Friday, May 27, 2016

Murder on Mykonos By J.R. Sparlin

Ginny is asked by her wealthy former roommate to accompany her characterful family on a yacht trip to Mykonos; by J.R. Sparlin.

As a scholarship student at Sarah Lawrence, I was fortunate not to have a snob for a roommate. Ariana Hampton obviously had money. She was beautiful and wore beautiful clothes (always matching bras and panties) and went skiing in Vail on spring break and to Barbados for Christmas. But she never looked down on me (even though I never had matching underwear).

A few months after graduation, she asked me to go on an Aegean cruise on her family's yacht. "It's a small yacht," she assured me. "It only sleeps twelve."

I am not very knowledgeable about yachts, but that didn't sound particularly small.

"It will just be a small group," she continued. "Me, you, my parents, my brother, Aunt Agatha, and Sir Clyde. And the crew."

The crew.

I caught a cheap flight back to New York and met her at the airport. She had found her dream job at Vera Wang and looked it. Her eyes sparkled, her dark hair fell around her shoulders and she wore a black sweater, gray tweed skirt and boots. For a flight. I was wearing sweatpants, but by now I was very used to the differences in our clothes.

She ran across the concourse to hug me and dragged me over to the gate, chattering about Vera Wang. Ariana and her family had bought my transatlantic ticket. When I argued, she just looked confused and said, "But you are a guest."

Our seats were in first class.

The seats were bigger and more comfortable than I had ever imagined and the flight attendants were smiling. "I've never flown first class," I whispered.

She patted my leg. "You'll like it."

I did.

The sun was rising as we landed in Athens and look a small commuter jet to an unpronounceably named small town where the Minerva made berth. I stared out the window at the rapidly enlarging white-roofed village and the blue, blue Aegean, bluer than any jewel.

Ariana got us a taxi. The town was a noisy jumble of tiny streets, white roofs, and bright flowers. We skidded around a corner and the harbor lay before us, dotted with magnificent white boats. I didn't see anything I would describe as a small yacht.

"There she is," said Ariana.

Minerva was tied to the dock, insolently surveying the vessels on either side of her. She was not the biggest yacht in the harbor, but she didn't seem to know it. A woman who had to be Ariana's mother appeared on the gangway and waved. Two stewards in white shirts and shorts appeared to take our luggage.

The rest of the evening was like a fairy tale.

We cruised off into the sunset on a sapphire sea. We ate steak and shrimp in the observation lounge, surrounded by windows onto the ocean, eating from china and drinking from crystal.

Ariana's mother is a gracious, smiling woman, who looks just as Ariana will when she's forty-five. She made sure my steak was cooked to my liking and told Ariana to stop eating so many shrimp.

"But I love shrimp," said Ariana.

"You'll make yourself sick," said her mother.

Her father is a famous heart surgeon, a little gruff and preoccupied but nice. He looked up from his rare steak long enough to say, "You were Ariana's roommate, Ginny?"

"Yes," I said.

"What did you major in?"

"Art history."

"Well then! You'll have to take a look at our art while you're on board."

"We have a Picasso, a Chagall, and a Matisse," said Aunt Agatha.

I hoped my shock and horror didn't show. Put paintings on a boat? A boat that could sink? A boat that was continually damp and bumping around?

"They're very nice pieces," drawled Eliot. "I'll show them to you after dinner."

Ariana rolled her eyes at me. Her brother Eliot is at Harvard law. He has thin blond hair and a receding chin and thinks he's very important.

Mrs. Hampton gave a shrimp to Sir Clyde. Sir Clyde is an immense bulldog. His purpose in life is to adore and defend Mrs. Hampton from all enemies, real and imagined.

Aunt Agatha is really Ariana's great-aunt. She took a drink of her wine, deliberately showing off the huge emerald ring she wore on her right hand. "Ginny, are you doing anything with your degree?"

"I work in the museum back home."

"Oh! Really," said Aunt Agatha.

"Is there any more shrimp?" said Ariana.

After dinner Eliot, Ariana and I went for a walk on the deck. It wasn't a very big deck, but you could walk in circles. The sea was dark forever and the rising moon flickered in and out behind the hills of the rocky coast.

"Of course I plan to have a much better yacht," Eliot was saying. "Something that can hold jet skis and a sailboat..."

