It Happened on the High Seas
Another adventure for Katie and Emily who went on a holiday at sea – and landed in a great deal of hot water!
A Return to the Past
This is a different kind of story from the recent novels that have explored the Sherlock Holmes/Agatha Christie AUs; in fact, it’s a return to earlier stories where the girls are simply teenagers in a lively present setting in real time. I wrote the story in June 2016 before a long anticipated family holiday. With our elder son, Gordon, and his family in Dubai and our younger son, Lachlan in Seattle, we don’t see the boys often. It is very rare that we are all together. The way we worked it was to gather the whole family together on the ms Eurodam for a twelve day cruise around the Eastern Mediterranean. This story was to be something to share on the journey. So there we are – all of us on the Eurodam - and as the story indicates, we begin the adventure in Venice.
Except that world events intervened to change the itinerary, disconnecting the story from the reality of the journey. The terrorist shootings at Istanbul Airport in early June made that area inhospitable for most tourists. Then in late June, the attempted military coup in Turkey made the whole country fragile. The ship hastily cobbled together a different itinerary, taking in Sarande in Albania and the Greek islands of Mykonos, Rhodes and Crete. These were interesting destinations but we certainly felt the loss of Istanbul – one of the great cities of the world. The story has us in Istanbul even if we didn’t go there.
I’m happy with the way the story moves along and the girls loved it when I read it aloud to them. There are problems, however. As is often the case in my stories, coincidence plays too big a part in the way the narrative unfolds. The general reader may also find too many in-jokes that really only make sense in the family circle. The names have been fun to conjure with, however, and I love the way that the splendid crew of the Eurodam are genuinely heroic. It was also fun to have the girls decide on how to meet a crisis by reflecting on the girls in Grandad’s stories: “How would the Emily of those stores react now?” The answer to that question provides a reliable guide. It also produces some of the best jokes in the story. It's a truly post-modern touch.
I wasn't too sure about casting gay characters as villains and talked with the girls themselves about this once the story was finished. They weren't too worried. The villains certainly aren't villainous because of their sexuality - they're villainous because of their greed. I'll leave it to you to make the call and be appropriately indignant if I have crossed a line.
￼ Five Hundred Years Before our Story Begins …
Belladonna Dolce was said to be the most beautiful woman in the whole of Venice: this was a great compliment when you remember that Venice was a place famous throughout the world for the beauty of its women and the handsome ardour of its men. To be counted a great beauty in that ancient city was an honour indeed. Her noble face was celebrated by poets and painters for her black, flashing eyes, delightful lips and golden hair. Belladonna’s exquisite clothes showed off her slim figure; her lovely breasts were the toast of gentlemen on three continent. She was not only beautiful but highly intelligent. Great university teachers loved to come to hear her talk. It was said that the Doge himself sought her advice on matters of state going to see her quietly at night where their conversation would not be interrupted. The Cardinal Archbishop of Venice, His Eminence Domenico Minestrone, came to hear her prayers. Her home, the Palazzo Carbonara on the Grand Canal just off the Piazza San Marco, was a centre for lively gatherings of great minds, soldiers, diplomats, saints and sinners. All of this grandeur was newly minted, however. Signora Belladonna Dolce had not always been so grand. She was of humble birth. Her father had been a sailor on a boat from the Levant and her mother had been the daughter of a tavern keeper near the Venice docks. No one dared to mention any of this in front of the great lady, of course, because now she had become the most famous courtesan in Venice and the favourite of the most rich and powerful men in the city.
On the heavy summer day in 1520 when our story begins, Signora Dolce was seated at the window of her bedroom, looking longingly across the canal and the narrow footpath below. She was wearing a costly dress of figured green silk cut to show her figure to its best. You might think that so rich and beautiful a woman would be happy. After all, the greatest men in the city called on her with costly gifts to win her favour. Everyone knew of her beauty and her wit. Alas, the lady was thoroughly sick of the great world of the city. Despite all the gentlemen who came to call, her heart ached for true love. Yes, she was beautiful now, but she knew that the day would come when that famous beauty would fade and then fickle gentlemen would transfer their attentions to some other new and lovely young woman. Then the gifts and the flattering attention would disappear like snow in the spring sunshine. The simple fact was that the most beautiful courtesan in Venice was sick of love – or rather, she craved more than anything a different kind of love. Heavily veiled, she went frequently to the church of Santa Croce where she would sit for hours contemplating the beautiful painting of the suffering Christ that hung behind the altar. She loved the kind face of the noble statue of the Blessed Virgin in the Lady Chapel of Santa Croce. The Virgin seemed to be calling her by name – and calling her away from the life of fashion and pleasure in which she was so successful. In her last conversation with the Cardinal Archbishop, she had unburdened her heart to him and he had gently suggested a remedy.
Among all the noblemen who sought her favours, two gentlemen were particularly determined to have Signora Dolce’s affections. One was the Spanish Ambassador to the city, the Marques Santiago Paella. He was middle aged and overweight but very rich and a cousin of the Spanish King himself. He had great estates in Castile in Spain and enormous properties in the Americas including sugar plantations in Cuba, gold and silver mines in Mexico and ruby mines in Peru. The other gentleman was even more determined because he represented not his own passion but that of his master, the Sultan in Constantinople. Pasha Ahmed Rahat-Lokum was young, handsome and dashing with a silk turban and a very large moustache –both of them compelling attractions for any lady of fashion. The Pasha had courted Signora Dolce with the promise of great treasure if she would only consent to enter the Sultan’s harem. The Pasha’s master was the ruler of a great empire but his harem was missing an Italian beauty to complete his collection of lovely ladies from all over the world. Belladonna Dolce was the most famous beauty of her day and the Sultan was determined to have her.
Slowly, Signora Dolce had laid her plans. It was impossible for the greatest courtesan in the city to act with discretion in matters like this and she had pressed the Cardinal Archbishop himself to act on her behalf; he was delighted to be of use in such a charitable enterprise. In the months before that summer’s day, Belladonna Dolce quietly gave away much of her property to the Sisters of the Poor Clares – an order of nuns who worked tirelessly for poor women in the port of Venice. Her own mother, Signora Dolce thought, might once have needed the sisters very much. How different her own life would have been if she had known the good sisters when she was a little girl. When all of this was done, she carefully planned her last day in the Palazzo Carbonara. She had told the impatient Marques Paella and the importunate Pasha Rahat-Lokum that her heart was divided but that she would not trifle with them. She was about to make a decision: she would next Friday commit her life to “the most lordly of gentlemen”. On that day, she would receive them at the Palazzo Carbonara – the Marques in the morning and the Pasha in the afternoon. The next day they would have her answer. If they wanted the great lady to choose them over their rival, they should prepare to honour her royally.
From her window, Signora Dolce saw the Marques arrive in the official Spanish gondola rowed by two young men. Normally the Marques travelled in state with liveried servants and soldiers but on a private visit such as this, he came with only a little black boy who was burdened with a large fan and a small, elegant leather valise. Looking up, the Marques saw the great lady at the window and took off his hat with a courtly bow. Moments later, she heard his steps; he was climbing the marble staircase with a vigour extraordinary for a fat, middle aged man in a tight, fussy suit of silk clothes on a hot day. Such was the power of love, Signora Dolce supposed. The Marques opened the door without knocking and was soon in the Signora’s arms. Belladonna allowed the Spanish nobleman to kiss her but withdrew chastely when he became more energetic. Instead, she rang the bell on the table to call for coffee and winked at the black boy who quickly got to work with the fan to cool his master’s excitement.
For several minutes while Belladonna listened politely, the Marques poured out his love, offering her a much grander palazzo and all the servants and comforts that the great man could command. He could not offer to marry the lady, of course: there was an aged and overweight Marquesa at home in Castile. But his intentions were honourable and his generosity would know no bounds if the lady would only gratify his desires. Belladonna was all courtesy and when she failed to give an assurance that she would consent to this generous proposal, the Marques stopped his long speech and called the little black boy forward.
The child had been well rehearsed; at a nod from the Spanish gentleman, the boy knelt and opened the valise, holding it up to the lady like an offering. There were many beautiful things in that room: the gorgeous Turkish carpets, the Chinese silk hangings at the bed and the gilded fireplace with its jade green mantle. All of these things were suddenly dull and commonplace in the dancing light of the exquisite necklace that was presented to the lady. Set on a chain of rose gold were fifteen rubies; some of them were only large but others were truly enormous. They had been faceted to reflect the light and it seemed to the lady as if the fire of the sun had been captured in these precious stones. Despite herself, the lady Belladonna Dolce reached out her hand and gasped her admiration. She had never seen anything so beautiful.
The Spanish gentleman saw the flash of excitement in the lady’s eyes and gave a cruel smile. “Well might you gasp, My Lady! Not even Her Majesty the Queen of Spain has a jewel like this to wear. And you must know that every stone in this necklace has been won from the depths of my own mine in Peru by wretched slaves toiling their whole lives to produce this ornament to grace your beautiful neck. Many men have died to secure these stones; I offer them to you. Let the beauty of the stones and the pain and suffering they represent convey to you the depths of my desire for your caress!”
Belladonna shuddered, realising with a stab the truth of the nobleman’s claim – and feeling deeply soiled and ashamed to imagine that a man might think that such a declaration would win her love. What must he think of her – that she was just a shallow, giddy woman who might be impressed by the pain and grief that these gorgeous stones represented? At this moment the Marques gestured to the little boy who now closed the valise and put it into the lady’s hands. When she received it, the lady felt in her own body the most icy, despairing pain emanating from the precious stones.
Her whole life the lady had managed to hide her true feelings from gentlemen; this moment was no different from any others. “You are too generous,” said the lady. “My Lord. I receive your gift with my sincere thanks. But you know that my heart is divided; I have always told you so honestly. And if I choose to give my heart to another gentleman who covets it as you do, then this great gift is mine to keep.”
To this the Marques made a deep bow and took the lady’s hand and kissed it tenderly. “Of course,” he said lightly, “but if your heart is moved by treasure, I cannot imagine another gift so persuasive. I leave it now in your hands; you know what will give me the greatest joy and satisfaction. I await your answer with the confidence of a man who knows his true worth! Soon, very soon, you will bestow upon me the ultimate caress.” Here the Marques gave a deep bow and snapping his fingers for the boy to follow him, swept from the lady’s chamber like some great galleon under sail. Belladonna Dolce went to the window to wave goodbye to the cruel and vain fop. It would be, she hoped, the very last time she saw the awful man.
Later that afternoon, the lady received the handsome young Pasha in the same elegant chamber. She had changed her dress to one of deep crimson taffeta and although she was tempted to wear the rubies she had just been given, the lady was sensible enough to leave these safely under the pillow of her bed. The Pasha’s arrival was much more dramatic than the Maques’s had been. The Spanish gentleman had come on a private errand; the Turkish ambassador was visiting the lady on official business as the representative of His Exalted Imperial Majesty the Sultan and Caliph of the World! Such a visit required a large, gilded vessel rowed up the canal by ten Turkish boatmen and attended by ten janissaries carrying scimitars. In front of the ambassador walked ten black eunuchs and ten white eunuchs of the Imperial court. Everyone on the canal gathered to watch the Pasha’s arrival – something that the ambassador was sure would gratify the vanity of the lady whom the Sultan wished to take into his harem.
The Pasha bowed from the waist to the beautiful courtesan as he entered her chamber, leaving all his state except one white eunuch at the door of the Palazzo Carbonara. The Pasha had prepared a long speech but a gentle smile from the lady made him cautious with such formality and he approached the Signora with a saucy smile. “My master has asked me to press his suit, My Lady. I will spare you the long and poetic declaration I have prepared – unless you wish to hear me compare your voice to the song of nightingales in the forests of Lebanon and your lovely breasts to the melons of Mesopotamia.”
“You are all kindness, Sir. Please accept my thanks and compliments to your master for your gracious greeting.” The lady inclined her lovely head with a gentle smile.
“I know that another has also sought your love,” said the Pasha. There was a trace of cruelty in his voice.
“At least one other, Sir,” said the Lady with a demure smile.
The Pasha had abandoned one speech but he was determined to make another. “Well then, the Spanish marques is a wealthy man, of course, and no doubt has given you a rich gift to win your favour. But you must know that my master has determined that nothing but his gift will persuade you to give yourself faithfully into his hands. My master is no common man, My Lady: he is a mighty emperor. He is the Sultan and the Caliph! His palace on the Bosporus is the wonder of the world and the delight of those who live there. Should you accept His Imperial Majesty’s offer, you would be the most honoured and revered lady of the Harem – after His Imperial Majesty’s four wives, of course.”
“His Imperial Majesty is most persuasive,” said the lady with a mischievous smile.
“You have no idea how persuasive His Imperial Majesty is willing to be, My Lady. As a taste of his generosity, he offers you this gift – a white eunuch from His Imperial Majesty’s own household.” Here the Pasha signaled and the slave stepped forward and bowed. He was short and stout and dressed in the Turkish style with grey silk baggy pants gathered at the ankle and an embroidered silk bolero jacket over a bare chest and swelling belly. He wore a turban in the same grey silk on his head. The slave was, Belladonna decided, a poor sort of present with which to impress a great lady and Signora Dolce was suddenly seized by an overwhelming desire to giggle.
“You do not seem very pleased with the gift of His Imperial Majesty,” the Pasha said with a smile. “When you come to live in the Sultan’s great palace by the sea, you will quickly understand that things in the East are not always as they first seem. Kneel!” the Pasha ordered the slave.
The man went immediately to his knees beside the Pasha who gave the lady another mischievous grin, then swept away the turban to reveal the poor slave’s very bald head. And from the folds of the turban, now lose in his hands, the Pasha took a stunning necklace of diamonds. He held the necklace out to the lady and turned it in the light so that she could admire it. And indeed, it was stunning. The stones were exquisite, each one beautifully faceted in the antique style. A hundred smaller diamonds were set around seven large stones, each the size of a pigeon’s egg
“These diamonds are among the most precious things in His Imperial Majesty’s treasury. They come from the island of Serendib; fifty years ago, the ruling Sultan defeated the Indian Emperor in battle and he demanded that the Emperor send him his only daughter to be the Sultan’s fourth wife. My master’s grandfather received the girl who was little more than a child; she entered the palace by the sea, never to leave it alive. The diamonds accompanied her to Stamboul as the princess’s dowry. The young princess may have been just a prize of battle but the Sultan came to love her and was broken hearted when she died in childbirth a year later. Until now, the diamonds have been tainted by that loss and sadness; no other wife or woman in the palace has been thought worthy to possess them. His Imperial Majesty gives them to you confident that you will wear them before him – his most treasured diamonds on his most treasured concubine.
Belladonna took the necklace in her hands and marveled at the weight of the stones and their splendid gold setting. “Allow me, Signora,” said the Pasha. He took the necklace and stepped behind the woman to fasten the chain, his hands lingering on her beautiful neck and shoulders as he did so. The lady struggled to control a deep shudder of inner pain as the weight of the jewels in the necklace settled on her chest. Their terrible sadness seemed to seep out into her own body like a stain.
“I am honoured by His Imperial Majesty,” said Belladonna with great dignity. “Be assured that I will value this gift and return my answer to you tomorrow. Would His Imperial Majesty be offended if I declined the interesting wrapping in which my gift was delivered? ” The lady nodded towards the white eunuch and the Pasha grinned. “When you come to the palace by the sea, My Lady, you will find such wrappings are thick underfoot.” The Pasha gestured to the eunuch who bowed deeply to the lady before retrieving his turban and going to the door. Belladonna herself bowed and stepped away from the ambassador who realised that he was being dismissed. She stood at the window again as the ambassador gathered his suite and headed down to the steps into the canal. As the barge pulled away from the little quay, the rowers lifted their oars in salute and the little crowd who had gathered to see all this splendour cheered heartily. The face of the courtesan, however, was cold and impassive.
Late that night, a solitary gondola waited at the same flight of steps to receive a heavily veiled woman. She carried a leather case which she clutched protectively to her chest. The woman was accompanied by an older man in a dark cloak; no one looking on could guess that the cloak he wore was wrapped around the elegant clothes of a prince of the church. The two people stepped into the gondola and were soon gone. The servants in the Palazzo Carbonara disappeared soon afterwards leaving the palace in darkness. The next morning, messengers from the Spanish ambassador and the Turkish sultan found the grand front door of the palazzo open but the elegant rooms quite deserted. Word of the disappearance of the beautiful courtesan quickly went through the city: everyone loved the scandalous story which became more and more exciting and lurid in the telling. It was said on the Rialto that the Signora had run away with a French sailor and gone to Paris; someone else on the Grand Canal reported confidently that a jealous lover had murdered Belladonna Dolce and thrown her beautiful body in the canal; another whisper said that the Doge himself was jealous and had locked the lady in a secret part of the prison beneath his palace. No one ever saw the famous courtesan again and the Marques Paella and the Pasha Rahat-Lokum took many years before they were resigned to the loss of their precious gifts. Over time, however, there were other scandals to distract the people of Venice and the courtesan and her jewels were simply forgotten.
