suicide-included” policy began tailing the wife and found Robert David Crosswell living in the Bahamas under an assumed name.
Because of this past subterfuge, the Acadia’s attendant immediately searched the stern area of the Promenade Deck, but he found no trace of Bob Piper. He realized from Heck’s description of her friend that he had seen Piper wandering around the deck alone at about 11 o’clock that evening looking despondent. The passenger seemed to be crying but indicated he wanted to be left alone. And it was the same fellow the attendant had seen about a week earlier trudging the planks late at night during a driving rainstorm. Indeed, he had seen Piper on several occasions walking around the ship alone. One time an elderly passenger had complained to the attendant “that man” had approached her and started asking her questions about where she was from. The attendant reported to Sergeant Lake that, while he felt obliged to bring up the parallel to the Crosswell Incident, Bob Piper had seemed demonstrably lost, and quite unhappy when he saw him last, and it was plausible in retrospect that he had ended his life in the sea shortly thereafter.
Jane West found Bob Piper’s unmistakable damaged fingerprints on the railing where Heck said he had jumped in. Heck’s fingerprints in turn were on the same part of the railing, and on the windowed case where the raft was stored.
As dawn broke on the morning of February 10th, the Acadia lost all its radio contacts, its GPS data, and the radar signals it used to track nearby vessels and totally condused icebergs. The ship’s “teckie” was roused from his bed and whipped mercilessly to the bridge. He discovered the computers were humming along on the sweet side of “intermittent service,” but signals from the antennas involved were not forthcoming. All three antennas were located on a platform at the top of the forward smokestack on the ship, and a crewman brought a ladder to the pool area as the sun was rising off the port beam, casting fading shadows like vanishing fingerprints of the night across the deck. The ladder enabled him to reach the lowest rung on the funnel some twelve feet overhead. He climbed up the rungs and when he reached the platform, he found Zoe Peregrine huddled in a bulky windbreaker taking in the scene. She had disconnected the antennas and pushed the cables aside to give herself a spot to sit down. “The view up here is terrific,” she said. “You guys should sell tickets!”
Zoe was ordered down and the captain had her escorted to her cabin and placed under arrest, decreeing she would be removed from the ship when it reached Auckland the next day, or else she could continue the journey in the ship’s brig (which was presently used to store toilet paper). While this expulsion at one of the “ends of the earth” would have upset most people, Zoe oddly did not seem to mind. When asked how she had managed to climb up the stack, she only said, “It was just like Cullowhee, and I didn’t have to carry any paint this time.”
Meanwhile the three remaining members of the Twins Group, which had set sail so joyously 17 days earlier on an around-the-world pleasure cruise, convened in Steven Greenleaf’s suite to discuss the end of the contest. Bill Piper, who had seen many more deaths than Steven or Heck, was nonetheless shaken by his brother’s ultimate act of despair mere hours earlier. He observed that, “At this rate, we’ll all be dead before the ship reaches Singapore. This is like that novel where a group of people are trapped together on an island and they get bumped off one by one until only the murderer and the last victim are left. Which one of us is going to be next?”
Steven said he had notified Dr. Galten’s colleagues at the University of Chicago of Galten’s death two days ago. He had also asked if the officials there thought someone else could take over the testing in Australia. “Now of course there is no testing to be done, since only one set of twins remains. However, the contract we signed specified that the $10 million grant to the Twins Project would come after a winner was declared. Tom could come to Sydney for the Phase II testing, but it seems unnecessary.”
Bill repeated his earlier warning, “It’s insane to keep this thing going. If I were your brother, Steven, I wouldn’t come within a thousand miles of this ship. I’m getting off in Auckland. So let’s say the Greenleafs won, because they’re the only team left on the field. I hope Steven thinks it’s fair to give Heck and me second and third place, even if our sides couldn’t finish the deal.”
Both men turned to the pale, disheveled woman sitting alone on the couch. “I don’t care who gets what,” she said. “As I told you yesterday, Steven, I want to leave the boat as soon as we dock in Auckland. I don’t want any money. I really, really don’t care anymore. I just want to get Keck and go home.”
