All by Myself, Alone, p.1Mary Higgins Clark
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In memory of my mother and father
Luke and Nora Higgins
and my brothers
Joseph and John
And so the good ship Queen Charlotte is ready to set sail. I hope all my readers will enjoy the voyage.
It is time once again to say a profound thank-you to Michael Korda, my editor of over forty years. He is, as always, indispensable. It was his suggestion that I set this story on a cruise liner, and he guided me through the process of completing it.
Marysue Rucci, editor-in-chief of Simon & Schuster, for her sage advice and creative suggestions.
My gratitude to my spouse extraordinaire, John Conheeney, who listens sympathetically when I am deep in the writing process. Hats off to my children and grandchildren, who are always encouraging and supportive.
A special note of appreciation to my son Dave for his research and editorial help.
Thank you to a gem of a jeweler, Arthur Groom, for spending time to walk me through the wonderful world of precious stones.
Many thanks to admiralty lawyer Jim Walker, who provided ideas about how ship management might respond to onboard emergencies.
Thank you to former FBI Special Agent Wes Rigler for his helpful advice.
I cannot fail to honor the memory of social arbiter Emily Post, who gave us a delightful glance at the customs and manners of one hundred years ago.
And last but surely not least, thank you, my dear readers. I so appreciate your continuing support.
Cheers and blessings,
The magnificent cruise liner Queen Charlotte was about to leave on her maiden voyage from her berth on the Hudson River. Promised to be the epitome of luxury, she was compared to both the first Queen Mary and even the Titanic, which had been the height of luxury one hundred years earlier.
One by one the passengers filed aboard, checked in and were invited to the Grand Lounge, where they were met by white-gloved waiters offering champagne. When the last guest had come aboard, Captain Fairfax gave a speech of welcome.
“We promise you the most elegant voyage you have ever or will ever encounter,” he said, his British accent adding even more luster to his words. “You will find your suites furnished in the grand tradition of those of the most magnificent ocean liners of yesteryear. Queen Charlotte was constructed to accommodate precisely one hundred guests. Our eighty-five crew members are committed to serving you in every possible way. The entertainment will be worthy of Broadway, Carnegie Hall and the Metropolitan Opera. There will be a wide range of lectures to choose from. Our presenters include celebrity authors, former diplomats, and experts on Shakespeare and gemology. The finest chefs from around the globe will conduct farm-to-table cooking presentations. And we know that cruising is thirsty business. To remedy this hardship, there will be a series of wine tastings hosted by renowned connoisseurs. In keeping with the spirit of this cruise, one day there will be a lecture from the book of Emily Post, the legendary social arbiter of a century ago, illuminating the delightful manners of the past. These are only a few of the many activities you may choose from.
“In closing, the menus have been chosen from the recipes of the finest chefs the world over. Now, once again, welcome to your new home for the next six days.
“And now I would like to introduce Gregory Morrison, the owner of the Queen Charlotte. It was his vision that this ship would be perfect in every detail, and that is why you will enjoy the most luxurious cruise you will ever experience.”
Gregory Morrison, a stout, ruddy-faced, silver-haired man, stepped forward.
“I want to welcome all of you aboard. Today is the realization of a young boy’s wish that began over fifty years ago. I stood next to my father, a tugboat captain, as he guided the most magnificent cruise ships of his day in and out of New York harbor. Truth be told, while my father was looking forward, toward where we were heading, I was looking back, watching in awe as spectacular cruise liners sliced elegantly through the gray Hudson River water. Even then I knew I wanted someday to build a ship even more awe-inspiring than the vessels I admired all those years ago. Queen Charlotte in all her majesty is the realization of the dream I dared to dream. Whether you are with us for five days to Southampton or stay with us for ninety days around the world, I hope today marks the beginning of an experience you will never forget.” Raising his glass, he said, “Anchors away.”
There was a smattering of applause, then people turned to their nearest fellow passengers and began to chat. Alvirah and Willy Meehan, celebrating their forty-fifth wedding anniversary, were relishing their great fortune. Before they won the lottery, she had been cleaning houses and he had been repairing overflowing toilets and broken pipes.
Thirty-four-year-old Ted Cavanaugh accepted a glass of champagne and looked around. He recognized some of the people on board, the chairmen of General Electric and Goldman Sachs, several Hollywood A-list couples.
A voice next to him asked, “By any chance would you be related to the ambassador Mark Cavanaugh? You bear a striking resemblance to him.”
“Yes, I am.” Ted smiled. “I’m his son.”
“I knew I couldn’t be wrong. Let me introduce myself. I am Charles Chillingsworth.”
Ted recognized the name of the retired ambassador to France.
“Your father and I were young attachés together,” Chillingsworth said. “All the girls in the embassy were in love with your father. I told him no one deserved to be that good-looking. He served as ambassador to Egypt for two different presidents as I recall, then to the Court of St. James’s.”
“Yes, he did,” Ted confirmed. “My father was fascinated by Egypt. And I share his passion. I spent many years growing up there. Then we moved to London when he became ambassador to Great Britain.”