But in the Carmelite abbey of San Pietro in the hills above Verona, the Reverend Mother heard quite a different story sobbed out by the convent’s newest novice. It was a tale of the false allure of the wicked world; of the unfaithfulness of human love and of the yearning that fills every heart for the true love of God The novice presented to the Reverend Mother all her worldly wealth represented by two exquisite and priceless jewels. The novice gave the trinkets away without a thought – glad to be rid of them - as if they were an awful disability. Reverend Mother took the ruby necklace and the rope of diamonds from the leather valise and wrapped them in a simple linen bag. They were then deposited in the safe within the convent treasury. If they were out of sight, the Reverend Mother thought wisely, they could not distract or pervert the heart of any other man or woman. Three years later, the Cardinal Archbishop of Venice presided at the ancient and solemn ceremony in which a religious makes her life vows. The courtesan Belladonna Dolce was no more; in her place was the gentle Sr Maria Fidelis. The good sister died many years later, full of love for others and given to charity and prayer for the poorest people of the city of Verona.
The precious jewels she had thrown away so lightly remained forgotten in the abbey for over three hundred years. Then in 1800 Napoleon’s army struck south and his lawless soldiers looted the Carmelite convent as they conquered the whole of Italy. The Emperor’s troops feared neither God nor Man and once the convent had been robbed of everything of value, it was put to the torch and the poor sisters driven into the night. Napoléon was dazzled by the treasure which had fallen so unexpectedly into his lap and would have been glad to keep the priceless gems for himself. Italy, however, was a fickle place and he found it expedient to use the gems to buy the allegiance of some of the nation’s greatest citizens. The rubies were presented to the noble Sicilian Count Limoncello; the diamonds went to Duke Barberini in Rome. This last precious treasure came to be known by the name of the first Barberini Duchessa to wear them. They were known everywhere as the Clotilda diamonds.
In time, the lawless soldiers who had defiled the Carmelite convent and abused its Sisters died in the cruel snows of Russia; the Emperor himself died in exile and disgrace. But the precious rubies remained and so did the diamonds, each of them weaving a cruel, heartless glamour over the noble families who had come to possess them in so delinquent a way.
￼Chapter 1: A Tale of Three Suitcases.
In theory, Old Grandad was a very experienced sailor. Well, he wasn’t a sailor, of course, and all his experiences at sea were confined to sail-away parties on the Lido Deck, lolling on a sofa in the Explorer’s Lounge and many trips to the buffet restaurant. But Grandad thought of himself as knowing a thing or two about cruising. He had certificates from long voyages to show that he had crossed the Equator, the Arctic Circle and the Antarctic Circle. He had sailed in every ocean on the planet. He knew what the ice on the beach looked like at Sitka in Alaska and what dangers lurked behind the green door of the harbour wall in Mumbai. He had met friendly locals in Rabaul in Papua New Guinea and nasty natives at Petropavlovsk in Siberia. So Grandad should have known better when it came to packing his suitcase for the grandest holiday of them all – twelve glorious days on the MS Eurodam with Gordon and Trish, Kate and Emily, Lachlan and Roula.
Except he didn’t know any better. The thought of all that happy time at sea with all the people whom he loved most in the world had driven away all his common sense. Having his sons, their wives and his two beautiful granddaughters together for all that time left him wistful, sentimental - and just a little silly. The holiday had been so long in the planning; now it was almost here. The big yellow suitcase was open on the bed and stacked beside it were lots of clothes, books and “essential; items”. In pride of place was his lap-top computer and a string of adaptors, power boards and gadgets that went with it. There was his iPad [and all its stuff] plus prayer books, Bibles, journals and two very large books with small print. There were shirts, pants, shorts, jackets, essential underwear, swimming togs, shoes and belts in brown and black. Oh, and Grandad’s much loved kilt with its frothy white shirt, black Charley jacket, socks and sporran. Grandad would don the kilt for formal nights but perhaps Gordon or Lachlan would like to wear it one night too? Perhaps he should take his diner jacket as well?
Grandad paused and looked out into the leafless trees above the courtyard garden. Winter had brought cool mornings and bright sunshine. It was really the best time of the whole year; only the thought of happy times with his family could lure him away from home at this season. The next weeks would bring so much fun. This happy reverie was disturbed when Nanny came in with an armful of her own things. “Oh good, Darling – you’ve still got lots of room left in your case. Can you pack these few things in your case? I need lots of things for the cruise, as you know, and my case is chocka! Don’t you think you should hurry along a bit? We leave tomorrow!”
Nanny dumped the armful of things in the yellow case and swished out. Poor Grandad was stunned; he had planned to ask Nanny to take some of his things! Slowly, stuff from the bed slithered back into wardrobe and the chest of drawers. He had put out two sets of gym clothes – but in all his days at sea, Grandad had never really gone to the gym – but he did mean to go this time for sure! And would he really need two track suits? Two jackets became one; four pairs of pants became two; two lots of bathers became one; four pairs of shoes became two. The books [mostly] went back on the shelves; after all, the Bible and Prayer Book were on his iPad and so were lots of unread novels. The last thing to go back into the wardrobe was his much loved kilt. It was heavy and demanded so many extra [heavy] bits to go with it. By the time he was finished, all his stuff came down to one suitcase. The zips groaned when he tried to close the case but it eventually submitted. He feared the scales at the airport check-in, of course, but perhaps he would meet with a kind soul there in his hour of need. He could only hope.
In Dubai, another suitcase was also groaning under the weight of great expectations. Outside the summer sun was blistering and the glare forced almost everyone into the cool of air conditioned malls or shady verandahs. Emily had waited until Katie was in Tanzania on her school trip before she even started to pack; what she planned to do was to take over Katie’ bedroom for a few days and assemble all her stuff on display before it went into the case. Emily had never packed for a cruise before but this seemed like a logical way to go.
Being a modern girl, Emily had spent quite some hours on the internet researching this very topic. Well, to be truthful, she had looked at all the YouTube videos about the MS Eurodam and was dazzled by the splendour of the Rembrandt Dining Room, the glory of the Pinnacle Grill, the elegance of the Atrium and the cool edge of the Lido Buffet. She knew about the Terrace Grill because Grandad had promised to take her there for nachos or a burger. This little denim outfit with the tight jeans and matching jacket would be perfect for trips to the pizza bar on Deck 9. There were three gala nights listed and Emily had set out three beautiful outfits with matching shoes; she had bought one of the three outfits years ago with Nanny in Singapore and it [almost] still fitted. There was regular day wear for trips ashore in Greece and Turkey where the locals would look with envy on her snazzy style and a special outfit for the Promenade Deck where Emily planned to cut quite a figure. She intended to create a real splash at the pool with her three swimsuits and tops and there were warmer things for the shows in the evening where the air conditioning was notoriously cold. Emily found to her grief that a number of her things looked a little scruffy, they having been screwed up the last time she wore them and pushed into the back of the wardrobe. Soon there was a pile of things on the floor for Nivae to launder and iron. Emily wondered how busy Nivae was that afternoon; it wouldn’t do to loiter on these things, would it?
There were also rather a lot of toiletries assembled at the hand basin in Katie’s bathroom. She had bought big bottles of shampoo and conditioner – she always wanted her hair to look its best – and a large quantity of make-up. This had taken rather a lot of planning: Mum didn’t really approve of too much stuff on her young skin but she knew how good she would look with the combination she had planned. There were lipsticks of different colours for different times of the day and several large bottles of scent: again, she wanted a signature fragrance for morning, afternoon and night. Making this choice had taken hours of careful consideration. Oh, she also wanted to take several handbags and backpacks. As she put them aside, she realised with a little grin what a practical young woman she was!
The only big disappointment for our little traveler was in the way of jewels. Emily didn’t have any. How could it be, she thought sadly, that a girl could get to be aged thirteen and not have anything worth taking with her? She had a wrist watch and a lovely locket given to her by Oma, certainly; she could wear that on gala nights, perhaps, but would such a modest little thing be allowed at the Pinnacle Grill? Emily resolved to add jewels to her birthday and Christmas wish list. If she ever went on another cruise, she wanted to be much better prepared in this department. Perhaps while she was in Venice she could persuade Old Grandad to take her shopping at the jewelers for a few necessary things.
All of these happy reveries were dispelled by Mum’s knock on the door and her gasp as seeing Katie’s bedroom transformed. “Emily, what are you doing? Are you planning to swap all your things into Katie’s bedroom and give her your room?”
“No, Mum,” said Emily with an embarrassed chuckle because at one stage she had thought about doing exactly that. “I’m just packing my things for the cruise, is all. I’m sure Dad gave me the smallest suitcase; do you have any spare room in your case? I’m going to be hard pressed to get all of this in.”
Mother sighed and rested her hand on the end of the bed. It was lovely that Emily was so excited about the holiday – she was excited too – but the hard reality confronted them all. “Emily, the weight limit for Emirates Economy class is only 23 kgs. You know that you are going shopping with Nanny and Grandad in Istanbul and you are certain to pick up some other things along the way. Your case has to weigh less than 23 kgs before you get on.”
Emily wasn’t the least bit daunted; she had already begun to think about solutions to this problem. “I’ve been thinking about that,” said Emily. “Do you think Nanny and Grandad would pay to have Katie and me upgraded to Business Class? Then we would be allowed 40 kgs each. My luggage would come close to that now.”
Mum gave Emily a gentle grin and drew her into a hug. “My darling girl! It’s lovely that you have so many nice things to take with you but you’re going to have to have a little think, I’m afraid. Nanny and Grandad can’t afford to upgrade you to Business Class – but you can sort through all of this and take out a few things maybe. Start with the stuff on the hand basin. I’m pretty certain that the website said that there is shampoo and conditioner for you in your cabin. And you don’t need all this scent and lip gloss. Let’s have a look …”
By the time Mum was finished, the packing fitted into the suitcase and the pile of things on Katie’s bed had made its way back to Emily’s wardrobe bit by bit. Emily felt a little deflated and foolish but Mum had been so sensible in helping her out. It was going to be the very best holiday ever.
In a mean little flat above a fish and chip shop in Streatham, another suitcase was being packed. Streatham was on old London suburb, grey and dull and full of dilapidated, untidy houses and rundown buildings. The people who walked the streets of this part of town looked miserable, tired and bitter; it was an unhappy place to be, even on a sunny day. And today was anything but sunny: instead, it was grim and bleak with thin rain falling into the gritty streets. People struggled by on the pavement under black umbrellas. Everything seemed grey. Officially it was summer but the whole street in front of the fish and chip shop looked cold and sad and forlorn.
The person packing the suitcase, however, looked pleased and happy in a cruel, determined way. The suitcase itself was out of keeping with the mean little flat; it bore the proud brand label of Louis Vuitton, the most famous maker of luggage in the whole world. Into the suitcase went Calvin Klein underwear, a Hermes handbag, Ray Ban sunglasses, an elegant Christian Dior scarf and a rich looking jacket bearing the Salvatore Ferragamo brand. Few of these articles, however, would bear careful scrutiny; most of them had been bought in the back street markets of Dubai where clever fakes from China traded hands for a fraction of the price that genuine goods could command. Most of the things in the suit case – and the suitcase itself - were fakes. A few of these treasures were real enough but they had an even more shameful pedigree. They had been acquired by picking the pockets of rich tourists outside London’s great tourist attractions. The Hermes handbag, for example, had been pinched from a rich American lady real estate agent from New Jersey who had foolishly stopped outside Harrods Department Store in Knightsbridge to chat with a stranger about her guidebook; the Christian Dior scarf came from a French countess who was impatiently queueing for Afternoon Tea at the Ritz and didn’t much notice the man who accidentally bumped into her as he wheeled his suitcase in the other direction. The woman who owned the Salvatore Ferragamo jacket had put it on top of her bag as she stopped to buy a newspaper on the crowded concourse of Victoria Station. Pickpocketing supplied lots of treasures but it was notoriously difficult to make a lot of money – and the person packing the case ached for one big win to change everything. Still, the person enjoyed handling every one of the treasures, relishing the story attached to each one and hoping that many genuine good things would soon to be added to the Louis Vuitton case.
There were other things joining the designer treasures in the case, of course. There were three different wigs – different colours, different hair lengths and different styles. There was a length of soft rope, a full packet of sleeping tablets, a full set of black, skin tight clothes, complete with a black beanie. There was a bottle of chloroform, a bunch of skeleton keys, a small, solid steel crow bar for forcing windows, a magnetic swipe to open hotel doors and several sets of gloves. Some of these were leather; others were of fine rubber and folded into a jar that had once held face cream. And there was a pistol. It was in pieces: part of the barrel was sitting with lipstick tubes; the handle was cunningly fitted into the folds of an umbrella. It wouldn’t do for a weapon to pop up in an airport baggage screening. The pistol was an elegant but lethal object; the person hovering over the case hoped that it would never be needed but one did well to be prepared. As the lid was closed on the suitcase, there was a knock at the door and a second person entered. This person too looked excited and full of eager expectation. Together, they checked the case and looked around the mean little flat and out into the grim street below them.
“Just a little luck will see us out of this dismal place,” said the first. “Venice first with the Limoncello rubies; then the Clotilde diamonds on board the Eurodam. Then bye bye Streatham – and hello New York!”
“You will look magnificent in the Clotilde diamonds, my dear,” said the second with a sneer. “Let’s hope that we clean up well enough in Venice to be able to keep the diamonds for just a little while. It will be a joy to see them around your pretty neck!”
They laughed in a sinister way and kissed. If the next week went well, then their whole world would change for ever.
￼Chapter 2: Sail Away on the MS Eurodam
The long wait for the holiday to begin was agony for Emily; it seemed that the holiday would never come. School seemed to drag along and despite the pressure of exams and assignments, the days went slowly. There seemed to be one pressing deadline after another. It was easier for Katie; before the holiday she had all the excitement of her visit to Tanzania to look forward to. June came and with it, the first months of ferocious summer heat. In the cruelest of coincidences, these weeks coincided with the beginning of Ramadan so the usual antidote for Dubai heat – a visit to the mall – wasn’t as practical as it might usually be. The combination of heat, Ramadan and school examinations was a cruel and deadly one, Emily thought.
While she was away, Katie posted as often as she could on Facebook. Internet in the wilds of Tanzania was pretty unreliable, Emily supposed, but occasionally Katie had a signal and could share the adventure. Here she was in the Masai village where her group of friends was building a school for the local children; Katie looked very happy among the black, animated faces in the dusty street. There were some out of focus photographs taken in the falling light of sunset in tall yellow grass of what Katie insisted were lions prowling on the edge of their camp. And here was Katie looking absolutely exultant standing amid the snow on the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. Emily knew that all these wonderful experiences would bring Katie home a different person: someone who was more mature and thoughtful. Katie was growing up so quickly. Emily was jealous for just a moment – particularly after the Facebook scene of the friends at the top of the mountain – but she quickly pushed all those feelings aside. If she worked hard and contributed at school, she knew, she might have the same chance as Katie in a couple of years.
Finally, Katie was home and even though she was exhausted by the long journey she was so excited by her experiences that she sat up for hours with Emily unpacking all the things she had done in Africa. Emily drank it all in, just delighted that Katie had seen so much - and thought so much. It was only a week then until the girls would be flying off to join the family cruise in Venice. Katie talked about many things but she often returned to the theme of the Masai village where she had stayed. “The children have almost nothing, Emily, but do you know? They are happy. We have much more in the way of clothes and things but I don’t smile as often as they do. The things we own don’t make us happy: that’s something I learned in Africa.” Emily nodded her head, feeling just a little ashamed of the hours she had spent choosing from among all the things she owned to put into her suitcase. She decided to use the holiday to think hard about what Katie had said.
For five days, these Australian girls lived like koalas: sleeping most of the day, up in the middle of the afternoon and off to meet some friends at the Mall just as night was falling and the Iftar parties were beginning all over the city. The ostensible reason for these visits to the mall was to complete the shopping for the trip away. There was always something extra that needed to be bought: sports socks, lip gloss and sunscreen. Katie admired Emily’s packing and did her best to be as thoughtful. The days finally began to move – and suddenly, despite the long weeks of waiting, there was a scramble to settle everything in a rush. Dad was particularly stressed: he worked right up until the day they flew out and Emily noticed that he was asleep before the big Emirates jet rose into the air for the flight to Marco Polo International Airport in Venice. It was a morning flight but once luggage had been collected, Customs cleared and the maxi taxi whistled up for their hotel it was almost evening.