"Ignore him," whispered Ariana.

I was. Every artist wants to go to Greece, to see where civilization and theatre had their birth and sculpture its apogee, to see the markets and the ruins and the island sacred to Dionysus and the place where Venus rose from the sea.

And to see Greece with my best friend aboard this beautiful yacht - it was perfect.

Less than a week later, I wanted to jump overboard.

The morning after we set sail, I got up to find breakfast laid in the observation lounge. Orange juice shone in crystal glasses and wonderful smells steamed from under covered silver dishes. The sea sparkled blue, blue, blue out the windows. Everyone was smiling, asking me if I'd slept well. Sir Clyde was wearing a captain's hat.

"I did not sleep at all well," said Aunt Agatha. "The boat was sloshing around all night. I could barely walk."

"That's because it's such a small yacht," put in Eliot.

"Where's Ariana?" said her father.

"I'll go get her," I said.

"No, no," said Aunt Agatha. "Send the girl." She beckoned to one of the stewardesses, a beautiful dark-haired girl in the white shirt and shorts all the crew wore. She bobbed her head and almost ran from the lounge.

"I can never remember her name," said Aunt Agatha. "Juana? Juanella?"

"Juanita," said Ariana's mother.

Juanita was back soon, her eyes wide. "Miss Ariana is sick."

Dr. Hampton stood. "Fortunately there's a doctor on board," he said. "I'll go see about her."

But he was back soon, looking slightly serious. "I think she has food poisoning," he said. "I want to get another doctor. I'm pretty far out of my specialty here."

Dr. Hampton and the captain took the yacht's tender to shore. I stared out at sea, hoping Ariana was all right. Mrs. Hampton had excused herself to go see her, but Eliot and Aunt Agatha stayed at the table.

"You must eat, Ginny," Aunt Agatha said. Her emerald ring flashed as she spread butter on her toast. "I'm sure she's fine."

Eliot started to tell a long and rambling story about how Ariana had gotten sick when they were skiing in Aspen. I wasn't listening. I nibbled at some bacon and eggs (the best I ever tasted) and drank my glowing orange juice.

Dr. Hampton brought back a young Greek doctor who looked like a statue come to life. They went to see Ariana and came up on deck where the rest of us were sitting in the sun.

"She has food poisoning," said the Greek doctor. "Did she eat anything the rest of you didn't?"

We all looked at each other. "She ate a lot of shrimp," I said.

"But the rest of you also ate shrimp?"

We nodded. "I told her not to eat so much," Mrs. Hampton said.

"I thought it tasted funny," said Aunt Agatha.

"Where did you get the shrimp?" asked the Greek doctor.

Inquiries were made. It appeared that Carlos, the chef's assistant, had purchased the shrimp from a local fisherman.

"I knew it!" said Aunt Agatha.

"There may have been one bad shrimp," said the Greek doctor. "She is not dangerously ill, but she will feel very bad for a few days." He smiled at us, a smile as dazzling as the sun on the water.

I watched wistfully as the tender carried the Greek doctor back to shore. I reminded myself that Ariana was ill and this was not the time to be staring stupidly at Greek doctors. Mrs. Hampton interrupted my train of thought.

"Ginny, I'm sorry Ariana can't spend time with you today. Maybe Eliot will take you shopping or something."

"Of course," Eliot said immediately.

There was absolutely no way I could get out of it. I went to put on my green knit dress and white floppy hat and departed with Eliot in the tender.

The captain let us out at the dock and we walked up one of the little shop-lined streets. "You're very kind to be so concerned for Ariana," Eliot said condescendingly. "But I'm sure she's fine. She tends to overreact to things, you know."

We turned a corner and there was a little stall where an artist had set up his paintings. I picked up a small one, a study of the sea and the corner of an island with white roofs rising steeply up the hillside. I paid the euros he asked without bargaining. He wrapped it in tissue paper, a little regretfully. It is always hard for an artist to part with his work.

"Thank you," I said. His smile flashed out, making him almost as beautiful as the Greek doctor. Eliot watched jealously, taking my arm as we walked away. I shook him off so I could slide the painting into my tote.

"What next?" said Eliot.

"Um - I'd like to look for a dress." It was clear I needed one - everyone dressed for dinner on the Minerva and I had brought only one dressy dress, my black sheath. Also I hoped that dress shopping would get rid of Eliot. But he was delighted. "I'll buy it for you," he said.