“Oh, let me assure you, dear Hecuba, that you and Bill will each get at least $250,000,” Steven said. “In fact, I’m sure Tom would agree to making that $500,000 each, after all you’ve been through. We had no idea any of this was going to happen and I simply cannot understand why it did. This was supposed to be a totally fun trip for all of us.”
Bill thought the Twins Project back in Chicago was dead certain—so to speak—to name the Greenleafs the most perfect twins in the world. But frankly, he didn’t give a damn. He didn’t really care about the money even, at least right now. He went to the top deck to take in the panoramic view of the ocean, which he felt would give him some perspective on “the big picture.” He noticed that the ship was sailing more or less south whereas it should have been proceeding south-by-southwest to get from Fiji to Auckland. As well it was moving at reduced speed, as though it had all the time in the world to get to its next port on schedule. The dolphins kept skipping ahead and then swimming around waiting for the boat to catch up. Bill asked a ship’s officer what was going on, and was just told, “The Captain had a surprise for the passengers that involved ‘a dash north,’ but it didn’t work out. And we’re having a problem with our NAV program again. It went down again last night, we got it fixed, and then the antenna got disconnected this morning.”
When Bill returned to the suite he so recently had shared with his brother, he passed Prissy McMaster as she was unlocking her door, and for the briefest moment they were standing side-by-side. He caught a whiff of her perfume and that’s when he realized where he had known her before, years and years ago. It was in the mid-70s. He was flying a “black op” for the Mounties and ferried a passenger to a desolate spot in the Ontario North that he knew as “Camp Z.” He had flown into Camp Z so many times he knew every tree on the glide path in, which was good because the strip was just barely lamped up. It was used to interrogate suspected spies, or to toughen up American agents, or to conduct various kinds of medical experiments, and meant to be invisible from the air, even to satellites.
He would not have known his passenger’s identity except she came up to the cockpit on the return trip. She had just had a harrowing experience, she said, and needed somebody to talk to. She was doing drug research for the Canadian government in conjunction with a psychiatrist at McGill University, which she thought was being used to get captured Russian spies to talk. But she had just seen the results of one of her experimental drugs, which had reduced some man to a mindless vegetable. She wondered how she could go on doing this research, even though it brought in a lot of grants. How could she get out of it.?
Bill told her that, from what he’d seen, the Soviets and the East Germans were doing worse things to anybody they caught. But if she wanted to stop developing these drugs for the spy agencies she should disengage slowly and quietly–especially if she wanted to stay on the payroll. “For God’s sake, don’t try to blackmail them by threatening to expose the operation. Instead say you’d like to start some other kinds of research as well that maybe they could find a way to fund. And mention that you hope the guy you saw was the worst case. They’ll get the message.”
Bill did not know the particulars, but it seems likely that Prissy has parlayed her connections with the intelligence services into a steady stream of research grants that gingered up her prominence in her profession. But she probably kept on developing some “truth serums” for them for a while, and her involvement in this notorious CIA-funded project would undoubtedly ruin her reputation today and probably cost her the presidency of the university.
While Bill Piper was reliving a second chapter in his life from years ago, Sergeant Lake mentioned to Inspector Slack, in an offhand manner of course, that the doors connecting one balcony to another on the ship’s pricey decks received less ocean spray the farther aft they were. An hour later Slack thought, “We only checked the one door between the balconies on B2 and B4, which is at the front of the ship. It was shut tight and the rust on the twist-lock showed it hadn’t been opened for some time. But what about the locks on the balconies farther down?” He sent Jane West to test them.
Sergeant Lake was asked to see the captain of the Acadia in his office at noon. “There may be an opening for Head of Security on one of Atlantic and Orient’s ships in the near future. Do you think you could do the job?” Lake said he believed he could.
“Your present position would need to be filled then. Do you have any idea who might do so?” the captain asked. “This person might end up working on your team.”
This was not Lake’s first rodeo, nor trip around the block, nor voyage around the world. He realized what was afoot. “There’s a sergeant in Oxfordshire who comes to mind, sir. Let me think about it.”