Emily couldn’t imagine how a maxi taxi was going to negotiate the famous canals of Venice; the answer came that they weren’t actually staying the next two nights in Venice itself but at Mestre – the busy town opposite the ancient city. Their hotel was cool and comfortable although the stairs to their family room on the second floor presented a real challenge and for the very first time, Emily wished that she had brought a little less luggage with her. Finally the suitcases were settled and despite the exhaustion of travel, the whole family was keen to be off exploring. Venice itself was just a brief train ride away and once they were strolling among a throng of tourists by the canal, Emily could finally feel that the big holiday had begun.
I won’t bore you with all the things the girls did in the next two days except to mention something that happened in a little café not far from the Piazza San Marco the next morning. Once they reached the little square in front of the railway station, the girls had wanted to summon one of the famous gondolas to explore the city. How romantic would it be, Katie thought, to glide through the canals, past beautiful old churches and palazzi while a handsome young gondolier smiled and sang love songs! Dad was considerably less romantic, pointing out that the gondoliers seemed to charge as much for their ride through the canals as they had paid for the Emirates flight from Dubai. Mum settled the issue as they passed by the gondola jetty by pointing out that all the gondoliers waiting for a fare seemed to be as old as Grandad and to have eaten much more pizza than was good for them. Even Emily could see that this was true and with a giggle they set off to walk from the station to the famous square. Three hours later, the little family had seen two museums, several old churches, many dilapidated palazzi – and tens of thousands of sunburnt tourists. Katie actually thought that the swarms of tourists were as interesting as any of the ancient, decaying buildings on the route. After her time in Africa, she looked at them as she had at herds of wildebeests or gnus. [In some ways, Dad admitted, they were remarkably alike, particularly when they were grazing!] By 11 am, it was time for their own morning tea. The little cafe where they found an empty table gave them a view of an ancient church by the canal; a plaque on the wall said that the building had once been the Palazzo Carbonara and the home of the most famous courtesan in Venice. Today, however, the ground floor was a café serving espresso and the most delicious gelato ice cream. The girls devoured their ice cream while Dad and Mum sipped their coffee and looked very cool. Dad had earlier picked up a copy of the Herald Tribune – the famous English language newspaper printed in Italy.
For fifteen minutes, Katie’s attention was wholly given to a bowl of pistachio and peach ice cream; it was only as she neared the very last dab of this delicious icy treat that she chanced to look at the newspaper Dad was reading. There was an interesting story about two kitchenhands at a Korean restaurant wanted by the police for stealing from their employer. Katie was trying to get her head around the whole thing: as much as she liked Korean food she couldn’t imagine anyone eating it here in Venice where the Italian food was so scrumptious. Then something caught her attention in the headline of a story on the front page:
Audacious Jewel Thief Strikes Again at Venice Palazzo Tiramisu
Famous Rubies Plucked from the Neck of Contessa Limoncello at Masked Ball
“A jewel theft here in Venice!” Katie said. “Well that’s romantic too, don’t you think? It says that the rubies were priceless.” Dad gladly gave part of the paper to Katie who read the story to the whole table. And it really was a remarkable tale.
The beautiful young Contessa Limoncello – famous throughout Europe for her wealth and her fabulous fashions – had been the guest of honour at a ball at the Palazzo Tiramisu. Emily had read about the ball in a copy of Hello magazine that she had been offered on board the flight from Dubai; the story was so interesting that she had kept the magazine, slipping it into her carry-on luggage. Recalling the article, she could tell everyone just how many famous people had been going to the party. “Justin Bieber was going to be there,” said Emily, “and Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, Brooklyn Beckham, Salvatore Salsiccia [the great Italian fashion designer] and the famous German composer, Herr Helmuth von Bubblensqueak. It was the party of the year! In the Hello story there were photographs of all the celebrities on the guest list. The Contessa’s rubies were in all the photographs. Everyone must have known that she would be wearing the jewels and there would have been lots of police in attendance but famous people like Justin Bieber and Kanye West always have their own security with them. Fancy committing a crime with all those police around. Whoever stole the rubies must have been audacious indeed!”
“But how can someone be wearing a necklace – and then suddenly it’s gone?” asked Katie. Without thinking she drew her shoulder bag tightly into her lap. There really wasn’t anything worth stealing in the bag because Mum had made everyone leave most of their valuables in the room safe at the hotel. Still, an audacious theft made everyone more conscious of their valuables.
The little family stopped for coffee and ice cream at this café in the old Palazzo Carbonara.
Emily now returned to the Herald Tribune story. “It says in the article that the thief struck during the fireworks display on the terrace of the palace. It says here that when the fireworks started, Kanye West’s bodyguard thought someone was firing at them and slammed everyone to the ground. There was maximum confusion at this moment, I suppose. And of course, people were wearing masks. It would be hard to spot a criminal in that crowd.”
“Why would someone as gorgeous as Brooklyn Beckham ever wear a mask?” Katie sighed. “That seems like an awful shame!” Katie’s voice was dreamy and Emily had to remind herself that while Katie had come home from Africa much more mature and thoughtful than she had gone away she was still a fifteen year old girl. “We should look about more carefully,” Katie said. “Maybe Brooklyn and his parents are out having a coffee too?”
A quick check of the coffee shop, however, made that hope seem foolish. There were tour groups of Chinese people all sitting together behind a hard faced woman holding up an umbrella; there were American tourists with baseball caps, loud print shirts and chewing gum and there were local Venetians looking very cool and glamorous – but no celebrities whom anyone recognised. “It does say that the police suspect an international criminal gang,” said Emily, “and that all the road and railway connections between Venice and the mainland are being watched. Perhaps the criminals are still here – close by.”
“Well life is certainly exciting for the rich and famous,” said Dad, folding up the newspaper and finishing his espresso. “But for the Bland family of Dubai, there are still three churches and two more museums we have to see before we can stop for a pizza dinner. We’d better get going.”
For the first time since coming back from Africa, , Katie’s last thoughts that night were not for the children of the Masai village with whom she had worked in Tanzania; she had thought about them so much since coming home and always remembered them when she said her prayers. Instead, she tried to picture the scene of confusion at the Palazzo Tiramisu as the fireworks exploded in the sky, the bodyguards in dark suits and mirror sunglasses threw famous people to the paved stones of the terrace and a hideous, masked face leered in the darkness as the precious rubies were snatched away. Katie could hear the confusion in the struggle and imagine the terror in the heart of the beautiful Contessa when she realised that her treasures were gone. She thought about the crowds of tourists and the press of ugly bodies in the narrow Venetian walkways and the busyness of the cafes around the square. After Africa, all of this was noisy, distracting and confusing. Really, the cruise would be a welcome oasis of quiet for the little family from Dubai.
The greatest excitement of the next day was finding that the girls had been upgraded. No one could explain how this had happened; their tickets showed that their cabin was down on Main Deck but at check-in, imagine their excitement when they found that they had actually been allocated a balcony suite on Deck 8. This was all done and completed before Mum and Dad could register what was happening and there were some puzzled looks passing between their parents once they realised that the girls would not be in the cabin next to them. Katie understood before Emily what this must mean: that they really were going to have be very responsible and grown up and it took all of Dad’s courage to let it happen and to wave the girls on. “Don’t let us down, Emily,” were Mum’s last words at the lift as the girls headed upwards. Alone in the lift, Katie and Emily couldn’t resist a little squeal of absolute delight. “This is going to be so cool! If Brooklyn Beckham were coming on a cruise holiday from Venice – I suppose he’d have a balcony too on the eighth floor! Maybe he’s next door to us!”
The girls found their luggage waiting for them outside their new cabin. [“We must say stateroom, Katie,” said Emily with a grin, “now that we have a balcony, you know!”] Their next door neighbours, however, were not the skinny Beckham family but a very stout Canadian couple older than Nanny and Grandad and they were just arriving at the same time, full of cheerful greetings for the girls. Emily’s first reaction when she turned the key in the door was a faint disappointment. There was the balcony, all right, with a table and two chairs and a big sliding glass door but the rest of the cabin seemed tiny. Their suitcases seemed to take up most of the cabin space. Katie spoke for both of them: “It seemed a lot bigger when you looked at it on the website. But I’m sure it will do; it’s not as if we intend to spend a lot of time in here.” Katie’s thoughts went no further because there was a cheery knock on the door and Katie’s face lit up. “Emily, that must be Nanny and Grandad! Or Uncle Lachlan! Can you get the door please?”
When Emily opened the door, there was no one they knew, however, but two young men wearing the grey and blue uniforms of the Holland America staff. They bowed to the girls, flashed them the most wonderful smiles and presented their name tags in identification. “I am Putu,” said the older man and this is my associate, Ketut!” Here, the younger man bowed again. “We are your Cabin Stewards and no one will look after you any better than we can. Now, Miss Emily and Miss Katie, let us put your suitcases up on the bed so that you can unpack. Just leave them there when you are finished and we’ll put them under the bed for you. You need to sort your things so that you can get out and enjoy the boat. Did you know about the Pizza Bar on Deck 9?”
Putu, the Senior Cabin Steward. He always had a smile for Katie. Ketut always picked up Emily’s pyjamas from the floor.
And that was the start of one of the girl’s greatest adventures. Katie often said afterwards that the adventure on the cruise holiday might have had a very different conclusion if the girls had had other Cabin Stewards – men who were less fearless and dashing than Putu and Ketut. The girls couldn’t know about the adventures heading their way then, of course, but they loved the two young men immediately and were willing to do just as they were asked. It didn’t take long to unpack their things – or to find that even though the cabin were small, there was a place for everything. Well, almost everything. The bench in the hand basin groaned under the weight of hair care products and associated toiletries but eventually it was all winkled away. Just as the girls were admiring the effect there was another knock at the door and everyone was there to see them: Mum and Dad, Uncle Lachlan and Auntie Roula, Nanny and Grandad. Of course they all wanted to admire the balcony and express their hope that at some time during the cruise, the girlies might invite them in for a posh afternoon tea. “Emily,” said Grandad, “it is the most delightful balcony, but remember what I have told you: no jumping off the side of the Eurodam into the Mediterranean! This isn’t an Arab dhow, you know.”
Emily just grinned a little; she knew that Grandad was going to make that silly joke. Instead of prickling, she chuckled: “It all depends on how hot the day is, Grandad. But no, I won’t jump and yes, you’re all invited to come to the luxury balcony suite one day for afternoon tea. Just at the moment, however, I happen to know that the Pizza Bar on Deck 9 is open for business. Katie and I have special invitations to go there but if Uncle Lachlan fancies a slice we are quite at leisure to accompany him.”
Uncle Lachlan was always ready for pizza and was keen to go. “It will have to be a quick bite,” Grandad said cautiously. “Life Boat Drill will be on in forty minutes and no one can miss that!”
Katie, Emily and Lachlan went off at speed. Grandad still fretted a little; he had quite forgotten how keenly Uncle Lachlan could deal with a pizza pie! As it turned out, everyone was prompt to life boat drill and afterwards the girls posed for selfies in their cabin wearing the dashing orange life preservers. The photographs [and one of the pizza pie itself] would be on Snapchat as soon as the girls were on line.
Oh the joys of that first day on board! After life boat drill, the family broke into pairs and set off to explore the ship. There was so much to see and admire and the girls especially loved the public rooms of their beautiful home for the next twelve days. Within an hour, the girls knew all the most important people on the ship. They had met the lovely Alice who presided at the Pizza Bar and the cheeky Harry who made the hamburgers at the Terrace Bar. They had met Jenny who made milkshakes for them at the Exploration Café, Wallace who manned the ice cream stand on the Lido Deck and Grace and Phillip, the happiest young people who manned the front office where the girls presented their key cards to be punched into a lanyard. The girls just knew that this was going to be a fantastic holiday.
The girls were planning to squeeze in a swim in the beautiful pool on Lido Deck before dinner and were astonished to find when they returned to their cabin that their suitcases had been whisked under the bed and the room now looked much bigger for it. In the corridor, Ketut gave them a big smile as they headed up to the lift and the swimming pool. Then it was time for the girls to shower and dress for dinner – and use some or all of the many products on the hand basin bench. The family met together for a drink in the Explorer’s Lounge before dinner and despite Nanny’s protests, most of the restless party went off to survey the dinner menu posted outside the grand doors of the Rembrandt Dining Room. [Nanny always claimed that she loved the surprise of sitting down and opening the very grand dinner menu every night.] Emily read the menu right through and even though she had had three slices of pizza that afternoon she felt very hungry indeed. When they finally entered the beautiful room resplendent with crystal and silver, they found that their table was a very large one set up in a window overlooking the stern of the ship. Just perfect!” said Nanny – and it was. “Sail away” would be in half an hour and the whole family was looking forward to seeing the spectacular old city glide by as they worked their way through the menu. Of course everyone was on their best behaviour feeling the formality of the room but the two dining room stewards [Made and Kadek] were wonderfully cheerful and helpful. Soon, everyone relaxed and began to enjoy the evening.
Made and Kadek – Table Stewards on the MS Rotterdam
And then happened the only disappointment of that exciting day. Stefan, the grand Maître D’ who had greeted them so confidently as they had entered the dining room approached their table looking sheepish and embarrassed; he carried a clip board in his hands and went straight to Grandad with a bow. “Mr Bland, I am so sorry to disturb you and I must apologise but we have a problem. Two additional passengers have unexpectedly joined the cruise and I have nowhere to put them for dinner. Your table is really designed for ten people; could I please seat them with you? The fact is that they are very special people and I have to be careful where they go; can you help me, please?” Grandad’s face fell; this was not what he had looked forward to so much in the months leading up to the cruise. He had thought so fondly of mealtimes spent within the little family circle with lots of jolly jokes from Uncle Lachlan, medical anecdotes from Dr Gordon and funny stories from Katie about her time in Africa. Grandad was just about to make his feelings quite clear when Nanny stepped in and said sweetly, “Signor Stefan, of course we can help you out. Please ask the two passengers to join us.”
Grandad was puzzled now; he guessed that Nanny must be feeling very much as he did. But Nanny, seated opposite Grandad at the big table, could see what Grandad couldn’t: the two passengers standing uncomfortably at the Maître D’s desk near the door to the dining room. If he could have seen their worried and anxious faces, I think Grandad would have felt exactly like Nanny – that these were good people who needed an understanding kindness just at that moment. One of the people was a handsome young man about twenty years old with elegant clothes and thick dark wavy hair. He was standing protectively beside a young woman with short blonde hair and a timeless beauty. They immediately looked relieved when Stefan approached them with a smile and soon Made and Katek were scooting about with extra china and silver to set two more places.
The two people were introduced to the company as Signorina Celeste Bolognaise and her brother, Signor Lorenzo Bolognaise. Grandad, Uncle Lachlan and Dad had stood when the visitors arrived, shaking hands with Lorenzo and bowing to the elegant young lady. There was a momentary stiffness before all the introductions were made but just at that moment, Danny the wine steward arrived with a silver ice bucket and two bottles of fine French champagne. While the champagne was being poured, Signor Stefan appeared at Grandad’s elbow and whispered: “Captain Maledmer of the Eurodam sends his best wishes, Grandad, and asks if you and Nanny would join him in his suite on Deck 11 at the end of dinner?” Grandad looked up and caught a very serious look in the man’s eye; he nodded and wisely turned his attention to the champagne. No one else seems to have heard the whispered message.
Well, from that moment the evening went wonderfully well. One bottle of French champagne didn’t go very far among ten dinner guests [Katie and Emily were allowed to have just a thimbleful of the delicious brew, Danny pouring it with a wink.] and the first bottle was quickly followed by a second and a third. Signorina Bolognaise was a charming guest at the table, engaging Mum and Auntie Roula in an animated discussion of the city of Venice which was not, the Signorina said, her ancestral home. Her family, she explained, came originally from Catania in Sicily in the south. Lorenzo chatted respectfully to Grandad and the girls. Somehow, having the extra guests at the table made things go very well; the new members of the table were altogether charming. Only Emily remained silent but deeply engaged in listening to the conversation. She was fighting the strongest feeling to run off to her cabin and it was only when the evening finally finished and people stood to excuse themselves that she could breathe out and relax a little. Lorenzo stood and kissed the hands of all the ladies: Auntie Roula blushed; Nanny giggled and Emily seemed quite overwhelmed. Katie could see that her sister was agitated and exercised the most extraordinary restraint in not asking her straight out what could be the matter. It was only when they were safely back in their stateroom with the balcony curtains drawn that Emily trusted herself to speak.