"No, that's all right." My plan was not working.

I bought a white skirt and camisole with shell buttons and a gauzy peach shawl. I refused to try them on for Eliot, but I did allow him to carry the package. We ate a late lunch in what should have been the most romantic restaurant imaginable. It was a cluster of little umbrellaed tables set on a rocky outcrop overlooking the harbor.

"There's Minerva," Eliot said.

I ate my spinach salad, looking out over the yachts. I had only been a day in this atmosphere of luxury, but it did not seem to me that the children of privilege were any happier than anyone else. Certainly not Ariana's neurotic brother.

"Why are you going to law school?" I asked.

He blinked; I had interrupted him, but I had no idea what he had been saying. "It's what I always wanted," he said slowly. "Law is what holds everything together. Without law, there is no civilization - just anarchy and misery and waste. Law creates peace."

I looked at him with more respect, and let him pay for lunch, but that just encouraged him. He suggested more shopping, but I said I wanted to check on Ariana so he called for the tender and we sped back out to the yacht.

I tapped on Ariana's cabin door and peered in. Ariana - bright, beautiful, bubbly Ariana - was huddled in bed in her pink pajamas, one hand clutching the edge of the mattress and one leg hanging off the bed. Her face was ivory-green. "Go away," she said.

"How are you doing?"

"I hate you." She grabbed a basin next to the bed, threw up, and started crying. I took the basin to the bathroom, rinsed it out, brought it back, and wiped off her face with a damp towel.

At dinner that night, Mrs. Hampton had dark circles under her eyes. She had been taking care of Ariana most of the day.

"Why don't you sleep in tomorrow," said Dr. Hampton. "I'll look after Ariana."

"I'll do it," I said.

"No, no, no," said Dr. Hampton. "You're here to have fun."

"I think we'll go to Mykonos tomorrow," said Aunt Agatha. "I'll tell the captain to leave at dawn and we'll be there by midmorning. It is the place to be right now."

Eliot insisted on sitting next to me, offering me more fettuccini, more wine, a walk on deck after dinner. I declined. "I'd like to go see Ariana," I said firmly.

I peeked in Ariana's cabin, but she seemed to be asleep, wearing the same pink pajamas. I tiptoed across the passage to my cabin and peered out the porthole. It was a beautiful moonlit night in Greece and I did not want to go to bed, but if I left my cabin Eliot would be hovering around. I put on my pajamas, lay down, and fell asleep almost immediately.

At dawn, I was vaguely aware of Minerva casting off her moorings and chugging out to sea. I turned over and went back to sleep.

I woke up to laughter outside my porthole, and the sounds of a busy harbor - ship's bells clanging, men speaking rapidly in Greek. I dressed in my beige pants, bright blue t-shirt and floppy white hat. I was determined to evade Eliot.

The observation deck faced away from land, and a huge white cruise ship was coming slowly into port. It looked like a hotel that had broken off and was floating. Dr. Hampton, Aunt Agatha, and Eliot sat at the breakfast table eating spinach frittata.

"I thought we could go sailing today," said Eliot eagerly. "We don't have a sailboat but we could rent one."

"I was actually going to do a little shopping," I said.

"I'll go with you," said Eliot.

"Well - it's actually girl shopping."

"Girl shopping?"

Aunt Agatha laughed. "She doesn't want you to go with her." Her emerald winked on her hand.

Eliot turned purple and looked at his plate. Dr. Hampton coughed slightly.

"I'd like to go sailing with you another day, Eliot," I said.

He looked slightly mollified, and Dr. Hampton looked pleased. "The captain will take you wherever you want to go in the tender, Ginny," he said.

I felt wretched as the tender chugged away from Minerva. I did not want to go sailing with Eliot on any day. And I hadn't been rude to him, but Aunt Agatha had soured the conversation.

Mykonos was hip and stylish and aware of it. Beaches gave way to luxury hotels that terraced the hillsides. Nightclubs slept the day away. I found a less fashionable side street, bought some bread, olives, and feta cheese, and headed to a small harbor I'd noticed nearby.

There were no yachts in this harbor. There were a few tourist boats, some motorboats and jet skis for rent, a few fishing boats. Next to one, a middle-aged man sat mending a net. He lacked the Greek doctor's beauty, but he looked pleasant and cheerful.

