The Star of Mystery – A Wil Clarey Christmas Short Story

Chapter One – Fallen Elves

If there are fallen angels, maybe there’s fallen elves too.

I think they all got together to plan the worst possible Christmas for an eleven-year-old boy on the autism spectrum. 

I can see it now.

Elf one says, “Wil’s been too good this year, let’s put him somewhere he can’t escape where there’s tons of other obnoxious kids around.”

Elf two says, “Ooh, and let’s take away his video games.”

Elf three says, “Yes, and his only refuge will be a room the size of a closet that he has to share with his mom!”

And they all laughed and waved their evil wands.

That’s how I ended up in this tiny cabin on board the cruise ship, The Star of Mystery for their annual Holiday Cruise.

Yeah, the cabin’s bigger than most closets but there’s no windows.

Yes, I know there’s a big TV and Mom let me bring my Chromebook.

Yes, I also know there’s tons of waterslides, games, and fun. But there’s a ton of people out there. I’ll stick to the little cabin, thank you very much.

Chapter Two – Mikey and Mercy

“The Patterson kids want to know if you’ll go to the water slides with them.”

I think Mom wanted to hang out with their mom.

“Really Mom?”

“Yes, really. We’re on a cruise with a ton of fun stuff to do. Go out and do it.”

“Fine.” I got my swimsuit on and met Mikey and Mercy in the hall.

“Beat you to the elevator!” Mikey yelled as he took off running. He’s only eight so I could have outrun him. I let him win.

“Wow. You can run in the hallway where it says, ‘Don’t run’ all over the place,” Mercy was quick to point out.

She was ten and tried to act like she’s older. She let us call her Mercy but made it very clear that her real name was Mercedes.

We met the Pattersons when we boarded this morning. Well, Mercy and Mikey’s last name is Patterson. I don’t know about their mom. She remarried.

They have the stateroom across the hall. It not only has a view but a balcony.

In the elevator, Mikey declared, “We get to meet the Fallen Apples tonight!”

“The who?” I asked.

Mom answered. “The Fallen Apples. It’s a band. They’re playing tonight in the main theater. You’ve probably heard their song “Drop It” on the radio.

I hadn’t. I don’t pay attention to what’s on the radio. I didn’t want to explain that though. “Okay.”

“Jimmy’s their agent.” Mikey bragged.

“I told you; you should call him dad.” Their mom said.

“But Dad is on board too.” He whined.

“Your father will probably be too busy to see you much this week.”

“Dad said he’d meet us at dinner, and we could stay in his suite tonight.” Mercy added.

“Well hopefully he’ll show up this time.”

Mercifully, the elevator door opened. Mercy, Mikey, and I went straight for the starboard slide. It was the scary one that went way out over the water.

From the top of the ladder, you could see the Florida coast receding. We were on our way to the Bahamas.

Chapter Three – And the Dad

At dinner, Mom and I followed Mercy and Mikey to the dining hall.

Grandma and Grandpa Thompson met us there. They paid for all this.

Mom has a decent job but being a single mom in Southern California is hard.

Grandma and Grandpa aren’t rich, but they like to spoil us.

From what Mercy says, their dad is rich. He looked like it too.

He stood by his table, not only on time but early. “Hey kiddos!”

They ran into his arms.

We went to find another table when Mr. Patterson spoke up. “Stay here. We have this whole table. Thanks for bringing the kids. Angie texted me they’d be coming with you.”

He reached out his hand to Mom.

Mom shook it. “It was no problem, and we don’t want to impose.”

“No imposition, it’s just me and my assistant, Riley.”

Just then, a wiry man wearing a tie walked up with a plate from the buffet.

“With the kids and you four, we’ll round out the table.”

“Okay.” Mom couldn’t refuse.

In a way I was glad since I wouldn’t be eating with total strangers. Just almost strangers.

“Riley, save our spots, would you. Let’s start with the desert buffet,” he said to his kids.

“Don’t even think about it.” Mom said to me. She must have read my thoughts.