Lorenzo Bolognaise – the Duke of Barberini
“Katie! Look at this!” she called, diving into the side pocket of her carry-on luggage. Emily produced the tattered copy of Hello magazine that she had taken from the Emirates jet and turned to the picture spread of the coming party at the Palazzo Tiramisu. “There! I knew it!” Staring out towards the camera with the happiest of smiles were Lorenzo and Celeste Bolognaise. They were wearing evening dress: Lorenzo looking handsome in a black dinner suit and Celeste looking magnificent with a stunning ruby necklace at the throat of a silver and black Versace gown. The caption of the photograph made no mention of the Bolognaise family of Sicily; instead, the gentleman in the photograph was identified as Duke Lorenzo Barberini. The Barberinis were, Hello reminded its readers, one of the oldest noble families in Rome. The lady in the photograph was given as the Contessa Celeste Limoncello. The Contessa, the caption said, was wearing the splendid rubies given to her ancestors by the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. And these grand people were on board – and incognito – and sitting at their table for dinner. It was absolutely enchanting!
Emily was shocked by the whole situation: “They aren’t brother and sister at all. And the rubies that the Contessa is wearing in the pictures – surely these are the ones stolen from the ball at the Palazzo Tiramisu! Whatever are these noble people doing on board the Eurodam – and at our dinner table? This is certainly a great mystery.”
“One thing is certain,” said Katie airily. “If by any chance the Beckhams do turn up on board the Eurodam, I leave Brooklyn all to you, Emily. What is Brooklyn Beckham beside Duke Lorenzo Barberini? I don’t think I’m going to miss a meal! I wonder if he likes pizza? ”
￼Chapter 3: In the Captain’s Cabin.
When dinner was finished, everyone except the girls and Nanny and Grandad decided to take a turn on the Promenade Deck. It was a beautiful evening and the excitement of being on board ship and sailing through the beautiful Adriatic Sea seemed to give everyone greater energy and vitality. Grandad and Nanny, being experienced sailors, allowed the rest of the family to go off on their own. Besides, they had an appointment on Deck 11.
You can imagine how intrigued Nanny and Grandad were as they took the lift to the top deck of the ship just above the Lido. This was a part of the ship where passengers rarely ventured. There were no public rooms here and no staterooms that passengers might book. Officially known as the Navigation Deck, this was where the most senior officers had their cabins. Grandad was wondering how he would be able to tell which was the captain’s cabin when he noticed a uniformed Italian policeman standing like a sentry in front of one door at the very end of the corridor. When Nanny and Grandad approached he came immediately to attention and knocked on the door. It was opened immediately by a waiter in a smart white uniform who led the old couple into what was the most magnificent suite they had ever seen on board ship. There was a full dining room and sitting room and a balcony opening through high glass doors. It was magnificent. Two people were sitting at a table finishing their dinner. One was a well-groomed, elegant woman. The other one was known to them from the life boat drill as the captain of the ship. Captain Maledmer stood and smiled, extending his hand to Grandad and making a courtly little bow to Nanny. She smiled politely but realised that what with Signor Stefan, Lorenzo Bolognaise and Captain Maledmer this was now the third gentleman to bow to her in one evening. Nanny simply put it down to just another of the many nice things that happen to a lady on board ship.
Captain Maledmer nodded to the waiter who quickly cleared the table and left. Once he was gone, the Captain relaxed a little. “Fr Paul, Mrs Bland: it’s good to meet you. I’m Gerald Maledmer, the Captain of the MS Eurodam. This lady is Inspector Lucia Gnocchi, the Director of Special Operations in the Italian Federal Police. Please sit with us; I appreciate your coming. Can I take it that you realise that this visit – and what we are about to discuss – must be private and totally confidential. Your life – and the life of your family – depends on our maintaining secrecy.”
“You can rely on my discretion, Sir,” said Grandad. “I must say, however, that this is feeling less and less like the cruise I paid for.”
“You can be certain, Fr Paul, that the people of Italy will be very grateful to you for the help that we hope that you can render to us at this moment,” said Inspector Gnocchi, inclining her lovely head in a bow to Old Grandad. He was quite as flattered by this elegant gesture as Nanny had been by the young Duke of Barberini kissing her hand. This may not be his standard cruise experience but it was turning out to be very pleasant all the same.
“Fr Paul,” said Captain Maledmer, “and Mrs Bland, “let me thank you first of all for your graciousness in accepting the forlorn little Bolognaise family on to your dining room table. This was, I am afraid, a little test in which our Maître D’ was complicit. I did need to find a place in the dining room for them, certainly, but your kindness in allowing them to join your table says a great deal about you as people – so thank you, particularly, Mrs Bland for your generosity.”
The captain’s voice was suddenly a good deal less silky: “Let me, perhaps, start at the beginning. Did you happen to see the news reports from Venice of a most audacious robbery committed at a masked ball there just before we sailed away?”
“It was all over the BBC news in my cabin,” said Grandad. “Half the nobility of Europe and half the celebrities of Hollywood seem to have been at the party. And yet the fabulous rubies belonging to the Contessa Limoncello are snatched away! This must be embarrassing for the police service in Italy, Inspector, but what has it to do with us?”
Nanny couldn’t help saying with a gasp, “Don’t tell me that you have put two international jewel thieves on my dining room table! Lorenzo and Celeste Bolognaise seemed to be such nice people!”
Captain Maldemer gave an embarrassed smile. “They are nice people, Mrs Bland – but they are neither jewel thieves nor part of the Bolognaise family. That is the cover that they hope will protect their most precious possessions and their lives. The gentleman is the Duke of Barberini and lady is the Contessa Limoncello. And the treasure they are trying to protect,” said the Captain, “is ..”
“The Clotilde diamonds!” said Grandad with a gasp. “Of course! What a remarkable story! It’s been in all the magazines and on television too.”
“The Duke and the Contessa, Fr Paul,” said the Inspector, “are engaged to be married. The formal announcement of their engagement was to have been made at the Masked Ball at the Palazzo Tiramisu but the jewel thieves effectively destroyed that happy event. The two ancient families possess between them two of the most fabulous treasures in Europe. The rubies have been stolen; we have reason to believe that the thieves are now planning to steal the Clotilde diamonds.”
“But why bring the Duke and the Contessa on board the Eurodam” asked Nanny.
“They were planning to come away on a quiet holiday together after the excitement of the big party,” said Captain Maldemer. “In fact, they had booked a suite on the eighth floor. But after the jewel theft, the dangers facing them became very clear.”
“Should we be afraid?” asked Grandad.
“Quite frankly, Father Paul,” said the Police Inspector, “the theft has the clear signs of a very well organised operation. Interpol has been following the activities of a pair of London thieves who work on commission. Intelligence has it that a very wealthy American .com billionaire has designs on the jewels. He wants to give both the Limoncello rubies and the Clotilde diamonds to his new girlfriend. The thieves will stop at nothing to get their prize because the rewards to them would be enormous. They already have the rubies; now they want the diamonds. Unfortunately, someone at the Palazzo Tiramisu was bribed by the thieves: one of the men in Kanye West’s security squad appears to have betrayed him, opening a security door to outsiders and causing maximum panic when the fireworks started. The rubies have been stolen but we believe that they have not left Venice; at least, they didn’t leave until the sail away this evening. The thieves and the rubies are on board ship.”
“What do the thieves look like?” asked Nanny.
“I’m afraid there is nothing certain here, Mrs Bland. I can tell you, however, that there are two members of the gang – and they have a long history of appearing in many different guises and disappearing with the treasure in their pockets.”
“Katie and Emily were unexpectedly upgraded to a suite on the eighth floor,” said Grandad with a shudder. “You have given the Countess and the Duke their cabin – the one next to my son, Dr Gordon, and his wife.”
“And I and two other police officers are in the cabin on the other side,” said the Inspector. “We will protect the Duke and the Countess – and your son and his wife.”
“Wouldn’t this all be easier,” said Nanny, “if the Duke turned over the diamonds to you, Inspector. Or to you, Captain Maldemer? No thief could break into the ship’s safe, surely.”
“There is one reason, Mrs Bland, why that cannot happen – but it is not mine to share. It is also true that alert as we are now to the danger of theft, our best chance of recovering the Limoncello rubies is to use the Clotilde diamonds as bait. Just at the moment it is enough that you know that the diamonds are still with the Duke and that the thieves are on board.” Captain Maldemer hesitated for a moment and then looked anxiously at the Police Inspector. Grandad caught the exchange and said simply: “And what else is there to tell us, Captain? There is clearly something that you are keeping from us.”
“You are wise, Fr Paul. And if I hesitate it is because this part of the story I cannot be certain about.” The Captain paused and then went on: “It may be that the little gang of jewel thieves are not the only ones determined to steal the diamonds. The CIA has warned us that two North Korean operatives have been tracked to Venice. They were posing as kitchenhands in a restaurant in Venice and in that capacity infiltrated the catering company responsible for the party at the Palazzo Tiramisu. Ironically, the gang of jewel thieves struck before the North Koreans could steal the rubies. I believe they may be on board.”
“And why would North Koreans want to steal the Limoncello rubies and the Clotilde diamonds?” asked Nanny.
The Captain frowned. “I’m sure you know that the North Koreans have developed a nuclear capacity – although the sanctions imposed on the rogue state by the United Nations has forced them to look for many component parts in unusual places. Well, their scientists seem to have settled on large gem stones as a substitute for more conventional super conductors in their nuclear reactors. Of course large gemstones are very rare – and expensive. North Korea is a poor nation; they cannot afford to buy gems like the Limoncello rubies and the Clotilde diamonds so they are planning to steal them. Unless Inspector Gnocchi and her officers are successful, those precious diamonds and rubies could soon be making enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world.”
“Surely you can identify two Koreans among the passengers or crew,” said Grandad. “Even the most cunning North Korean would be easy to spot among the Indonesian or Philippino crew.”
“To my certain knowledge,” said Inspector Gnocchi, there are no Koreans – North or South – on board at the moment. But we need to be very vigilant. The North Korean agents are determined and often very clever. They work not for their country, you see, but for their loved ones. If they fail while they are in the field, their families face prison or worse. It is a powerful motivation.”
“So what can we do, Captain Maldemer?” said Nanny at last. “We are happy to share our family time with the Duke and the Contessa. From the look on Katie’s face, I think she is very pleased to have the young Duke sitting with us. Should I warn her that the Duke is already spoken for?”
“Now,” said the Captain with a shy chuckle, “I have been reading the stories on your website, Fr Paul. Are your granddaughters really as brave, as good and as intelligent as you portray them in your stories? Perhaps, as their grandfather, you might exaggerate a little here and there – just for artistic reasons, of course. I’m thinking that if your granddaughters are anything quite like the characters in your stories that it won’t take them long to work out the truth. Until then, can you please say nothing to anyone? When the time comes, I am sure that the Duke and the Contessa will be happy to explain themselves.”
At this, the Captain rang the bell and the steward in the white jacket appeared immediately with a tray of delicious sausage rolls and a bottle of champagne. For the next ten minutes, the Captain hosted a jolly party in his suite – and all the great questions of international terrorists or jewel thieves were quite forgotten as the Captain told the table about his encounter with a whale off the coast of Iceland. Then he stood and bowed; this was the signal for the party to break up and you can imagine how Nanny and Grandad felt as they returned to their cabin. This was going to be a very interesting cruise indeed!
The next morning was a sea day and all the younger Blands [particularly Uncle Lachlan and Auntie Roula] were up early, quite fuddled by the jet lag. The Seattle Blands had woken at 4 am feeling fresh and ready to face the day. Auntie Roula went up on deck to see the sun rise over the waters of the Adriatic Sea. Uncle Lachlan announced that this was a perfect time to try out the Room Service and he had already eaten one substantial breakfast when the family met by chance on the Promenade Deck. They had been enjoying the glorious summer sunshine. Katie and Emily were very happy to accept Grandad’s invitation to go with him to Mass before they went on to breakfast. Nanny and the rest of the family were happy to stroll along the deck and chat. That’s one of the great joys of being at sea, of course.
The priest at mass was an older gentleman – much older even than Old Grandad. Emily supposed that most priests were old: she had never met a young one. But this one was kind and gentle and spoke with the most beautiful Italian accent. He was tall and must once have been a good looking man, Katie thought. At the end of the little service, the priest came over and shook their hand and Grandad proudly introduced his lovely girls to Monseigneur Osso Bucco. The priest listened patiently to the girls and even smiled at Old Granddad’s terrible jokes. The best thing about the Mass, however, was that just before it started, Katie noticed Lorenzo and Celeste Bolognaise slip into the back of the little theatre where services were held. It was quite distracting but as Grandad always wanted to sit right down the front, at least Katie got a good look at the brother and sister when they came forward for communion. Katie and Emily knew now, of course, that the couple were not brother and sister. They had learned long ago, however, that secrets like that were best kept for a little while. Katie thought sadly that her chances of a shipboard romance were now dashed. Apart from the crew, her Uncle Lachlan seemed to be the youngest man on board after the Duke of Barberini. When almost everyone else had left, Katie saw the young couple approach the priest who greeted them warmly. It seemed to Katie that he seemed to know them well – or perhaps he was just a very friendly priest who greeted everyone that way.
One of the best things about being at sea, Emily decided, was how interesting so many of the people were on board. Mum and Dad, Uncle Lachlan and Auntie Roula had already started their breakfast when the girls and Nanny and Grandad entered the dining room and they waved from their table by the window. It was, alas, a table just for four people and Monsieur Stefan, the Maître D’ of the Rembrandt, asked if they were happy to share a table with others. The girls weren’t very pleased about this at first but Nanny quickly explained that this happened a lot at sea and it was a great way to meet other people. Soon, Monsieur Stefan escorted to their table a spry, elderly gentleman - older even than Grandad - with heavy spectacles, little hair and a mischievous smile. He introduced himself to Grandad and Nanny as Mr Hiram de Beers and his clipped, tight accent immediately advertised that he was from South Africa. He seemed pleased to have company for breakfast and was eager to hear all about the family’s first day at sea. It was a jolly breakfast with lots of fun and jokes and Katie was happy to eat her way through porridge, bacon and eggs with lots of cups of tea. Their dining room steward from last night, Kadek, greeted the girls with a wonderful smile as he swooped in with a big tray of pastries. Surely, Katie thought, it wouldn’t hurt to have just one – or two – and Kadek helpfully picked out the most luscious ones for her to try. Emily listened to the conversation around her, noticing how little Mr de Beers actually revealed about himself as he asked general questions to Grandad about life in Queensland He wanted to know about the nature and habits of snakes in the Queensland bush, the ways of bishops and the dangers posed by taxi drivers in Barcelona. When it was over, Mr de Beers stood and shook Grandad’s hand and gallantly saluted the ladies. Emily couldn’t help thinking that there was more to this African gentleman than meets the eye. Goodness, she thought. I must be watching too many television shows about spies and thieves. It seemed ridiculous to imagine that any of the people in the dining room might be criminals – but what about the Duke and the Contessa at their table last night? They were real life victims of crime – and they had had their photograph in Hello magazine. Perhaps they should be alert; they would hear the whole story soon enough, they hoped.
After breakfast, the girls thought that they should check in on Mum and Dad before they went to the pool for a swim. It seemed to take the elevator ages to get to Main Deck where their parents – and everyone else in the family – were living. That’s when they saw the sisters for the first time. Both Katie and Emily assumed they were sisters [they were never introduced, of course] but they were clearly related in some way. The two women were loitering in the corridor outside their parents’ cabin. They had big hats, big sun glasses and lots of diaphanous clothes so that their skin saw little of the hot summer sun. One of them carried a Holland America bag with sun screen and a book; the other held an anodised vacuum bottle – the kind supplied to keep coffee hot. It seemed to the girls that they were simply hanging about checking the door. Katie, always trying to be helpful, smiled and said to the closest lady, “Can I help you, Ma’am?”
This drew a quick retreat and a brusque denial. “No thank you, young lady! Unless you can open this cabin door!”
The second sister covered quickly by saying, “We thought this was the guest laundry down here. Isn’t it just by here?”
At this moment, Dad opened the door. He had heard the commotion in the corridor and came to investigate. The sisters quickly retreated and were gone, leaving Kate startled by their bad manners and Emily puzzled by the whole thing. Something wasn’t quite right. Nanny had said that one usually met nice people on board ship; the sisters didn’t fit that image at all. There was little time to think, however, because Mum and Dad were keen to go to the line dancing class that started at 10 am in the Crow’s Nest bar and would the girls like to go with them? Actually, the girls were serious about their swim and politely declined. They would perhaps catch their parents for lunch. If truth be told, there was an ulterior purpose in their being off to the swimming pool on the Lido Deck: Wallace, the happy young Philippino man who presided at the ice cream bar, had promised them yesterday that he would always give them the biggest serve of the best ice cream he had on offer that day. The girls were inclined to believe him because he had such an honest face but wanted to see if it were really true.