On the afternoon of February 10th Jane West examined all the doors connecting the balconies from Suites B4 to B10. Two of them could be opened with a determined twist of the hand: the door between B4 and B6, and the one between B6 and B8. Jane visited Putra Alatas in his single room on B Deck and he told her a party had developed in those three suites during a Caribbean cruise last summer. “It wasn’t wild,” he said, “but people moved from one suite to another all day long. The string of balconies outside those rooms was open all the time.”
While talking to Putra, Jane noticed a very expensive-looking short-wave radio set on his desk. She commented on it, and he said he had gotten it in Honolulu so he could keep track of things in Indonesia while at sea.
Buff Anderson contacted Sergeant Lake from Winnipeg as requested. Lake asked him, “Why did you leave the Acadia so suddenly in Fiji, when you had a ticket for an around-the-world cruise?” Anderson replied, “The old crow canceled my ticket and threw me off.”
Anderson said that he had received a phone call from Prissy McMaser about midnight on February 6th summoning him to her bed. He was presently otherwise involved, he said (with a red-headed dancer from the ship’s theater troupe). So he said no. The next morning, he was escorted off the ship with a plane ticket to Winnipeg and told his post-doc fellowship would not be renewed.
Lake knew who the dancer would be, and she corroborated Anderson’s story. She had been in Buff’s room when Prissy called. It was about midnight because she had finished the evening’s performance, done her “cool-down” stretching, showered, changed clothes, had a few drinks, and begun to enjoy herself in Buff’s cabin when Prissy phoned.
Jane completed her fingerprint examination of the Thatch sisters’ diary. Only the greasiest of fingers leave readable dabs on paper, but three sets of smudges appeared on the plastic cover of the diary besides Zoe’s: Steven Greenleaf’s, and those from the two unidentified sources.
The contents of the diary proved disappointingly mundane—just the usual mentions of correspondence, events attended, and so on. The sisters kept a much more detailed record of their new clothes and changes to their makeup and hair styling. They also wrote down bits of gossip dropped by their clients in the beauty shop. The most interesting feature in the pages involved references to “Hooking,” “Playing,” and “Zapping” people who were only identified by initials or nicknames. Such entries would last for days, even weeks. They always ended with a “zap,” such as, “H zapped J L,” and “K zapped Moonface. He was wiped out.”
Jane surmised that “K” and “H” stood for “Keck” and “Heck.” So she went to B2 and asked, “Heck, can you tell me what ‘H zapped J. L.’ meant in your diary?”
“I’m not sure,” came the reply. “Keck wrote most of the diary, and made all those entries. It would depend on what else was involved. Let me see the part you’re talking about.” Jane said she would ask Inspector Slack, but she also thought, “Hell will freeze over before Heck tells anybody what the coded entries meant.”
Jane mentioned Putra’s expensive radio to her boss, and that led Inspector Slack to visit the B Deck steward. “Where did you get the money for that rig?” he demanded. The steward said he had been saving up. Slack said he didn’t believe him, and that if Putra had taken a bribe, he might now be an accessory to murder. The steward then confessed that on the second day of the voyage from San Francisco, Steven Greenleaf had asked him for a pass key to all the group’s rooms. “I just want to play some harmless tricks on my friends,” Greenleaf had said. “Besides, since I am paying for all their rooms, I am responsible in a sense for what they do here.” Steven then gave Putra $1,000 and actually winked at him. Alatas defended himself to Slack: “I knew that Atlantic & Orient must have greatly valued Steven Geenleaf’s business, since we moved all those other people out of their suites to make way for his party. So I was trying to be nice for the company.”
As she was examining Dr. Galten’s laptop Jane came across an exchange of emails a year ago with Lionel Rutledge, the CIA agent who had tried to recruit Galten and had apparently remained his friend afterwards. Galten said he was interested in “certain drug studies” and while he knew Rutledge could not tell him who had done them, could he at least say if they were dreamt up in an American laboratory. Rutledge wrote back that they had not come from the United States, and he could not reveal where. But if Galten thought the drugs had been developed “by some foreign fellow overseas,” he was definitely wrong. Galten had written back, “Understood.”