I approached him and asked him to take me to some of the islands near Mykonos. He agreed and we settled on a fee. I climbed into the faded little red boat and we chugged off. He said his name was Petra.

"What island do you like?" he asked.

"A small island," I said. "With some ruins. And no shops and no people."

He considered. "Goats all right?"

"Goats are fine."

The coast of Greece was fretted with tiny islands broken off into the sea. The motorboat chugged sturdily along for fifteen or twenty minutes and came to a tiny rocky island. Petra ran his boat up on the gravelly beach and helped me out. "I come back in one hour," he said.

"Two hours."

He shook his head. "Two hours." He pushed his boat back into the sea and climbed aboard, muttering.

Finally I was alone. I walked all the way around the island (which took about ten minutes) and then climbed to the top of the hill in its center. It was crowned with white ruins, just a few stubs and fallen columns slowly fading into the grass. I wondered what they had been. A temple? A summer home? A lighthouse?

I sat on one of the broken columns and ate my bread and cheese and olives. The island was white and gray rock breaking through the scrubby grass. A few brown goats grazed on the sides of the hill. The sea washed up on the beach and rattled the gravel as it hissed back out. I was out of time, deep in the silence of the place, listening to a long-vanished sea break on the shore.

All too soon I heard Petra's motorboat chugging up to the beach. I said goodbye to the goats and climbed down the hill.

Petra was standing with his hands on his hips. "You ready now?" he said. "And what happen to you if I not come back?"

He had not approved of leaving me on the island alone. I asked him to take me directly to Minerva. "Yes, that good idea," he said. We arrived at the harbor and I pointed out the yacht. "Yes! That nice boat," he said approvingly. "Nice friends. You stay with them, not go off by yourself. Young girls running around on islands," he said.

I paid him a little extra and climbed Minerva's ladder. Mrs. Hampton's face appeared over the side. "Ginny? What are you doing?"

I climbed on deck as Petra waved goodbye and chugged away. "Hello, Mrs. Hampton. I didn't want to have to bother you to send the tender."

Mrs. Hampton looked astonished, and I began to have the feeling I had overstepped some rule. Aunt Agatha confirmed this a minute later. "Ginny, where have you been?" She waved her hand in front of her face. "You simply reek of fish!"

"I'm sorry," I said. "I'll go take a shower."

"Juanita will clean your clothes," called Ariana's mother.

Juanita appeared in my cabin and took my clothes, and I took a shower and washed my hair. Twice. Then I put on my white dress and went up on deck to be agreeable.

Mrs. Hampton was dozing in a sun chair, Aunt Agatha sat flipping through a magazine, and Eliot moped around and wouldn't talk to me. But I asked him to tell me about the kind of yacht he wanted some day, and that kept him busy for the next two hours.

During dinner, a sudden gust of cool wind blew in off the sea, rocking the boat. Eliot ran to close the windows of the observation deck. "Clouds moving in," he said.

"Juana, go get me my wrap," said Aunt Agatha.

Juanita returned with my peach shawl, as well as Aunt Agatha's red one. She smiled at me when I thanked her. As she went around the table, another gust of wind hit the yacht. She stumbled against the wall where an enormous stuffed marlin was displayed. The marlin crashed to the deck and the tip of its spike broke off.

"Are you all right?" said Dr. Hampton.

"Oh! I am sorry!" cried Juanita.

"Oh! You stupid girl!" cried Aunt Agatha. "My father caught that marlin off Key West." She picked up the broken piece of spike and it cut her thumb. "Oh! Now look what you've done! I'm bleeding!"

"I am sorry!" said Juanita.

Dr. Hampton examined Aunt Agatha's thumb. "It's just a scratch," he said. "Let me bandage it for you. It'll be fine."

"You're dismissed!" said Aunt Agatha to Juanita. "You go onshore tonight!"

"Onshore?" said Juanita. She looked terrified. "Tonight? Where will I go?"

Mrs. Hampton stepped between them. "We should really see to your finger, Aunt Agatha," she said. "Why don't we talk about Juanita tomorrow?"

"Fine, keep the girl onboard if you like!" screamed Aunt Agatha. "I'll bandage my finger myself." She stormed off the observation deck.