Unfortunately, the ice cream bar didn’t open until 11 am so the girls had plenty of time to swim and sit out in the sun before lining up with the other hungry passengers. Wallace greeted them by name and was true to his word: their ice creams did seem bigger and richer than the ones doled out to other passengers. For ten minutes, the girls walked about on the Sorts Deck above the pool, enjoying the uninterrupted view of the sea and scoffing their delicious ice creams. On the horizon, the coast of Croatia was a heavy blue smudge. Some passengers were looking out for sea birds or watching the coastline go by though field glasses. The girls had a good view of the passengers below them who were sitting around the pool and coming and going from the Lido Restaurant. [Some of the passengers, it must be said, looked as if they had made too many trips to the buffet on the Lido.] There were some little children enjoying the pool and some very English passengers turning a lobster red from sitting in the sun too long. There was certainly lots to see. “There’s Mr de Beers,” said Katie as the dapper, well dressed little man came padding up beside the pool before heading into the air-conditioned comfort indoors.
“And there – in the shade over by the windows, are our table mates – Lorenzo and Celeste Bolognaise,” said Katie. “Or should we say the Duke and the Contessa? Now there’s a real romantic mystery!”
“And over there, Katie, are those sisters who were in the corridor,” said Emily. The sisters certainly were there at the end of the rail of the Sports Deck. They were still wearing their long sun gowns but their hats were pushed back now and their sunglasses were perched up in their hair. The taller of the two sisters had thick blond hair. Her sister had shorter brown hair. They had a pair of field glasses too but instead of raking the horizon for glimpses of Croatia, the taller sister had the glasses fixed firmly on Lorenzo and Celeste. It seemed a very invasive thing to do and perhaps the girls might have reacted if they hadn’t been interrupted.
Below them, a tall, elegant woman with a military bearing had made her way across to the young couple. She seemed to know them and Katie couldn’t help thinking that the mystery got more and more complex. Before the girls could see what was happening, however, Uncle Lachlan was with them, asking the girls if they would care to join him and Auntie Roula to form a little team for the Trivia Competition at 1 pm? If they were keen, perhaps they should go to have some lunch soon so they wouldn’t be late. The girls were very happy to do this, provided only that they could have a shower and change out of their togs. They sped off to the luxury balcony cabin on Deck 8. Emily had really enjoyed the morning but what with the swim, the ice cream and the trip to mass, she fully understood why people became exhausted at sea.
￼Chapter 4: A Conference in the Luxury Balcony Suite
Katie and Emily were delighted to win the Team Trivia competition that afternoon. [They had no idea how clever Auntie Roula was!] By the time afternoon tea was being served, the girls were keen to show off their prize for the Trivia win – a beautiful new lanyard in Holland America colours. Everyone was impressed and Old Grandad expressed a hope that the girlies might invite him to join their winning team one afternoon. Katie and Emily smiled indulgently but their reaction could never be constrained to mean a real invitation to be part of their team. Grandad could be difficult to manage on occasions; he would be impossible in a Trivia Team. After tea, it was time for some serious lying on their beds in the stateroom; an hour and a half of snoozing later, the girls were keen to go out and explore some more. Grandad had once mentioned that there was always a jigsaw puzzle being done on a table down in the Exploration Café so the girls went there to find two old ladies who were struggling with a large and very difficult puzzle. The ladies were so pleased to have some young people stop by that it wasn’t long before they were very busy in conversation. One of the ladies, it turned out, had a pug who was both intelligent and very beautiful: Emily admired photographs of the dog and obliged by showing off a couple of snaps on her iPad of Charlie and Hercules hard at work, snoozing on a sofa in front of the television. That’s where Mum found the girls; she had come to remind them that they shouldn’t be late for dinner because they would all be going on to the show in the theatre that night.
They left in plenty of time to get ready for dinner: two hours, Katie thought, was “plenty” of time even with all the products the girls had on their bathroom shelves. It was not to be. Katie gasped as soon she stepped through into her cabin; Emily, right behind her, gasped as well. The cabin had been turned inside out! Everything had been pulled out of drawers and out of cupboards. The suitcases that had been under the bed had been pulled out and opened as well. In the bathroom, bags and bottles had been opened and smeared everywhere. The safe in the wardrobe was open, the door hanging ajar. The girls had nothing valuable to put in the safe, of course, but they hoped that perhaps Dad would take them into the jewelry boutique before the cruise ended so they had been ready with a combination ready in place.
Emily, I think, might have burst into tears at this moment but for the unexpected arrival at the door of Ketut and Putu. They were carrying a lovely arrangement of flowers and the smiles as they entered clearly showed that they expected the girls to be pleased with the flowers. One look at the mess and their faces fell.
“Miss Katie and Miss Emily,” said Putu anxiously, “we cleaned your cabin for you this morning. It wasn’t very untidy when we came – the only thing I think we had to pick up off the floor was Miss Emily’s pyjamas. The room was beautifully clean when we left it.”
“It was not like this when we went up to do the puzzle in the Exploration Café!” said Emily. “All of this mess has been made while we were out of the room for just half an hour.”
Katie quickly saw that the room had not been trashed just to hurt or offend; whoever had been there had been looking for something. Her blood ran cold. She had seen things like this before – and always there had been some nasty or sinister person at work. While Emily looked through the mess, Katie turned to Putu: “Can I ask you please to find my father, Dr Gordon Bland, in Cabin 4016? If he isn’t there, perhaps my grandfather in 4035 might be able to come.” Putu went off quickly. Ketut was very anxious to begin cleaning up but Katie asked him to wait until someone had seen the mess. He wisely took the flowers he had brought out into the service cabin on the other side of the corridor. Katie closed the door so people passing in the corridor couldn’t see what had happened.
It seemed a long time until Putu returned with Grandad. [Dad and Mum were nowhere to be found: as it turned out, they were relaxing with Lachlan and Roula in a shaded cabana beside the pool.] Grandad took one look at the room and caught Katie’s eye. She gave him a little nod and the old man realised that it had been a mistake to think that they could keep the information about the criminals on board to themselves. Perhaps Captain Maldemer and Inspector Gnocchi had thought that the fewer people who knew the story the safer everyone would be. That was clearly going to be something they would have to think about. The criminal world had reached out – and touched the girls.
At that moment, the most important thing was to consider Putu and Ketut – good people who didn’t need to be involved in any of the danger. “Girls,” said Grandad with a wink at Emily, “you have to look after your stateroom a little better than this! You have been upgraded to a luxury balcony suite! These two young men will be pleased to help you but this is really too much. Now let’s see if we can together tidy up this mess. Katie, can you find your iPad in all this mess and take some photographs for me?”
Both Emily and Katie were wise enough not to prickle at Grandad’s saying such silly things. He was obviously trying to calm Putu and Ketut who seemed to think that they would get the blame for the cabin being in such a mess. Instead, the girls hopped in and began to put things to rights. Once Ketut and Putu were able to put away the suitcases, the whole job became a little easier. In a little while, the stewards were able to leave [they had lot of other jobs that needed to be done] and Emily followed Grandad to the bathroom and wasn’t surprised to see him carefully collect several jars and bottles and slip them into the laundry bag. He didn’t know whether there was a fingerprinting facility on board ship but there would be one in the police station at Katakolon tomorrow.
The clean-up continued and in the end, it was all put to rights quicker than they thought it could be. Once the last delinquent garment had been winkled away into the wardrobe and the last pot or potion had been put right in the bathroom, they were able to relax. Ketut appeared at the door again with the flowers and although everyone loves getting flower, the girls were left feeling anxious. This unexpected gift seemed yet another puzzling part of the mystery. The flowers were beautiful but there was no card – and so no way of knowing from whom they had come. Emily placed the arrangement near the television; they certainly brightened the room.
When Putu and Ketut were gone again, Katie could speak freely. “Grandad, I think I have an idea what all of this might be about – or at least half an idea. I think it concerns somehow the people on our table at dinner – the couple who call themselves Lorenzo and Celeste Bolognaise. But that’s not who they are. They are really..”
“The Duke of Barberini and the Contessa Limoncello?” said Grandad with a chuckle. “Why don’t I read my own stories to see how clever you two young ladies can be?”
“Well, I guess we are clever,” said Emily with a giggle, “you saw my last Report Card, right? But all I had to do was read the latest edition of Hello magazine. A photograph of Lorenzo and Celeste is in a story there. And Grandad, we were upgraded to this luxury balcony suite – and Lorenzo and Celeste are down in our old cabin, next to Mum and Dad. Perhaps the people who did this to our cabin thought that they were in the cabin belonging to Lorenzo and Celeste.”
“You’re probably right, Emmy – but you don’t know that in the cabin beside Lorenzo and Celeste are two undercover Italian police officers, placed there for their protection. It wasn’t possible to move the police officers to Deck 8 so you were moved there instead. Kate has guessed half the mystery. I should have told you both as much as I know of the story this morning,” said Grandad. “But Katie, this is not my story to tell really. For that we need to go to see Captain Maldemer. Or perhaps the Contessa and the Duke will tell you themselves? We probably need to include Mum and Dad and Uncle Lachlan and Auntie Roula in the story too. It’s hard to have secrets in our little family. But we will have to trust one another – and no one else. What’s say I try to gather everyone so we can talk.”
This proved to be harder than anyone thought. You would have thought that on board a ship at sea it would have been easy to track everyone down but that wasn’t the case. Grandad went straight to Captain Maldemer – he was easy to find on the Bridge of the ship. Once he heard what had happened, his face clouded over and he reluctantly agreed with Grandad’s proposal that the story needed to be shared. Captain Maldemer suggested meeting in the girls’ luxury balcony suite at 7 pm. The time the Captain had suggested was dinner time for half the passengers. If anyone were watching them – and the Captain was sure now that that was likely – the family gathering in a balcony suite before their dinner would be less suspicious than everyone trooping up to the Captain’s cabin on the Navigation Deck. Grandad would call him on the Bridge when the family was assembled.
But where was the rest of the family? Nanny was in her cabin but in an awkward spot: she had just squeezed the contents of a Korean ginseng rejuvenation hydrating mask on to her face and was lying in a very large, hot bath. She promised Grandad faithfully, however, that she would be cleaned up and dressed for the important meeting at 7.00. No one seemed to be able to find Uncle Lachlan and Dad: they had apparently gone to have a sauna in the health spa and emerged sometime later quite pink and squeaky clean. Grandad found Mum and Auntie Roula very busy in the jewelry boutique – and Uncle Lachlan was probably very lucky that Roula was found just before she could try on a very nice [but expensive] necklace. Finally the family assembled and Captain Maldemer appeared with Lorenzo and Celeste last of all.
The story was quickly told and Katie and Emily were simply delighted by the romance of the whole thing: ancient jewels, dangerous robbers and young lovers! Sigh! It more than made up for having their cabin upset and overturned that afternoon. Mum and Dad were concerned, of course, but said very little. The girls had had so many adventures before: this was one of the tamer ones, Mum thought. At least they were close by rather than off at the North Pole or hanging out of a window on top of the Burj Khalifa. And on the Eurodam there were plenty of people to help them out in a scrape. Other family members were more concerned by the pressure on the young couple – the Duke and the Contessa. They were engaged to be married and here they were having to dodge international jewel thieves and North Korean secret agents. No one seemed to think about the very real dangers that now faced the family on their holiday. “They really are a plucky bunch,” thought Captain Maldemer. “Those young ladies are more interested in the welfare of others than their own safety.” All the same, there were security staff on the boat and the Captain made a note to assign two of them to watch the corridors outside the girls’ stateroom.
“I am so pleased that we can tell you the real story, Katie,” said the Contessa taking her hand. “It’s awful having secrets like this from friends – and you and your family have been so kind to Lorenzo and me. Welcoming us to your dinner table was so gracious.”
“And talking about dinner,” said Uncle Lachlan, “Isn’t it time we made a move? We don’t want to inconvenience Made and Kadek. And besides, Roula and I sneaked a peek at the menu for tonight and we’re having..”
“Don’t tell me!” cried Nanny. “But you’re right. Let’s go down and put this sad business behind us.”
The little family left the luxury balcony suite. Katie was surprised to find one of the two sisters they had seen around the boat lurking outside the lift. She wasn’t dressed for dinner; instead, she was wearing a sun hat and sun glasses even though it was now evening. She always seemed to be carrying the blue anodised coffee thermos with her; perhaps she on her way down to the Explorations Café? Katie smiled and nodded but the woman made no response.
It was a much more relaxed dinner that night than you might have expected after the turmoil of the day. Lorenzo and Celeste were intrigued to learn that Katie had recently been in Tanzania and they had a hundred questions to ask. Katie shyly offered to show them her photographs and they seemed genuinely interested in the people [and the animals] Katie and met. Uncle Lachlan was interested too but before joining in the conversation about lions and fierce Masai warriors he had to face the difficulty of choosing his dinner from the menu. What to have: the roast chicken or the fresh fish? Kadek had solved this problem by bringing him one dish of each but even after eating both meals, Uncle Lachlan said he couldn’t decide which was the better. He did love hearing Katie talk about the tall giraffes and the elegant antelopes she had seen on the plains under Mount Kilimanjaro, however. An arch look from Auntie Roula was enough to persuade Lachlan not to be so confused when the dessert menu was produced but now Lachlan couldn’t seem to choose between the vanilla soufflé and the pistachio ice cream. He finally opted for the soufflé but found when it came to the table that it was served with a big scoop of ice cream – and a cheeky grin from Kadek.
The whole family took a turn on the deck after dinner – it was a beautiful night with a full moon – but it had to be a brisk circuit, Nanny said, because they needed to be in the Showroom at Sea for the evening show. The Eurodam Singers and Dancers were giving their first performance on this leg of the cruise and Grandad was keen to get seats as close to the stage as they could. It turned out to be a great show and now that Katie had had to abandon all thoughts of meeting up with Brooklyn Beckham or attracting Lorenzo Bolognaise she suddenly found one of the young male dancers very interesting indeed.
At night in their cabin, the girls turned over all the interesting things that had happened before they went to sleep. At last Katie said sleepily, “I know I’m being silly about Brooklyn Beckham..”
“And all the others!” Emily cut in.
Katie giggled. “It’s just that we’re on holidays! I had to be serious in Tanzania but we can be a little silly on holidays, don’t you think? Look at Old Grandad with Scottie Bear. And did you see how pink Dad looked when he came home from the sauna? That was silly.”
Emily giggled. “Well, I was pretty silly with all my packing before we came away. I’m glad you weren’t there to see that Katie. I mean, I really love being a modern fearless girl – it’s what we do best. When Grandad writes about us, we can be brave and determined you know. But we can relax a little too, don’t you think?”
Certainly,” said Katie, “But let me tell you: we’re going to solve this mystery – and recover the Limoncello rubies for Celeste. And we’re going to find who trashed our room! I hope we don’t get back from Olympia tomorrow to find it a mess again.”
Nothing of the kind happened the next day. The girls returned from the long bus trip into the hills to Olympia feeling tired but very excited by seeing the ruins of the ancient site. Emily, who had recently been honoured for her achievements in netball, wandered around the ancient stadium precinct feeling very athletic and spiritually Greek! Mum and Auntie Roula seemed to know a lot about history and archaeology and pointed things out that the girls might have missed. They cautiously pushed open the door of their luxury suite when they returned but it was sweet and clean: Putu and Ketut had obviously taken extra care in doing their room that morning. The flowers that had been delivered in the middle of the mess now looked especially beautiful. There were lovely orchids with pink roses and white carnations; these last happened to be Emily’s favourite flowers. At first, Katie thought the flowers must have come from someone in the family: it was exactly the sort of thing that their kind Uncle Lachlan might have done. But Uncle Lachlan had not sent them and now Katie wondered if the flowers might be part of the solution to the mystery.
“I wonder who sent these to us?” Katie said as they struggled out of their hot clothes and headed for the shower.
I don’t know,” said Emily with a chuckle, “but whoever it is can send some more if they like.”
When the girls went for a walk on the Promenade Deck before dinner, they came across the kind Mr Hiram de Beers whom they had met at breakfast. He was standing at the rail, enjoying the mild evening air and looking at the lights of Croatia in the distance. Mr de Beers greeted them cheerfully and asked in the most gallant way if he might escort the young ladies for a turn. He was such a charming, old fashioned gentleman that the girls were quite taken with his courtesy and they walked the deck, chatting as comfortably as they had done over breakfast. Now the conversation turned to Olympia and the splendid museum the girls had seen there. Mr de Beers seemed to know the site very well and asked the girls what they had thought of all the things on show.