“Have you followed in his footsteps?”
“No, I am a lawyer, but a good part of my practice is devoted to recovering antiques and artifacts that have been stolen from their countries of origin.” What he did not say was that his specific reason for being on this voyage was to meet Lady Emily Haywood and persuade her to return her famed Cleopatra emerald necklace to its rightful owners, the people of Egypt.
Professor Henry Longworth overheard the conversation and leaned in closer to hear the exchanges better, his eyes sparkling with interest. He had been invited aboard as a lecturer. A renowned expert on Shakespeare, his presentations, which always included renditions of passages, never failed to delight his audiences. A medium-sized man in his sixties, with thinning hair, he was a sought-after speaker on cruises and at colleges.
Devon Michaelson stood a short distance apart from the other guests. He had no need or desire for the banal small talk that was the inevitable result of strangers meeting for the first time. Like Professor Longworth, he was in his early sixties with no outstanding height or remarkable facial features.
Also standing by herself was twenty-eight-year-old Celia Kilbride. Tall, with black hair and sapphire-blue eyes, she did not notice, nor would she have cared about, the admiring glances that were cast at her by her fellow passengers.
The first stop on the round-the-world voyage would be
The most excited passenger in the room was fifty-six-year-old divorcée Anna DeMille of Kansas, who had been the grand-prize winner of this trip in a church-sponsored raffle. Her dyed black hair and matching eyebrows were bold against her thin face and body. Her prayer was that this would be her opportunity to meet Mr. Right. Why not? she asked herself. I won the raffle. Maybe this is finally going to be my year.
Eighty-six-year-old Lady Emily Haywood, famed for her wealth and philanthropy, was attended by the guests she had invited: Brenda Martin, her assistant and companion over the last twenty years, Roger Pearson, who was both her investment manager and the executor of her estate, and Roger’s wife Yvonne.
When interviewed about the cruise, Lady Emily had stated that she intended to bring her legendary Cleopatra emerald necklace and wear it in public for the first time.
As the passengers began to disperse, wishing each other “Bon voyage,” they could not know that at least one of them would not reach Southampton alive.
Instead of going to her cabin, Celia Kilbride stood by the railing of the cruise ship and watched as she sailed past the Statue of Liberty. Her time on the ship would be less than a week, but it was long enough to get away from the glaring media coverage of Steven getting arrested on the night of their rehearsal dinner, twenty-four hours before their wedding. Was it really only four weeks ago?
They had been toasting each other when the FBI agents walked into the private dining room of 21 Club. The photographer who had been taking pictures had snapped one of them together, and another focusing on the five-carat engagement ring she was wearing.
Handsome, witty, charming, Steven Thorne had cheated her friends into investing in a hedge fund that was created only to benefit him and his lavish lifestyle. Thank God he was arrested before we were married, Celia thought, as the ship sailed into the Atlantic. At least I was spared that.
So much of life is chance, she thought. It was shortly after her father died two years ago that she had been in London for a gemology seminar. When Carruthers Jewelers provided a business-class airline ticket, it was the first time she had flown other than in coach.
She was in her seat for the flight back to New York, sipping a complimentary glass of wine, when an impeccably dressed man put his briefcase in the overhead compartment and slid into the seat next to hers. “I’m Steven Thorne,” he said with a warm smile as he extended his hand to her. He explained that he was returning from a financial conference. By the time they landed, she had agreed to meet him for dinner.
Celia shook her head. How could she, a gemologist who could find a flaw in any gemstone, so misjudge a human being? She inhaled deeply and the wonderful scent of the ocean seeped into her lungs. I’m going to stop thinking about Steven, she promised herself. But it was hard to forget how many of her friends had invested money they couldn’t afford to lose because she had introduced them to Steven. She had been forced to sit for an interview with the FBI. She wondered if they believed that she was involved in the theft, despite the fact that she had invested her own money in the scheme.
She had hoped not to know any fellow passengers, but it had been widely publicized that Lady Emily Haywood would be on the ship. She regularly brought pieces from her vast collection of jewelry to Carruthers on Fifth Avenue to be cleaned or repaired, and insisted that Celia check each one for any chips or scratches. Her assistant, Brenda Martin, was always with her. And Willy Meehan, the man who had come in to buy a forty-fifth wedding anniversary gift for his wife, Alvirah, had told her all about the fact that they had won forty million dollars in the lottery. She’d liked him immediately.
But with so many people on the ship, it would be easy to have plenty of private time, aside from the two lectures and one Q&A session she would be giving. She had been a guest speaker several times on Castle Line ships. Each time, the agent in charge of entertainment events told her that the passengers had voted her the most interesting lecturer. He had phoned her only last week to invite her to fill in for a lecturer who had become ill at the last minute.
It had been manna from Heaven to get away from the sympathy of some friends and the resentment of the others who had lost money. I’m so glad to be here, she thought, as she turned and went down to her cabin.
