Thomas was wandering the hallowed tombs of his recent mind, his feet swallowed in a layer of molasses he spread to stop second guessing and dull the sudden impulse to play chicken with a train while tied to the tracks. He leaned against a wall, knee deep in regret, and embedded the stethoscope to better hear the echoes of conversation with his wife. A taser gun lined perfectly with his heart, Stephen froze in the elevator with Hortense and Red’s two henchmen, recalling talk of liquid diets and Honeymoon fantasies. Thomas plowed through marriage by reciting trivialities from his childhood, never committing himself to his woman in any moment. With his own mortality slow-walking out of Door Number Two, he wanted speedy forgiveness for neglect.
“This is how it’s going to be,” Red’s gunman offered. A holdup is always more romantic on horseback, but the end results are the same: fear and getting whatever you desire on demand. “Boss wants you two in your cabin, out of sight, out of mind, I believe that’s the deal, yeah, so we’re going to open these doors and walk through the halls like it’s a f---ing beautiful Sunday morning and we’re all about to get right with God.”
“Shoog, it’s going to be okay!”
“Listen to her, Shoog. We can all be friends after this, wouldn’t that be nice? Just follow instructions. Walk out those doors into the New World and pretend you didn’t marry for money.”
“Whatever he’s paying you, I’ll double it.”
The second gunman buries a knee into Thomas’s chest, the exhaled air reinvesting their confidence. “You’re in no position to bargain.”
“And don’t assume we’re obeying Boss’s orders for money.”
“Stephen, listen to them, please! Baby, just breathe.”
“Your…” the words tripped over his lips, but had to be said, “...boss is mental. The man’s legally dead. Has been a hundred times. He doesn’t bleed! There’s no blood to support a heart. Whatever he’s promised you, you won’t see it. Now do yourselves a favor and let me and my wife go, before this gets out of hand and I can’t help either of you.”
A blue flash of madness shot past Hortense and crippled the CEO of CS Enterprises, his tux smoldering in a heap of dead weight. The muscle never considered the offer.
Stephen was the furthest thing from a hero, but, still smoking from the validation of Red’s intentions, Thomas led Hortense through the hallways of the PCL2 to the Master Cabin. The midget’s security tailed close behind, stepping in front of Cruisers delighted with an opportunity to steal an autograph from Thomas and his lovely lady.
Scribbling, “Help, we’re under attack” on a piece of paper probably wouldn’t have gone unnoticed, but Merritt was always the politician. Vanity wanted Thomas to soak up being on the front lines.
Security watched Thomas with a close eye, opened the door to his cabin and ushered the couple in. Stephen grabbed his wife’s left hand and pulled her massive frame into his, moving to the edge of the bed. “So, what now? You kill her?”
“Us? Eh, me? No way you’re getting off this Cruise with homicide on your hands. I’m somebody. By now, the Coast Guard’s already here. Look kids…”
“Shut up! You’re to wait here until He contacts you.”
“Like hell I am…” Thomas stood as security walked out, but as he straightened a thick, metal door dropped from the ceiling in front of the cabin door.
“Are you okay?” Thomas genuinely asked of her, grabbing the room phone with two hands.
“I,” Hortense started to cry. “I’m fine.”
“Crap! Line’s dead.”
“Baby, what are you going to do?”
Stephen kicked the nightstand next to the bed out of frustration as his wife cried. By all accounts he appeared trapped in the room with no way of knowing if their predicament would be discovered. He dropped back to the bed beside Hortense and threw one arm over her right shoulder. “Whatever we’re asked to do, I guess. I’ll get you out of this.”
“I’m scared, Shoog. I’m just so scared.”
She dropped her head into his neck; instinctively he kissed the top of her head before turning to notice the candy dish…and sporadic coating of Red M&M’s.