Their circuit took them past a shameful group of men and women huddled towards the back of the starboard side of the Promenade Deck. Emily shuddered as they passed and Mr de Beers drew the girls closer in a protective way. The men and women in this sorry group were of all ages and conditions – some of them looking vacant and despairing. Others were younger and looked defiantly at the other passengers as they passed, almost inviting an aggressive reaction. The group were of course, the smokers. There was a time when smokers had enjoyed the run of the ship and could be seen puffing in restaurants, in the theatre, on balconies and in all the public rooms. Now there were only a couple of places on board where smokers could go: they were tolerated in the breezy section at the very back of the Lido Deck and here - in a little patch on the starboard side of the Promenade Deck. It was a pathetic sight and filled the girls with sadness. Katie realised as they passed that among the group were the sisters who seemed to be always in their path. Both the women were very busy with a cigarette. Even though it was evening, they wore their dark glasses and hats and seemed to be furtively checking everyone who passed. One held a box of cigarettes while the other held the familiar coffee thermos; she had twisted off the lid and was using the cup as an ash tray. Katie was certain that the women followed her with their eyes and she felt quite uncomfortable.
The dinner that night was excellent. Emily just loved being presented with the big menu and checking all the delicious things on offer. Being at sea, she realised, really made one hungry! The conversation began of course, with the expedition to Olympia and quickly moved to other matters. Everyone was tired after the big day off the ship and people seemed to speak in little groups rather than as one big table. This was Kate’s turn to listen to Auntie Roula talk about Seattle and her life in that beautiful city. Most of all, the girls loved Roula’s descriptions of the rain – and the one exciting time last winter when it snowed. Celeste Limoncello seemed withdrawn and shy tonight. Only later – and very quietly while they walked to the lift together– Lorenzo explained her mood of anxiety. They were sure that someone had been in their cabin too while they were away. When they came back on board from walking about in Katakolon that morning their cabin stewards, Adita and Prama, came to them most concerned. They had found the cabin door open and although things had not been tossed about as they had been in the girls’ luxury balcony suite, there were clear signs that someone had gone through their possessions. The cabin stewards in Lorenzo’s cabin, of course, were the same fine young men who serviced Mum and Dad’s cabin and they could well understand how anxious the young Indonesian men would be. It would seem so dishonourable to them if something like a theft happened in their cabin.
“Did they take anything?” asked Katie.
“Nothing at all,” said Celeste. “That doesn’t make it any less worrying. They were obviously looking for something.”
Emily was always more willing to ask questions directly –even embarrassing ones. “Surely whoever came into your cabin was looking for the diamonds. Are they safely hidden somewhere?”
Lorenzo laughed. “You can rest assured that the Clotilde Diamonds are safe and well. And I hope, Emily, that they will draw the thief to us. He wants both the treasures; nothing less will satisfy him, I’m certain. While we wait for the thief to take the bait, we must all watch and be alert. Perhaps he will strike tomorrow.”
The lift arrived just at this moment and Katie and Emily went to get in to ride up to their luxury balcony suite on the eighth floor. Katie didn’t want to let the moment pass without saying something to comfort and encourage the two young people. “You know that we will do everything we can to help, Lorenzo. And my Dad and Uncle Lachlan are really clever and good – and so are my Mum, my Nan and Aunt. Even my Old Grandad, on a good day, is pretty good.” Celeste thought that this little promise was the best and kindest thing that had happened since the theft of the Limoncello rubies and she reached across and kissed Katie and took Emily’s hand.
“You are wonderfully kind, Katie. And you too, Emily. I’m sure that between us all we can save the diamonds – and recover the rubies.” Then the lift doors closed and the girls were gone – both Katie and Emily were left feeling sad and hopeful and determined - but powerless to think of what they might actually do to help. It seemed bewildering. These conflicting feelings didn’t disappear until they reached the door of their luxury balcony suite and found that Ketut had left not one but two chocolates out for each of them.
“Perhaps the thief will strike tomorrow,” Lorenzo had said but absolutely nothing unhappy or untoward happened the next day. The girls woke up just as the beautiful Eurodam came steaming into the Piraeus. From their balcony, the girls could see in the distance the famous Parthenon rock with its gleaming ruins above the ancient city of Athens. They hurried to dress and be down on the Promenade Deck to see the ship dock. Nanny was there too and she greeted the girls excitedly. It was going to be a long day for the girls; they were going on one of the ship’s tours with their parents to see all the sights of the city and Mum had been very keen to get away early on their tour.
Nanny and Grandad had been to Athens before; they planned to spend the day browsing in gift shops, loitering in cafes and finding a good spot for a Greek lunch. For a moment, Emily was tempted to join them but she had read so much about the ruins in the city and this was her only chance, she thought, to see them for herself. The family members left the ship at different times agreeing to meet at dinner. As it was, the girls bumped into Nanny and Grandad in the Plaka [the famous shopping street] early in the afternoon. The ship’s tour was almost over and their guide had turned everyone lose for half an hour to shop for souvenirs before they visited one last ruined temple, another museum and a Greek church. It was hot and the city was packed with tourists; visiting ruins, Katie decided, was thirsty work! The exhausted girls passed Grandad and Nanny in a sidewalk restaurant just as the old couple was about to drink an iced tea and start in on large bowls of cherry ice cream served with plates of delicious Greek pastries. Suddenly the girls felt footsore and hungry and as if they had seen quite enough ruins for the day. More drinks and ice creams were ordered and Emily sped off to the gift shop where she had left her parents. If it were okay with them, the girls would get back to the ship with Nanny and Grandad. She came back a moment later with everything sorted – just as the extra ice creams were delivered.
Actually having some time together with their grandparents in this way gave the girls the chance to turn over all the things they had been thinking about the mysterious jewel thefts. “It must be someone on board,” said Emily after she had eaten half her ice cream and she could think clearly again. “Do you think it might be one of the crew? After all, they can come and go without anyone noticing and they probably have access to keys that open all the doors.”
Katie really prickled at this suggestion. “Can you imagine Putu and Ketut or Made and Kadek or Alice or Grace or Phillip doing anything as mean as stealing from the passengers? That’s just unthinkable. I love the staff on board ship; I don’t think one of them would be the thief!”
Emily was not so sure. “There’s one of the young men who performs with the Eurodam Singers and Dancers who looks pretty suspicious to me!” she said. Katie blushed and was quick to try to change the subject. “Grandad, have you seen those two strange women in big colourful dresses who are always hanging around on the Lido Deck or near the lift? They seem likely suspects.”
Grandad nodded weakly. Strange women in colourful dresses just about described almost all the ladies who were to be found on the Lido Deck – including Nanny. He wisely decided not to make that observation. As it was, Nanny answered for him. “I think I know whom you mean, Emily, but it can’t be them. If they’re the ones I’m thinking about I’m pretty sure that they were on the boat with us from Barcelona.”
“But the theft happened the night before we came on board,” said Katie. “And the boat was in Venice then.”
“It’s possible,” said Nanny but it was clear that she wasn’t convinced. If the truth were told, Nanny was a very old fashioned lady who thought that thieves were much more likely to be men than ladies.
“What about that nice Mr de Beers?” asked Katie. “I mean, he listens so quietly but never says much about himself – and he is always interested in what we say. Perhaps that’s suspicious.”
“Girlies, girlies,” said Nanny, “I’ve seen Mr de Beers and I think you can rule him out as a suspect. He’s travelling alone, I think – and the thief would have to be working with at least one accomplice. He seems to me to be a lonely old gentleman: is it surprising that he’s interested in talking to two sweet young ladies, one of whom has won a prize for her netball and the other one has recently been in Africa? Besides, he doesn’t look spry enough to take on Kanye West’s bodyguard and win.”
It was true and Emily just shrugged her shoulders. “The next time we’re out on the Promenade Deck I’m going to pay particular attention to those smokers. It would be just like one of them to be the criminal mastermind.” Just then, Grandad managed to catch the eye of the bright young waiter. The hungry girls had more or less scoffed the whole pate of pastries; they would need another big serve of baklava if they were going to get through the hot afternoon.
￼Chapter 5: A Tryst in the Grand Bazaar.
Even Old Grandad, as optimistic and naïve as he was, had to admit that someone was responsible for all the peculiar activity around the boat. He couldn’t deny that the girls’ luxury balcony suite had been trashed and that someone [probably the same persons] had been in the cabin where Lorenzo and Celeste were staying. Sooner or later, there would be another incident; indeed, the girls could not know it but things were moving fast among the criminals in their midst.
“It was good to make contact with the buyer today,” said the first as he smoked another cigarette. Of course passengers were not supposed to smoke in their cabins but this person – a violent and vicious thief who would stop at nothing – was not going to be deterred by a set of rules on the walls of their cabin. “He’s obviously very keen to fly all the way here to Athens to meet us. He’s also pretty impatient. This job has to be on our terms; we’re the ones on the ground.”
“You’re dead right,” said the second. “Weren’t you clever to screw another 5 000 Euros out of him for our “expenses”. He’ll have the jewels soon enough anyway; we’re still on for Saturday night – the night we leave Istanbul.”
“Provided we can get everything to fall our way,” said the first. “I’ve got Plan B ready anyway if the main parachute doesn’t open, as it were. So when it’s all dusted, where do you want to wash up? How about Columbia? It’s warm and the police are cheap to buy, I believe.”
“Anywhere as long as it’s a long way from Streatham!” said the second.
“We need to be careful until then. This boat full of old people gives me the creeps,” said the first. “And the pesky kids aren’t any better. I keep seeing those two nosey girls around the place – the skinny blonde and her big sister. That was just our luck to have them moved to the luxury balcony suite where the Italian aristocrats were supposed to be. It didn’t take us long to realise that we were in the wrong cabin but at least we got to trash it properly. If we could have found the diamonds then we’d be out of here by now.”
“Never mind: just sit tight until Saturday night. That’s all we’ve got to do,” said the second.
Nothing much happened of any consequence on Thursday. The beautiful Eurodam was at sea with the rocky coast of Turkey on the starboard bow as they steamed towards the great city of Istanbul. The girls slept late but they were up just in time to go to mass with Grandad; this time, Lorenzo and Celeste joined them in the front of the little theatre that served as a church on board. Fr Osso Bucco greeted them warmly when the service was over. The girls and Grandad, Lorenzo and Celeste and the old priest then went off to breakfast in the Rembrandt Dining Room. The rest of the family was just finishing as they entered; in fact, they were lucky to get in just as the dining room was closing but Monsieur Stefan welcomed them warmly and took them to a table by the window. They had a splendid view but were seated far away from the rest of the passengers who were munching their way through a last piece of toast or savouring a last cup of coffee. The six friends sat comfortably together, enjoying the passing scenery and the excellent breakfast that was delivered to their table.
Again it was Emily who asked the direct and immediate question. “It seems as if you knew Monseigneur Osso Bucco before you came on the cruise, Contessa.” [Emily, even though she was a very democratic young Australian woman, was still too shy to call the Italian noblewoman by her Christian name.]
Celeste and Lorenzo exchanged glances and the old priest’s eyes twinkled. He winked at Grandad. “The Bucco family have been friends with the Limoncellos and the Barberinis for centuries,” he said. “There are no secrets between us; in fact, we depend on one another very much at this moment.”
Despite his age and his occasional obtuse manner, Grandad was alert and guessed something of what was being said. “Can I ask, Sir,” he said, turning to the older priest, “where you work and live when you are not ministering on board the Eurodam?”
Now it was Monseigneur Bucco’s turn to smile like a conspirator. “Lorenzo and Celeste have told me a lot about your kind family, Grandad. I can now see where these clever young ladies might get some of their bright ideas from!”
“Let me guess,” said Grandad. “Perhaps you live and work in Venice itself?”
“You have found me out,” he said with a smile. “Kindly do not tell anyone on board who I am, Sir. Monseigneur Osso Bucco is my alias, I am afraid. My name is Giuseppe Parmigiana and I am the Cardinal Archbishop and Patriarch of Venice. Five of my ancestors have carried that title; two of that name have been the Pope himself. That is why it is very fitting that I am here at this moment.” Here, the old man took the hands of Lorenzo and Celeste as a proud old man might take the hands of his favourite grandchildren. “When all of this is over, I have the job of marrying these two young people. That will be, I pray, the happy ending to a long and sad history.”
“So you are holding the diamonds for Lorenzo,” said Emily at once. “That’s why the thieves didn’t find them in Lorenzo’s cabin – or in our cabin for that matter.”
“The diamonds have never left my possession,” said Lorenzo. “I cannot trust them with anyone. In fact, I always carry them on my person, sewn into the inner pocket of my money belt. They are a burden, you see, that I cannot impose on anyone – not even the good cardinal.”
Lorenzo looked imploringly at Celeste and then at the Cardinal. “I guess you have read the story about us in Hello magazine, Katie. The magazine is only interested in gossip and silly stuff; the real story of the famous jewels has never been told. It is known to only a few of us – those who have had to live with the sinister presence of the jewels in our lives.”
Katie had a million questions to ask at this moment and looked at Emily but this time both of the girls were wise enough to be quiet and listen. A gentle nod from Celeste encouraged Lorenzo to go on. “The diamonds came to my ancestor, the Duke of Barberini, from the hands of Napoleon Bonaparte himself in 1800 after his cruel army had conquered all of Italy. He gave the rubies to the Count of Limoncello. The Barberini and the Limoncello families had been great friends for many, many years. The jewels were a lavish, ostentatious gift – the kind of bribe that could secure a family’s allegiance for generations. Neither my ancestor nor Celeste’s, however, knew where the jewels had come from; perhaps if they had known, they would have been much more cautious about accepting something so tainted no matter how glittering they were.”
“Where did Napoleon find these treasures?” asked Emily.
“They came into his hands quite by accident. After the victory of battle, his soldiers looted palaces and churches all over northern Italy; they feared neither man nor God. The Carmelite abbey of San Pietro, in the hills above Verona, was just one of the places into which drunken French soldiers had broken. The first thing the soldiers had done was drive the sisters out of their home at gun point. The Mother of the abbey and all the sisters were insulted and abused then the abbey’s treasury was opened and ransacked. Only the Reverend Mother knew of the existence of the jewels; they had been immured within the abbey since they had been given to the Sisters by Belladonna Dolce, the most beautiful and famous courtesan in Venice in 1520. She had famously left the world of pleasure and vice behind her to become a simple Sister; giving the jewels to the abbey church was her way of renouncing all that was false and deceitful in the world. The jewels had been untouched for almost three hundred years; now they were torn out of the iron safe secured behind the high altar in the convent chapel by a young French Captain. He knew how much his general, Napoleon Bonaparte, would reward his cruel theft. With such treasure in their hands, the French soldiers burnt the ancient abbey to the ground. When the French army had gone, the Reverend Mother of the community brought the Sisters back together; their community house and the chapel itself were rebuilt and the Sisters resumed their life of prayerful service. But the jewels were never recovered; they had passed into the possession of the Barberini and the Limoncello families who were determined never to give them up.
“Are the jewels really so very rare and beautiful?” asked Katie. The story sounded so romantic and interesting – much more interesting than anything she had ever read in Hello magazine.
“They were indeed,” said the Contessa. “Rare and beautiful indeed – but also sinister and dangerous.”
“How so?” asked Emily.
“I don’t know,” Emily,” said the Contessa sadly, “but it is true. Lorenzo and I have tried to learn all we can about the jewels since they came to us. The rubies, for example, are simply magnificent; they came originally to the great courtesan from the Spanish ambassador in Venice, the Marques Santiago Paella. He had boasted that the gems had been won from deep in his mines in Peru where slaves worked night and day in terrible misery. For the cruel Marques, that counted towards their glory. Every stone, he said, showed his greatness for only a great man could command so many poor men to suffer for him. Every facet of the rubies represents tears and blood drawn with the lash. Whenever I wore the rubies – and I tried to avoid doing so if I could – I could feel their terrible attendant sadness. It was like putting on something made of ice.”
“And the diamonds were no different,” sighed Lorenzo. “I know that they came to the Sultan in Stamboul from the Emperor of India. He had them as tribute from the island of Serendib. The Indian Emperor presented them to the Sultan in Stamboul with his daughter - a young princess– only a child - who was snatched from her mother in the Emperor’s harem to marry the Sultan. The mother’s tears, the child’s misery, were absorbed by the stones.”
“So the precious jewels retained the memory of loss and cruelty?” asked Emily.
“They did, Emily. Everyone who has possessed the jewels – either the Clotilde diamonds or the Limoncello rubies – has suffered. Since the jewels came into my family,” said Lorenzo, “no Duke of Barberini has lived beyond the age of forty; not one has grown old naturally and lived to see his grandchildren. My poor father died in a racing car accident when I was only six years old- and he was only thirty-one. One of the Dukes died of plague, one was killed in a duel; anther was eaten by a lion while he was on safari in Africa. Several Dukes fell in battle; one went mad and shot himself. The portraits of my ancestors in the palazzo in Rome is a chamber of horrors – each portrait telling a story more terrible than the one before it.”