I got a big helping of Mac-n-cheese and rolls and got back to the table at the same time Mercy and Mikey brought back plates heaped with deserts.

“Are you kids excited to meet the Fallen Apples tonight?” Mr. Patterson asked.

“I thought they were going with their step-dad.” Mom said.

“He’s their agent but I own the record label.” He looked at Mom. “I’m sorry, I forgot to get your names.”

“I’m Jennifer Clarey. This is my son, Wil, and my parents, Margaret, and Charles Thompson.”

“Call me Cliff.” He got up and walked around the table shaking hands. “So, is there a Mr. Clarey on board?”

“He’s not around anymore.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

Grandpa leaned into me and whispered, “He doesn’t look like he’s sorry.”

When we were done eating, Cliff looked at his watch. “It’s about time we get down to the theater. Would you like to join us?”

Grandma and Grandpa declined but you could tell Mom wanted to go.

Mikey grabbed my arm. “You gotta come, Willy.”

I wanted to be mad at him for using the wrong name, but he seemed so sincere. “I’ll go as long as you call me Wil, not Willy.”

I looked to Mom. “As long as it’s okay with you.”

Riley said, “I need to go call my family. Enjoy your brush with the Fallen Apples.” Under his breath I heard him say “and good luck.”

Chapter Four – Fallen Apples

Cliff led us through an unmarked door to a service hallway and a plain elevator. When we got off the elevator, the lower hallway pulsed with music. I recognized the tune, but I had no idea what the words were or who sang it.

The hallway led to a backstage door where we stood and watched the band practice.

When the song was done, Cliff clapped and started walking toward the band.

“Watch out!” Mom screamed and dove toward him.

She shoved him forward and they ended up being stopped from falling by the lead singer.

Inches behind them a stack of metal weights crashed to the floor right where Cliff had been standing. They left a huge gash in the floor. A couple of the boards bent downward enough to reveal a space below.

“What the…” I won’t repeat what the lead singer screamed at that point. Let’s just say that it was more than what the record label would let them sing from stage or on their album.

“It’s okay, Adam.”

“No, it’s not okay. You coulda been killed.” Adam added a couple more choice words.

“I’m sure it was just an accident.”

I wasn’t so sure. I would have sworn I heard a door close above us just after the weights fell.

I stooped to look at the weights. They were bolted together and tied to a heavy rope. The rope came to a frayed end just a foot from the weights. It was charred around the end.

I lifted it. It was sticky. “I don’t think this was an accident.”

The moment I said it a man behind me said, “Get away from there!”

I looked up and there was a man in a first mate’s uniform and several security officers.

“Everyone, clear the stage until we can get the rigging checked out.” He declared.

A burly man with arms covered in tattoos walked in the door behind them. “What’s going on here? I go to the John and all hell breaks loose?”

Cliff responded as he led everyone down to the seats. “Calm down Jimmy, just a little accident with the rigging. No one hurt. Come on guys, let’s get clear ‘til they check it out.

Jimmy asked the First Mate. “So, Bernie, how soon can we get the rigging inspected? We got a show in an hour and a half.”

“It’s Barry,” the first mate responded. “I’ve already called our electrician to inspect the rigging.”

At that moment a man entered from backstage in a wheelchair. “What in the blue blazes happened here?”

The First Mate responded. “Thomas, some of your weights came down on their own.”

“Those ain’t my weights.”

“Then whose are they?”

“I don’t know. But nobody in their right mind would use metal weights as counterweights on a stage. Too dangerous.” He looked over at Jimmy. “Did you guys bring some of your own weights?”

“You guys wouldn’t even let us bring our video wall.” Jimmy almost shouted.

Barry held his hands up at them both. “We can figure out where they came from later.” He looked at the electrician.

Thomas glanced around. “I’ll inspect the rigging.” He rolled out the door.

“How can he inspect the rigging in a wheelchair?” Cliff asked the first mate.

“The catwalk’s plenty wide enough. He has riggers to do the heavy lifting.”