Like every square inch of Queen Charlotte, the exquisitely furnished suite had been designed with meticulous attention to detail. It was a sitting room, bedroom and bath. It had roomy closets, unlike the older ships she had traveled on where the concierge suites were half this size. The door opened onto a balcony where she could sit outside when she wanted to feel the ocean breezes without being in the company of others.
She was tempted to go out on the balcony now, but decided to unpack and get settled instead. Her first lecture would be tomorrow afternoon and she wanted to go over her notes. The subject matter was the history of rare gems, beginning with ancient civilizations.
Her phone rang. She picked it up and heard a familiar voice on the other end of the line. It was Steven. He was out on bail before his trial. “Celia, I can explain,” he began. She pressed End and slammed down the phone. Just hearing his voice made a wave of shame wash over her. I can detect the smallest flaw in any gem, she thought again bitterly.
She swallowed against the lump in her throat and impatiently brushed tears from her eyes.
Lady Emily Haywood, known to one and all as “Lady Em,” sat straight-backed on a handsome wing chair in the most expensive suite on the ship. She was birdlike thin, with a full head of pure white hair and a wrinkled face that still held signs of beauty. It was easy to visualize her as the dazzling American prima ballerina who at age twenty had captured the heart of Sir Richard Haywood, the then forty-six-year-old famous and wealthy British explorer.
Lady Em sighed and looked around. This is actually worth the money, she thought. She was sitting in the great room of the suite. It had a king-sized television set over the fireplace, antique Persian rugs, couches upholstered in pale gold tapestry on either end of the room, contrasting chairs, antique side tables and a bar. The suite also had a very large bedroom and a bath that included a steam shower and a Jacuzzi. The bathroom floor was heated, and incredible marble mosaics adorned the walls. Doors from the bedroom and the great room opened onto a private balcony. The refrigerator was stocked with the snacks she had chosen.
Lady Em smiled. She had brought some of her best jewels to wear on the ship. There were going to be a lot of celebrities on board for this maiden voyage, and as usual she wanted to outshine them all. When she signed up for the cruise, she had announced that in the spirit of her luxurious surroundings, she was going to bring with her, and wear, the fabulous emerald necklace that was believed to have belonged to Cleopatra. After the cruise, she was planning to donate it to the Smithsonian Institution. It’s beyond priceless, she thought, and with no relatives I bother with, who would I leave it to? Besides that, the Egyptian government was trying to get it back, claiming it came from a looted tomb and must be returned. Let them and the Smithsonian fight about it, Lady Em thought. This is my first, and last, hurrah with the necklace.
The door to the bedroom was slightly open, and she could hear her assistant, Brenda, moving around inside it as she unpacked the steamer trunk and suitcases with the clothing Lady Em had chosen to bring from her extensive wardrobe. Brenda alone was permitted to handle Lady Em’s personal possessions. Butlers and valets were not.
What would I do without her? Lady Em asked herself. Before I even know there is something I want or need, she anticipates it! I hope that her twenty years of devotion to me has not cost her the opportunity to have her own life.
Her financial advisor and the executor of her will, Roger Pearson, was another matter entirely. She had invited Roger and his wife on the cruise and al
But a week ago she had met an old friend, Winthrop Hollows, whom she hadn’t seen in years. Like her, he had been a client of the Pearson accounting firm. When he asked if she still employed Roger, her friend had said, “Be aware he is not the man either his grandfather or father was. I would suggest that you have an outside firm review your finances thoroughly.” When she pressed Winthrop for an explanation, he refused to say more.
She heard footsteps, then the door from the bedroom swung open. Brenda Martin came into the great room. She was a big woman, not so much overweight as muscular. She looked older than her sixty years because she wore her graying hair unflatteringly short. Her round face bore no trace of much-needed makeup. That face now registered a look of concern.
“Lady Em,” she began timidly, “you are frowning. Is anything wrong?”
Be careful, Lady Em warned herself. I don’t want her to know that I’m upset about Roger.
“Am I frowning?” she asked. “I can’t imagine why.”
Brenda’s face now registered a look of profound relief. “Oh, Lady Em,” she said, “I’m so happy that there is nothing disturbing you. I want you to enjoy every moment of this wonderful trip. Shall I phone and order tea?”
“That would be very pleasant, Brenda,” Lady Em agreed. “I will be most interested to attend Celia Kilbride’s lecture tomorrow. It’s amazing such a young woman is so knowledgeable about gems. And I think I will tell her about the curse associated with the Cleopatra necklace.”
“I don’t think you ever told me about that,” Brenda said.
Lady Em chuckled. “Cleopatra was taken prisoner by Caesar’s adopted son and heir, Octavian. She knew that he was planning to take her on his barge to Rome as his captive and had ordered that she wear the emerald necklace during the voyage. As she was about to commit suicide, Cleopatra sent for the necklace and put a curse on it. ‘Whoever takes this necklace to sea, will never live to reach the shore.’ ”
All by Myself, Alone by Mary Higgins Clark / Mystery & Detective have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on25 votes