“It’s exactly the same story with the Limoncello rubies – although in our case, it was the women in the family who met cruel, terrible and early deaths. One Contessa was drowned at sea in the ferry crossing from Sicily to Italy. Another one was buried alive in an eruption of Mount Etna. Another Contessa – a heroine of the Resistance- was killed by the Gestapo during the last weeks of the war; my own mother was a passenger on MH17 – the Malaysian Airlines jet shot down by the Russians over the Ukraine. Over time, the terrible cases of violent and grim death mounted until no man was brave enough to marry a Contessa Limoncello.”
The worst of it,” said Lorenzo, “is that until the family received the jewels from the hand of Napoleon, the Limoncello and the Barberini families were always great friends, related may times by marriage. After the jewels came into their lives, they became bitter enemies full of hatred and loathing. That was a terrible price to pay for having the jewels, don’t you think?”
Katie and Emily could only agree: but the solution seemed obvious. “The rubies are gone now, Contessa,” said Emily. “I presume that someone else will suffer from all the cruel power associated with them. And Lorenzo: couldn’t you just give the jewels back to the church – and break the cycle of misery?”
“The sinister power of the rubies seems to work independently of the cruel power of the diamonds, I’m afraid,” said Lorenzo. “It’s only when they are united can their power be neutralised. The jewels have to go back together, I’m afraid.”
“But look at you,” said Emily with a gasp. “Even if you don’t have the jewels together to give back to the church, your love is overcoming some of the power of the jewels. You will be the first couple from the Barberini and the Limoncello families to defy the power of the jewels. Perhaps that will defeat the terrible curse that has come upon both families.”
“You are sweet and good to think so, Emily – and I hope you are right,” said the Contessa. “But there is no way of knowing. We still hope to recover the rubies and then break the spell.”
Just at that moment, Made was at their elbow to take away the plates and dishes. They were the only passengers left in the dining room and most of the young staff were trying to set up for the luncheon service. “You’ve been so kind to listen to our unhappiness,” said Lorenzo, his voice tinged with embarrassment. “Sometimes I think we are facing terrible odds. It’s hard to think of a happy future for us. But we have a plan: I can’t say now what it is but you will learn soon, I suppose: when the thieves strike.”
Katie reached across the table and took the hands of both her young friends. She said nothing, letting her gentle touch say everything that needed to be said. Emily smiled weakly too. “It’s okay,” she said. “We’ll make it work out.”
The best part of that evening as they sailed towards Istanbul was the show in the theatre. Katie was a little disappointed that the Singers and Dancers weren’t performing but there was an excellent young singer who seemed to know all the songs that Uncle Lachlan particularly liked. She was very pretty too and in the last number, she was joined on stage by the ship’s own Singers and Dancers for a very upbeat performance of the “Tennessee Waltz”. Katie was pleased. The Cruise Director announced at the end of the concert that on their second night in Istanbul, the show would consist of local performers from a famous troupe of Whirling Dervishes. They would perform as the Eurodam sailed down the Bosphorus towards Kusadasi. This was thrilling; the girls had seen the dervishes perform before and told everyone in the family that it would be a show not to be missed.
Late in the afternoon of the next day, the Eurodam sailed majestically into its berth underneath the old city of Constantinople. There were two other big cruise liners berthed near them. Katie and Emily insisted, however, that their Eurodam was more beautiful than any of the other cruise boats in the harbour. In the distance was the working port with its cranes and derricks serving big container vessels and other, more modest ships. Above the sleek lines of the Eurodam were the minarets of an ancient mosque and the high white walls of the European city and the famous Taksim Square. On the other side of the water were more mosques and the distinctive walls of the city’s famous spice market. The great monuments of the city – the famous Topkapi palace, the Blue Mosque and the majestic Hagia Sophia – were so close that it was like sailing into a fairy tale. The girls were on the Promenade Deck as the ship docked and they were very keen to be off exploring.
As excited as the girls were by the prospect of great mosques and churches, the real attraction that afternoon was the Kapalicarsi, the Grand Bazaar. [The ruins and monuments could wait until tomorrow.] Ever since Grandad and Nanny had mentioned the cruise, the conversation had always come back to shopping in what was probably the most famous market in the world. Emily had a little list of things she wanted to look at and while she didn’t have a lot of money to spend, Nanny had promised to take the girls to the Bazaar and Grandad was coming with his MasterCard – so perhaps Emily’s little list wasn’t so fanciful. Katie was looking for gorgeous silks, fine embroideries and cotton prints; she was keen to turn these into beautiful and unique garments in her school course next year. Emily was more interested in leather handbags and funky boots. Oh, and jewelry: she hadn’t forgotten how few worthwhile stones she owned. As soon as they could get away, the girls waved goodbye to parents, aunts and uncles and set off for the Grand Bazaar in a taxi. Mum and Auntie Roula were going to the very up-market shopping arcade beside the Blue Mosque; Dad and Uncle Lachlan were headed for the pleasures of a famous Turkish hamman. They would all meet at dinner that night to display their purchases and swap stories of their adventures in the ancient city.
The girls expected the Bazaar to be dazzling but they hadn’t expected it to be so richly chaotic. The place was very busy with local people and visitors of every age and description. There were tour groups being whisked through, serious connoisseurs taking an age to choose a carpet and local people very busy lolling at little tables drinking mint tea and eating tiny pastries. There were people from their boat, too, many of them still wearing their Holland America tee shirts and ships lanyards and wondering why the crafty shop keepers kept greeting them in English and trying to whisk them into their shops. When they came to the broad and elegant covered street with jewelers’ shops on either side of the arcade, the girls were surprised to see Lorenzo, Celeste and Cardinal Parmigiana busy in what looked like the grandest jewelry shop in the arcade. Unusually for the Grand Bazaar, a security guard was at the door to keep customers out while a pale, bearded man in an elegant suit served their friends. The three of them were hunched over looking at something displayed on the counter of the shop, their backs turned towards the street. “Well,” thought Emily, “I guess that’s what you do if you’re a duke or a contessa or a cardinal: if someone pinches your rubies you can just go out and buy some more.” Katie and Emily might have given the transaction in the jeweler’s shop more attention but a confident Turkish gentleman swept out of the neighbouring shop and bowed to Nanny, at the same time opening the door of his shop. “For such a lovely lady and her beautiful daughters I have the most gorgeous gems in the whole of the Orient. Please step this way, Madam and Mademoiselles. I would be honoured if you could just look at my stock. You can leave the Old Grandad outside on the footpath if you like!”
The girls had really just begun their shopping and were keen to look at everything before they parted with their money. The gentleman, however, was most persuasive and Grandad obediently waited outside for the ladies. He quickly became bored and wandered back to look through the shop window just as Lorenzo, Celeste and the Old Priest were finishing their transaction. Grandad saw the pale, bearded man carefully wrapping up an elegant leather box in burgundy coloured paper. Lorenzo then pushed the little parcel into his coat pocket. At that moment, Cardinal Parmigiana happened to lift his head and noticed Grandad there; he gave a cheery wave and soon the friends were gathered on the arcade pavement. Katie and Emily and Nanny emerged at this moment together with a disappointed looking Turkish gentleman who promised them that they would never find anything in the whole bazaar as fine as the stock he had offered. Nanny smiled in agreement and shepherded the girls away from the door. It had been a close run thing, Grandad decided; perhaps he should stick closer to the girls in the future. The group of friends broke up after happy jokes and smiles then the girls and the old people headed back into the throng of the Bazaar to do their shopping. The Italians headed off on the promise of a roof top hotel terrace that the Cardinal knew about that gave the best views of the city and the most scrumptious apple tea. They would relax there before joining the extended Bland family at dinner.
In the Grand Bazaar
The trip to the Kapalicarsi was voted a great success. After two hours of serious shopping, Katie had found some wonderful fabric that was now neatly wrapped in brown paper: oh, and she had also bought a splendid handbag that was cunningly fashioned from pieces of antique kilim set in soft calf leather. It was stunning – a work of art in itself - and Katie clutched it to her like a treasure. Emily, always a more discriminating shopper than her sister, had kept the company waiting while she had tried on many pairs of boots and inspected many handbags without finding exactly the one she was looking for – although she did settle on a fine gold chain displaying a beautiful old coin that just might have been a genuine antique. Grandad’s MasterCard was growing hot through over use and Nanny’s feet were aching. It was time for a cup of tea and the four friends stopped at a very authentic looking café with nut and honey pastries displayed on a rack on the counter. These proved to be a tremendous antidote to sore feet and jangled nerves and for a little while, no one said anything until the pastries and tea had quite disappeared.
Katie lifted her head and sniffed disapprovingly: cigarette smoke! She knew that most countries had more relaxed rules about smoking than Australia [and the boat] but she had thought that no one would smoke in the grand Kapalicarsi. But there, only five metres away were two woman busily smoking. Although they wore dark glasses it was clear that the women were looking about them craftily, taking in everything that was going on. You can imagine Katie’s surprise when she realised that the smokers were, in fact, the two weird sisters from the boat. The taller woman with short dark hair was slouched at a table on the edge of their restaurant; she was pretending to find her coffee cup very interesting at that moment. Beside her on the café table was the familiar blue anodised vacuum coffee flask. Her sister with the long blonde hair was seated next to her; she had turned so that her back was to the girls. Even so, it seemed to Katie that the women were observing their every move.
Katie nudged Emily who quickly picked up on Katie’s excitement. What to do? The girls were spared having to do anything because Grandad had smelled the smoke too and he was indignant. “There should be laws against people smoking in places like this he said – loudly enough for everyone in the restaurant to hear him. Indeed, several other people frowned in the direction of the two sisters and snorted their agreement. “Why,” said Grandad, “I should give those two women a piece of my mind. I’m sure I’ve seen them before. Aren’t they passengers on the Eurodam, Nanny?”
But before Grandad could stand up and confront the women, two Turkish Tourist Police were on the scene in their smart blue uniforms. One already had his whistle out as if she were expecting trouble. They were headed straight for the sisters – and the ladies were very quick to react. The burning cigarettes were dumped on the café table and the women snatched their handbags and fled the scene. The café proprietor was after them: they hadn’t paid for their coffee and pastries and he signaled the Tourist Police to go in pursuit. I think there might have been a regular pursuit in the bazaar at that moment but for the fact that one of the burning cigarettes managed to set the paper tablecloth alight and suddenly there were more things to worry about in a confined area than the weird sisters. Just at that moment a very cool young Turkish waiter arrived with a jug of water, acting as if this sort of drama happened every day in the Kapalicarsi. He upended the jug, splashing the burning table and everyone sitting nearby. By the time the fire had been extinguished, the two women had got clean away and the poor café proprietor could only complain to the Tourist Police about the terrible behaviour of some of his customers.
The story of the fire in the café made for exciting telling at dinner and Katie looked at Emily in astonishment as Grandad gave the details to everyone. If you believed his version of events, the whole Grand Bazaar almost went up in flames and but for the quick thinking of the waiter who left all of them drenched! Grandad spoke at length of the deliciousness of Turkish pastries, the selfishness and reckless folly of smokers – and of the heroism of Turkish waiters. Nanny rolled her eyes; Katie and Emily giggled. But Katie’s reaction was qualified by a niggling worry. Something wasn’t quite right about the incident she had witnessed. Of course it was unsettling that the sisters had been there at all [watching them or the Italians, Katie wondered]; no, that wasn’t the problem. It was something else. She felt that the mystery was just on the tip of her tongue but out of reach. What was it?
￼Chapter 6: Men in Underwear.
Katie and Emily always said afterwards that even without the amazing dance performance by the Whirling Dervishes on that last night in Istanbul that that day was the best of their holiday. There was drama, there was excitement: and Emily declared to her friends at the Uptown School as she told the story afterwards, she had never seen so many men in their underwear before. This is how it happened.
The day began well when the girls went out early with their grandparents to see the city in the early morning sun. The fish market was busy as they walked by over the Galata Bridge and they stopped to buy steaming hot Turkish bread from a vendor who picked out the crispiest and most delicious loaves for the girls to try. The vendor cheerfully split the loaves so that the girls could insert a couple of delicious fried fish fillets: it was a feast fit for a king. They waited at the main gate of the Topkapi Palace so that they were there before the crowds arrived and while they hardly had the great palace to themselves, they were able to wander the marble halls, take in the luxurious hammans and visit the terrible, sad splendour of the harem before turning into the Treasury with all its marvels.
Emily couldn’t believe the size and splendour of the jewels on display. Here were emeralds as big as hen’s eggs – not set in exquisite gold and silver necklaces but simply piled up on a silver plate like so many kiwi fruit bought at the supermarket. There were pearls of extraordinary size and lustre and jeweled belts, swords and buckles that showed wonderful craftsmanship. For a young lady hoping to acquire some real gem stones, the Topkapi Treasury was an inspiration. After a stimulating morning tea, Grandad led the little group to the most beautiful church in the world – the great Hagia Sophia. Katie wandered in silence through the great building, marveling at the ingenuity of the construction and beauty of the mosaics on display. After a lunch of delicious Turkish pide, it was time for a trip to the Spice Bazaar. Cheerful vendors insisted that the girls try their best lokum – the dazzling sweet known in the west as Turkish Delight. It was certainly well named and the girls couldn’t work out which flavour they liked most – so they bought a box of each. By the time the little group made their way back to Eurodam, it was almost 4 pm: time to refresh and get ready for dinner.
LOST TEXT: FIX THIS BACK IN BRISBANE
There was great excitement in the luxury balcony suite later that afternoon because tonight was the first of the ship's Formal Nights and everyone would be dressing up. Katie had listened to Nanny describe these glittering events and was expecting the most stunning elegance and dazzling fashion. As she looked at her clothes hanging in the wardrobe she couldn't help but wonder if her very modest things would be allowed.
Emily was more confident; she had been saving a floaty dress in beautiful blue fabric for the occasion and had managed to borrow a stunning silk shawl from Nanny to go with it. That - with the antique coin pendant she had bought in the Grand Bazaar - and Emily felt she could face the world.
They needn't have worried. There were certainly some interesting ensembles on show that night but most of the elderly American ladies who had been seen around the ship in elastic-waisted dresses and ample tops now presented themselves in evening versions of the same. The gentlemen were dressed in black dinner suits, certainly, and many looked quite splendid but the elegant dinner suits were never going to compensate for the big bellies and the bald heads. This was not the dazzling show Katie had expected. And it was better for that, she decided. Everyone – old and young - looked excited to be out in their best clothes and there were wonderful smiles and jolly jokes everywhere the girls looked. The old people were delighted to be on board ship instead of in some dismal nursing home back in Duluth or Miami and they were feeling spry and sparky. Katie and Emily decided that they rather liked Formal Night.
When the family gathered in the Explorer's Lounge to share a drink and gossip about all the things they had done that day Grandad gave a very contented sigh. They really were an exceptionally good looking family when they were all dressed up. Other Old Gandads walking through the lounge [and there were many of them on the Eurodam] stopped to admire the girls and compliment Nanny and Grandad on their family. Yes, the girlies really did look very beautiful that night. For each of the gentlemen who stopped, Katie and Emily gave a shy little curtsey; Nanny was so proud of them - although Emily wondered as they walked into dinner whether true feminist warriors should take so much delight in the compliments of old bald men.
In the Rembrandt Dining Room, Made and Kadek were wearing their formal white uniforms with gold trim: even they looked very special tonight. The table looked splendid with silver and crystal and Uncle Lachlan could report that this evening's menu would be the most difficult of all from which to choose. He might just have to order everything. It was the arrival of Lorenzo and Celeste, however, that challenged their happy, smug feelings. As splendid as Uncle Lachlan might have looked in his jacket and tie and as beautiful as Mum looked in her diaphanous silk gown, no one even noticed them once the Italian couple arrived. Lorenzo was wearing an elegant Armani cashmere dinner suit cut to fit his trim figure; he had matched the formal black lines of the suit with a silver silk bow tie. Celeste had a low cut evening gown with panels of black and silver that matched Lorenzo's outfit. The clothes, however elegant, were nothing compared with the necklace that Celeste wore - and which drew every eye in the Dining Room.
"The Clotilde Diamonds," gasped Emily. She had never seen anything so stunning. The jewels looked as if they had risen from behind the display glass in the Treasury of the Topkapi Palace - and of course they had done just that back in 1520 when they had been presented to the beautiful courtesan, Belladonna Dolce, by the Pasha Ahmed Rahat-Lokum on behalf of the Sultan and Caliph. The necklace consisted of large, sparkling stones cut in the antique way and set in white gold. Now Katie could easily imagine why these jewels had inspired theft and violence until they had been lodged in the altar of the Abbey church of San Pietro in Verona. Around Celeste's neck they looked ravishing.