It didn't really storm that night, but rain occasionally spattered against the portholes and gusts of wind rocked the Minerva. I thought I heard Juanita crying during the night. Poor thing.

In the morning, the sky and sea were gray. I was trying to decide what to wear with my beige pants (clean and hanging in my closet after dinner last night) when I heard a scream.

I rushed up the ladder to the observation deck. The table was laid for breakfast, but Eliot and Ariana's parents were standing on the other side of the deck, behind some lounge chairs. Aunt Agatha lay on the deck, on her side, pierced through the heart with the marlin spike. The stewardesses had set the breakfast table without seeing her or the pool of blood that spread halfway under the chairs.

It was Mrs. Hampton who had screamed; her hands were over her mouth. Sir Clyde alternately growled in all directions and whined up at her. Eliot was reaching down to the body. "No, Eliot, don't touch her," Dr. Hampton said sharply. "Go tell the captain to call the police."

"It had to be Juanita," said Eliot. "We have to call the American embassy."

"We don't know that," snapped Dr. Hampton. "Don't give the police any ideas." He took a deep breath. "Besides, I seriously doubt she's an American citizen."

Eliot started talking about international law and habeas corpus and the right to trial. I felt sorrier than ever for Juanita. You didn't have to be a student at Harvard law to know that an American citizen murdered in Greek waters by an illegal Mexican immigrant was a very touchy situation.

"Her ring is gone," I said.

The huge emerald ring that had winked at me so wickedly was missing from Aunt Agatha's finger.

Sir Clyde barked sharply. "Eliot," said Dr. Hampton, "lock that dog in your mother's cabin so he doesn't attack the police."

Things happened quickly. A police boat roared up to the Minerva and Greek policemen swarmed over the yacht. They asked everyone a lot of questions, but no one seemed to know anything. They took Aunt Agatha back on the boat with them. Before they left, the policeman in charge turned and said, "Of course we must ask you not to leave Mykonos."

"Of course," said Dr. Hampton.

Mrs. Hampton went to lie down; Dr. Hampton went to talk to the captain; Eliot disappeared. I went to Ariana's cabin and tapped on the door.

Ariana was sitting up in bed. Her hair was damp from a shower and she wore different pajamas. These were good signs. But her eyes were red from crying.

"Oh, Ginny," she said. "It's so awful. I can't believe it. And I can't believe I'm crying for her - she was so awful - but she was my aunt after all -“

"Ariana, I hate to ask this, but who gets Aunt Agatha's money now?"

Ariana blinked. "Well, we do, I suppose. Dad does, really. She's his aunt."

"What about Minerva?"

"Minerva was hers," said Ariana. "So now she's Dad's." She thought for a minute. "It's weird about her ring missing," she said finally. "It doesn't make any sense.""So if Juanita killed her," I said slowly, "she would keep her job, because your parents wouldn't fire her. Because they don't blame her for knocking down the marlin, and they don't think she killed your aunt."

"I suppose," said Ariana slowly.

But really, I thought, Juanita wasn't the only one with a motive. Dr. Hampton - and Mrs. Hampton - inherited all her money.

And she had really humiliated Eliot yesterday. I remembered him staring at his plate, his face purple, as she had laughed at him, telling him I didn't want his company. I squirmed with guilt. But had she humiliated him enough to kill her?

"Maybe you should go talk to Carlos," said Ariana.

"Carlos?"

"The chef's assistant. He's Juanita's brother. Maybe he knows something."

I nodded. I remembered Carlos now, who had bought the shrimp that had poisoned Ariana.

"You look tired," I said. "I'd better let you rest."

Ariana had dark circles under her eyes. "We have to figure this out, Ginny," she said. "Otherwise they'll arrest Juanita. And I don't think she'd do a thing like that."

I nodded.

"And -" she hesitated. "I'm sorry Eliot's been bugging you. He's not so bad, really. He's just trying to impress you."

I patted her arm. "Eliot's fine."

I went to the galley. Carlos and the chef were making sandwiches. "May I speak with Carlos?" I asked.

The chef looked surprised. "Certainly, miss," she said. "You can step into the pantry if you like. I'm sorry I can't stop working."

The pantry was bigger than my cabin. One side was lined with refrigerator and freezer doors. The others were covered with shelves stacked with every possible kind of food - pastas, cans of soup and vegetables, sodas, crackers, chips, baking supplies. The funny thing was that I didn't think I'd been served anything from a can since I'd been on board. These supplies were only for emergencies; the produce, the real food, was in the refrigerators.