It occurred to Jane that IF Zoe had stolen the diary from B2, she had not left any fingerprints jn the cabin. So that meant she had worn gloves while burglarizing the suite. Probably the rubber gloves found in her red suitcase.
Jane crossed paths with her husband later on and said, “I found something that puts a whole new wrinkle in this case.”
“Really? How could this story get any more wrinkled?” Dash asked. “It’s more scrunched up than a writer’s forehead when he can’t think of a good simile.”
“Bob Piper might still be alive, and hiding on the ship. Suppose he had tied a short rope with a loop at the end of it, hanging from a railing support in a place where he decided beforehand to jump. He had been, after all, a cat burglar. He ran to the back of the ship ahead of Heck, who was the most wiped-out person he knew, and he would have had time to catch hold of the rope before Heck saw him go over the side. She naturally would have looked backwards in the sea, where the ship had just been, not straight down where he could be dangling just a foot or so beneath her feet. When she ran for help, he could have climbed back aboard, untied the rope, and run away to a chosen hiding spot, where he would remain until the ship docked at the next port. Dr. Galten had mentioned that Bob sometimes disappeared from the group. He might have been scouting hideout locations. It’s a big ship, and even if he were spotted, he could aways pass himself off as Bill.”
“Why would he do this?” Dash replied.
“Well, it could let him get away with murder,” she replied.
Just before dinner time on February 10th Slack received the results of the DNA testing of the various samples that had been flown to Honolulu. “The hair identified as ‘E153’ came from an elderly woman of European ancestry. It and the accompanying hairs were noteworthy for their simplicity. None of them had ever been dyed and the complete absence of polymers indicates hair spray had never been applied to them. None of these hairs, estimated to be about six years old, had even been curled.”
The DNA in “Sample E153” did not remotely resemble any of the samples labeled “Steven Greenleaf,” “William Piper,” “Robert Piper,” and “Hecuba Thatch.” The DNA extracted from the corpse identified as “Kecubinia Thatch” perfectly matched that in the blood drawn from “Hecuba Thatch” drawn on February 4th. The Piper brothers’ DNA also perfectly matched one another’s.
The captain of the Acadia looked over the “ADD” (Additions, Departures, and Deaths) List prepared for him at various intervals by Dash North. Notably, it listed five passengers who had died since the ship left San Francisco. Kecubinia Thatch, Dr. Roger Galten, Sister Martha Stuart, Robert Piper, and (just that past evening) Professor James Moriarity. (The last-named was known for his treatise on the binomial theorem, and his murdered corpse had been found with a binomial equation—written by a freshly sharpened No. 1 pencil on a sheet of white foolscap in a code of “dancing men” —pinned to the nightgown he was wearing.) Three of their bodies had gone into the drink but two of these had been recovered by other vessels. That was much better than average. It’s a big, big ocean, it’s full of eternally hungry animals, bodies do not float forever, and these equatorial latitudes become quite dark for ten hours each day. But his ship had alerted everyone as soon as possible, and it had paid off twice. The home office would be pleased.
One passenger, “Buff” Anderson, had unexpectedly left the cruise in Fiji, Two other gentlemen (a bee-keeper from West Sussex and a retired British army physician) had just announced they were departing because of pressing matters back in England.
The ADD list showed in summary that the Acadia had sailed from San Francisco with 923 passengers, and now carried 874 on its rolls. All in all the captain thought it had been quite a successful voyage so far.
The last number changed to 869 when all the occupants of Suites B2 to B10, and Suite C2, left the cruise in Auckland.
While the captain was catching up with the paperwork in his office at the Auckland pier,. the Maintenance Department fixed the drapes in Suite C2. The cleaners had found that the cords used to open and close them had gotten all tangled up.
We have reached the end of the story. All that’s left is solving the mystery
This novel runs to about 68,000 words (over 50 chapters). It will be presented free in installments for your occasional autumnal reading, if you like. The next installment will appear by Sunday, December 3.