The friends chatted happily through the dinner. Emily showed off her antique coin necklace to much admiration from everyone. Both Katie and Emily would have loved to have asked what Lorenzo and Celeste had bought at the jeweler’s shop in the Grand Bazaar but they were too well brought up to ask such a question. Anyway: the main business of the dinner, of course, was to eat and everyone found that their day exploring the ancient city had made them hungry. Katie enjoyed the escargots bourguigone for entree. She had done exceptionally well in her French exams at the end of semester and confidently told Old Grandad where these particular escargots had started life. He was most impressed. When the main meals arrived, Made had made sure that Uncle Lachlan had two pieces of steak and two lobster tails on his Surf and Turf. Made certainly knew how to make Uncle Lachlan a happy man. When these plates had been cleared, Katie asked permission to leave the table; Emily came too and this gave them the opportunity to say just what they thought of Celeste's jewels – and Lorenzo’s splendid Amani suit.
Their conversation didn't get very far, however, because loitering outside the toilets and eyeing them suspiciously were the strange sisters. There were no formal clothes for them; in fact, the ladies hadn't seemed to change their clothes since coming on board. The taller of the sisters with the blonde hair was still carrying her blue anodized coffee thermos and the two women seemed to take up most of the room at the door. Katie was sure, too, that as they went to go past into the toilets, the shorter woman with the brown hair deliberately pushed up against her. It was unnerving; for a moment, Katie could smell the acrid cigarette smoke on the woman's clothes and hair. There was no time to react, however, because just at this moment a very large American lady whom the girls had met over the jigsaw puzzle in the Explorations Café came steaming out of the toilets in her evening finery. Everyone had to get out of the way. This was Mrs Bonnie Adamson of Baltimore, Maryland, and she claimed the Australian girls as her own with a hug. Where had they been, she demanded and what they had been doing? Mrs Adamson asked them to make sure that they look in on the puzzle tomorrow to see its progress. By the time the girls had greeted her, the weird sisters were gone. "What is it that keeps niggling at my brain about those women?" Katie thought again before heading back to the table for dessert.
The family decided not to have tea and coffee; Grandad pointed out that the show that night was a performance by a troupe of Whirling Dervishes famous in the city for their spectacular dance and conspicuous piety. If the family were going to get a seat in the theatre, they needed to get there early. Celeste and Lorenzo were pressed to join them and so thy set off soon after the pudding had been eaten. In the Atrium, people were streaming back from the first show in the theatre excited by the performance and praising the amazing dance. The girls had seen Dervishes perform in Dubai but they were looking forward to seeing how Auntie Roula and Uncle Lachlan would like the show. By wonderful good luck, their usual seats near the front of the stage were free and they settled down to wait.
Just as the jazzy music began to introduce the Cruise Director, Simon, to the audience, Katie happened to clutch at her dress to find that she was missing her lanyard and room key. She knew that she had had it at the dining room table: what a bother! After the show she would have to go back to the Rembrandt Dining Room to see if it had been left behind where she was sitting. Made or Kedek would have found it for sure. She didn’t have time to think much more about this because the lights were down and the show was starting.
For a long while, nothing happened. The recorded music continued to play – all electric baglama trills and a spirited percussion drum – but no performers appeared. The audience became a little restless and just when you might think that something was seriously wrong there was a high pitched cry and two dancers appeared on stage. They were the strangest looking pair – hardly a troupe, Emily thought – and quite unlike the Dervishes they had seen in Dubai. The costumes they wore looked as if they were made for much larger people. The grey woolen leggings just swam on the dancer’s short legs, the long flowing skirt dragged on the floor when the dancers stopped twirling and the tall, elegant red fez came down right over the dancer’s forehead. Instead of the fluid, swooping movements of the Dervishes whom the girls had seen, these dancers more or less just jigged around the stage. They seemed to be eying everyone up malevolently. Emily also noticed that the men looked more oriental than Turkish; they certainly didn’t have any of the splendid moustaches that Turkish men like to grow.
Nanny and Grandad were not amused. “The quality of the shows in the theatre really has deteriorated!” said Nanny with a huff. She became even more alarmed, however, when the Dervishes began to press people in the audience to join them on stage. This was not something Nanny enjoyed at all and most people shrank back in their seats in fear of being hauled up on stage. The only people the dancers could lure up to dance with them were a very large gentleman from Wisconsin who had had too much to drink at dinner and a battered looking lady from New Zealand who had come to the theatre from the Casino and the smoking spot on the starboard side of the Promenade Deck. These poor souls hopped about briefly with the Dervishes then left to embarrassed applause from the audience. Then the dancers scooted across the stage, heading again for the audience. One seemed to go backstage; the other came straight to the row where the family was sitting. Nanny cringed, Auntie Roula held on to Uncle Lachlan; even Katie and Emily – famous for going up on sage with Katie Perry! – didn’t want to be selected. Then the Dervish was in front of them all, looking fierce, triumphant and malevolent. And at this moment, two things happened all at once.
Firstly the lights went out in the theatre, plunging the whole place into darkness. It was an overwhelming darkness – there wasn’t a light anywhere. Throughout the theatre, people murmured and grew restless. Within a second, there was a scream right at Katie’s elbow. And that was the moment when the puzzle about the weird sisters that had been niggling at Katie for hours came to her like a bolt. The hair! The taller sister had long blond hair; the shorter sister had brown short hair. But when the girls had seen them in the Grand Bazaar that morning, the shorter sister had the blonde hair. Katie clutched again at her chest. The lanyard had been with her at the dining room table but was gone when she entered the theatre. And the shorter sister had pressed against her as she passed them to get into the ladies toilets.
All of this came to Katie in an instant – the same instant that the lights came up and the girls saw that Celeste was clutching at her throat. She was almost hysterical with anguish. A cold hand had seized her by the throat in the darkness and the Clotilde diamonds were gone!
There was immediate mayhem in the theatre with people quickly aware that there had been an incident and everyone crowding in to help or to look or to ask their neighbours what was happening. Simon the Cruise Director had the microphone on the stage and was trying to calm everyone. In the front row, Lorenzo was calling for Security to come immediately. There had been a bold and audacious theft and assault on the Contessa. In the middle of all this, Emily felt a tug on her silk shawl and Katie was drawing her away to the side. “Come on! There’s more to this even than theft and assault!” said Katie, drawing Emily up the narrow steps to the stage. The front of the theatre was crowded now and full of confusion. No one noticed the two girls as they slipped backstage.
“There must be a dressing room here,” said Katie. “I’ll bet that’s where the Dervishes have gone – and they’ve got Celeste’s diamonds. Maybe here?”
The space backstage was tiny and confined, the whole narrow area was crowded with costumes and sets from the production numbers offered by the Eurodam Singers and Dancers. Katie stopped at the only door that could have been a backstage dressing room and pushed it open. It was dark but Emily quickly found the light.
“Oh my goodness!” gasped Katie. The room was tiny but tied up and occupying the whole of the floor were six men. Four of them were dressed as Whirling Dervishes; two of them – the two closest to the door – were wearing only their underwear. They were bound and gagged and the sight of the girls brought both rage and relief. Emily was as cool as she could be as she struggled with the tight gag the first poor Dervish was wearing. Truth be told he wasn’t wearing very much else; as soon as the gag was out, Emily turned to the ropes that had tied his hands. Katie was beside her sister working on the second poor Dervish. The first dervish spoke no English but the second one could share just a few words of the story – enough to let the girls know that the jewels had been pinched by Chinese thugs. “And they have guns!” the Dervish cried as finished the story and turned to freeing his comrades.
The Dervish had supposed the oriental men were Chinese; the girls, however, knew more of the story. The thugs who had held up the dancers at gun point were, the girls knew, agents of the North Korean CIA. But where could they have gone? They couldn’t go ashore; the elegant Eurodam had slipped her moorings and left her berth in Istanbul ten minutes ago.
It was Katie who had the flash of inspiration, connecting the dots as she stood back to let the Dervishes free themselves: the jewels stolen at the party in Venice; the Contessa and the Duke on board; the weird sisters in the Grand Bazaar and at the door of the toilet; the missing lanyard and room key card; the North Korean secret agents dressed as Dervishes. There was not one set of thieves on board but two – and Katie was sure that their luxury balcony suite had something to do with solving the puzzle.
“Now!” said Katie grabbing Emily’s hand. “We’ve got to go right now before some adult realises we’re not there and wants to stop us doing what we have to do. Let’s run for it!” Nanny and Mum would not have approved of the two girls dashing through the ships public areas still crowded with old people in evening dress – all of them exchanging the most improbable stories of what had happened in the theatre. In the Atrium, the girls passed the heavily built Philippino Security Guards lumbering towards the theatre. They took the six flights of stairs to their floor at a gallop and without a breath. There was no one to be seen when they reached their level and they flew down the long corridor to the door of their stateroom. Emily’s keycard was pressed into service and the girls rushed in.
“Katie, I don’t believe this! No one is going to believe this!” Emily gasped.
The luxury balcony suit had been ransacked again; the sliding glass doors were wide open and a rope had been tied to the rail at the balcony. The horrible dresses worn by the sisters were tossed aside in all the mess, along with a long blonde wig and a short brown wig. And on the floor were four young men – all of them in their underwear and all of them bound and gagged.
Putu and Ketut looked desperately unhappy but very pleased to see the girls. They had been stripped of their regulation Holland America uniforms and both of them were ashamed and angry to be seen in their undies by the girls. [Of course they had seen the girls’ undies - Ketut often found himself picking up pairs of Emmy’s knicker pants that had winkled their way off the bed and on to the floor – but this was different.] The girls went quickly to work and soon both young men were free.
“Don’t untie those men!” Ketut cried once he was free. The other men made a miserable picture indeed. Each had a black eye and swollen lips; they had been beaten before being tied up and gagged. Each man had sandy blond hair, slim builds and the pasty complexion of smokers. They made an ugly pair. “We were putting the room to rights as we do every evening while you are at dinner Miss Katie and Miss Emily, when those two arrived dressed as women. They had a gun; they forced us to our knees and tied us up, then they turned out everything as they did last time looking for something. Then the door opened again – we hoped it was you coming back – but there were two more men – and more guns! Serious guns. Now these two were beaten, stripped of their clothes and tied up – but Putu and I had to give up our uniforms. The men left us all tied here; then half an hour later they came back.”
“Where did they go?” demanded Katie.
“Why, they went over the side of the ship just before you arrived!” Putu said. The four friends rushed to the edge of the balcony just in time to see two men dangling from the rope close to the water’s edge. A rubber zodiak was bearing down on them fast and behind them, the lumbering form of a dirty old cargo boat. It was flying a flag the girls had seen before: two blue bars and a broad red bar with a red star in a white circle. They had last seen that flag in the cold wastes of the North Pole, flying above an installation housing nuclear rockets. It was, of course, the flag of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The cargo boat was owned by North Korea and they were moments away from scooping up their agents who had assaulted a troupe of Whirling Dervishes, two English crooks, two Balinese cabin stewards and one Italian Contessa. They had also stolen two extraordinary jewels which were now headed for the nuclear reactors of Pyongyang.
Later that night when the adventure was all over, Emily could only grin when Old Grandad seriously shook his head. “Emily, you did exactly what I told you NOT to do!” It was true, for even as the zodiak spun around under the two escaping North Korean agents, Emily handed her glasses to Kate and shimmied out of her floating blue dress. Then she was at the balcony rail and then over it and falling towards the cold water of the Bosphorus below.
“Emily!” screamed Katie. The fact is that Emmy was soon out of sight and Putu and Ketut were in despair. Emily’s jumping after the armed North Korean agents was crazy; so was what the two Balinese men did next. “Now!” shouted Ketut – and the two men jumped after Emily just as shots were fired and there was a clamouring at the door. Katie reluctantly left the balcony and rushed to open the door. Suddenly the room was full of family, Dervishes, Italian noblemen and women, Security agents and crew. All Katie could say was, “Emily’s gone over the side – and in her underwear. And Ketut and Putu went after her! I think we should tell the captain to stop the boat. ”
The Korean zodiak as it approached the Eurodam.
Nothing could equal the surprise of the two Korean agents who had leapt to safety into the zodiak at what happened next. They were still wearing the Holland America uniforms that they had taken from Ketut and Putu; wearing these they had brazenly walked to the theatre and back again after snatching the Clotilde diamonds in the darkness from Contessa Limoncello. The North Korean agents had already beaten the Barberini rubies out of the two English thugs who had pinched them at the party in Venice. The Englishmen, dressed as women, had followed Lorenzo and Celeste on to the Eurodam hoping to snare the Clotilde diamonds to complete their haul. Now the North Koreans had everything they wanted; they were stepping into the zodiak. In a moment, they would be completely safe.
The first hint that all was not well was shouting from above. Both the Koreans drew their weapons and looked up and about. One of the men fired three shots into the water, hoping to dissuade those on the Eurodam from heroics of any kind. The agents were seconds away from safety and still hanging from their precarious position attached to the rope when the zodiak sped up below them and the two agents fell into the rubber dinghy. They scrambled to their feet, both of them clutching their guns and the senior agent holding aloft the blue anodized coffee thermos. They raised their hands in triumph – and then staggered as a young woman falling from the deck above landed squarely on them knocking them both over. The North Korean sailor driving the zodiak had many years at sea but this was the very first time he had seen a blonde teenager in full flight; he was frozen for a moment, unable to respond. A moment later, he was himself knocked out of the boat by two falling Balinese boys in their underwear. One the boys put his foot through the bottom of the rubber dinghy as he landed and the flimsy craft began to take on water. The whole atmosphere in the dark water was made all the more urgent and terrifying by the constant sounding of the Eurodam’s warning hooter.
The North Korean agents may have been startled and disabled by falling bodies but they knew they were well trained and knew they had to recover the initiative or lose their precious prize. Emily, Ketut and Putu, however, were very quick to exploit the element of surprise. Emily dived as low as she could and knocked the senior agent over board. He struggled in the water and the blue thermos fell from his hand into the stream of the Bosphorus. The fact was that the North Koreans were good fighters on land but poor swimmers and the three men tried to cling desperately to the sinking zodiak. Ketut and Putu were not afraid of the water; they had grown up on the beach at Kuta in Bali. Their heads down, they rushed the remaining agent and he was soon overboard too. Emily and her Balinese comrades were now the possessors of the zodiak and Ketut quickly found one of the wooden paddles stowed in the rear of the boat and began thumping any of the Koreans who tried to come back on board.
I don’t know how long this standoff could have lasted; just at that moment a light rowing boat launched by the Eurodam from the gangway on A deck began to draw close; two young Indonesian sailors were at the oars and a Dutch officer was directing them towards the three friends struggling to stay afloat on the punctured zodiak. The row boat was matched, however, by another zodiak from the Korean cargo ship speeding towards them. The North Koreans on the second zodiak would most certainly have had more guns; against them, both the row boat and the little group of friends on the original, sinking zodiak would be defenseless. Just at that moment, a cutter from the Turkish navy sounded its horn and sped towards them; above, a helicopter launched by the Turkish coastguard came noisily down, its searchlight sweeping the cold water. The beam of hard white light caught for just a second the blue thermos bobbing on the surface just out of reach of any of the players.
The Shabby North Korean Freighter where the Agents Escaped
That’s when Emily did her last brave deed for the day: without a thought, she dived in and swam to catch it as it began to sink. It felt heavy in her hands but she wouldn’t surrender it and she swam awkwardly towards the row boat as it came close. The Dutch officer helped to haul her aboard. The arrival of the helicopter had apparently made quite a difference to the confrontation in the water; the Koreans decided that their best plan was to flee – and to flee quickly. The second zodiak increased speed and swept down on them: Emily feared that the Koreans were planning to attack Ketut and Putu and cried a warning. Instead, the speeding boat slowed only long enough for strong hands to reach out and pluck the two agents and the sailor from their precarious hold. Then it spun dramatically and fled in the direction of the shabby cargo boat. The Korean captain wanted the boat to be in International waters – and out of reach of the Turkish coastguard – as soon as possible.
The tension seemed to ease at this point. The wounded zodiak sank as Ketut and Putu were taken on board the crowded rowboat and the Indonesian sailors rowed as quickly as they could for the Eurodam’s gangway. Emily, Ketut and Putu were cold, shivering and looked frightful but their faces were wreathed with the most intense, indelible smiles. They could hear exciting cheering from the decks above them: word of the incident had spread rapidly through the ship and almost all the passengers and crew had assembled on balconies and the Promenade Deck to watch the action. Few of them would have known exactly what had happened but they had heard the shots, seen the Korean zodiak racing towards their boat and seen the helicopter swooping low. The loudest cheers were from the Indonesian crew who had seen their mates plucked from the water as heroes. There was a crowd of family and sailors waiting for them as they stepped out of the rowboat – Emily straight into the arms of her Mum and Ketut and Putu into the solid, comforting hug of Captain Maldemer. Even though Emily was in her own underwear and dripping with wet, she scanned the crowd and found Lorenzo and Celeste, still in their evening dress. Emily stepped forward and handed the thermos to Lorenzo with a little bow. “I think that these might be yours, Your Grace.”