Carlos' hands were shaking. "Yes, miss?"

"Ariana asked me to talk to you," I said. "We want to help your sister."

Tears welled up in his eyes. "What will happen to her?"

"I don't know. I don't know anything about Greek law."

"She is in her cabin. She is afraid to come out."

"Do you know anything that might help her, Carlos?"

His eyes darted around the pantry. "If I tell you something, you will help her?"

"I'll try."

"All right, I tell you." The more agitated he became, the thicker his accent. "Last night I go in observation room to clean, but Miss Agatha was there. She was crying over fish."

I felt a sudden stab of pity for Aunt Agatha, sudden as the marlin spike that stabbed her. "Go on."

"She was walking around holding the fish, but the wind blew the boat and it rocked. She fell down on the fish and it stabbed her. I ran to help her but she was dead. I thought, they will blame my sister because of the fish. I thought, I will make it look like someone came onboard and killed her for her ring. I turned Miss Agatha on her side and I took her ring." Carlos took a deep breath and blew it out.

"Where is the ring?"

"Here," he said. He reached over to the spice cabinet and took down a jar of curry powder. "No one in the family likes curry. No one would open this."

I opened the jar and poked a finger in. The curry was very strong - it made my eyes water. My finger hooked something and I drew out Aunt Agatha's curry-covered but unmistakable emerald ring.

I brushed off the clinging yellow powder. "Would you tell this to Dr. Hampton and the police?"

Carlos nodded. "Yes. What will happen to us? To me and Juanita?"

I hesitated. "I know the Hamptons want to help you."

The Greek police believed Carlos' story, mostly because Aunt Agatha's fingerprints (at just the right angle) had been found on the marlin where she had held it. Juanita came to my cabin in tears. "Thank you, Miss Ginny," she said.

"It was Ariana who asked me to talk to Carlos," I said. "I'm glad you're all right."

Later that night I stood by the rail with Eliot. "I'm sorry this has been such a miserable vacation for you," he said.

"A lot of it was nice," I said truthfully. I would never forget those hours alone on that little island, listening to the past with the goats and the ruins.

He leaned over to kiss me. I let him. It wasn't a terrible kiss. He opened his eyes and looked at me. "No good, huh?"

I patted his arm. "Your sister is my best friend," I said. "I'd like you to be my friend, too."

He sighed. "Better than nothing."

Sir Clyde wandered up and licked my hand. We stood on deck and watched the moon rise over Mykonos, highlighting every rock and hill and silvering the sea.

10 comments:

  1. A well observed story, neatly resolved at its conclusion. It might benefit from something unresolved at the end to leave the reader wondering? Many thanks,
    Ceinwen

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    1. Thanks very much for reading! Your suggestion to leave something unresolved is interesting; I will consider it for future stories.

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  2. an old fashioned whodunnit. very well constructed and with very credible characters and also informative.
    well done

    Mike McC

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    1. I'm glad you found the characters credible -- Sir Clyde was my grandmother's dog in real life. Thanks for reading!

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  3. Good pace - plot and observation hand-in-hand and believable characters. I enjoyed it.

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    1. I'm so glad you enjoyed it! I'm glad you found the characters believable -- as I told Mr. McC, Sir Clyde was based on my grandmother's dog. Thanks for reading!

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  4. I enjoyed this story for its sense of place. The only Greek Island I've visited is Paxos which struck me as being all about light which is what this piece majors in. Some meticulous description - particularly fascinated to find myself in Carlos's pantry with all that tinned emergency food. I agree with Ceinwen insofaras perhaps a tiny question mark at the end?
    B r o o k e

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    1. Thanks for reading! I'm glad you enjoyed the setting. I took a chance when writing this, because I have never actually been to Greece or on a yacht. Thank you for the suggestion regarding the ending -- as I mentioned to Ceinwen, I will keep that in mind for future stories.

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  5. I too concur with Ceinwen. Always best to leave a question in the mind of the reader, a whiff of uncertainty. But I really enjoyed the story and your characterizations! Well done!

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  6. I'm so glad you enjoyed the story! Thanks for reading! I will certainly keep your suggestion in mind for future stories!

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