“I’m glad you’ve made accommodations for him.”

“They were there already when he started. But he’s good enough, we would have made changes for him anyway.”

Chapter Five – How Suite It Is

We left the auditorium and Cliff invited us to his suite. It was incredible. It had two stories with one deck overlooking the ocean and another overlooking the pool area. It even had its own waterslide.

“Can we?” both Mikey and Mercy pleaded.

“Your luggage is in your room upstairs.” They dashed off to get changed.

“You can run down and get into your suit if you want.” Mom held our keycard out to me.

“Nah.” I spotted a new issue of Popular Science on the coffee table, picked it up and followed them out to the deck overlooking the pool. I plopped down in a deck chair and pretended to read while I listened to them.

Mom asked, “Is there anyone who would want to target you with those weights. It seems too much of a coincidence for it to fall just as you stepped under it.”

“Hah!” He looked at her. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”

She shrugged, “That guy said they don’t use metal weights.”

“Well, I guess there’s my ex and her nit-witted husband. I can’t say we get along well.”

“Anyone else?”

He shook his head. “I own a group of multibillion dollar corporations, of course there’s people who’d like to see me gone, but I don’t think any of them would stoop to murder.” His voice had gotten louder as he spoke.  “Sorry, I’m a little on edge.”

“For good reason.” She paused, then asked, “What about Riley?”

“Riley’s been my most trusted employee for over ten years now.”

“But you made him come with you on this cruise?”

“I invited his whole family. It’s not my fault his wife got sick last minute.”

“And you offered to let him stay home?”

“I didn’t have to. He could have stayed home if he wanted. He knew that.”

Mom sat in silence.

“What about you? Where is this mysterious Mr. Clarey?”

“He left a long time ago and I’d appreciate your not bringing him up.” She glanced at me.

“So, does that mean that you’re available for a late-night date at one of the night clubs?”

I swear Mom blushed. “I’m flattered but I’m trying to concentrate on raising my son.”

Just then the kids came blasting out on the deck and into the slide.

Cliff laughed. “That’s a good thing to concentrate on. I’m afraid it’s something I haven’t done well. Riley came along on this trip so I could spend more time with them and only take care of the most essential business.”

As they talked on, I started looking around the pool area. This ship was immense. A bunch of rooms had balconies overlooking the pool on all sides, though this was the only one with its own slide.

The pool itself was huge with wading pools, a wave simulator, a lazy river, a deep area with a diving board, and of course, the slides. At the end of the main pool was a huge Christmas Tree several stories tall.

As my eyes moved up the wall of balconies on the other side of the pool, I was surprised to find someone with binoculars looking straight at this deck. They saw me look their way and went inside. They were too far away to recognize.

I knew one thing for sure. That wasn’t Jimmy or Angela. Their balcony faced the ocean on the same side of the ship as Cliff’s suite.

“Y’all should join me and the kids for the concert tonight.” Cliff’s invitation caught my attention.

Mom bit her lip. “I know my parents don’t want to go and Wil hates loud noises.”

“Then leave Wil with your parents and enjoy the show. I can see you want to.”

“As long as you understand it’s not a date.”

“Got it. No date. Great concert.”

Chapter Six – Not All Who Wander

I convinced Mom that I would be fine by myself in our room. I tried to go to sleep during the concert, but I swear the whole end of the ship vibrated.

Finally, I gave up on sleep and decided to explore this floating city. I went up to the level with the pools since you can walk all the way around the ship there.

I found the dining hall was still open, so I grabbed some snacks and ate them as I walked. Then I found the service door we went in earlier. It was unlocked so I decided to see if I could snoop around backstage. I took the service elevator to the stage floor. Then walked down that long hallway.

Strangely, the hallway was quieter than during the practice. I soon found out why. The backstage door was locked. There was a keypad and card scanner next to the door but that wouldn’t help me.

I tried the next door down. Just as I twisted the handle, I heard voices down the hall. I ducked in the doorway. It was a staircase. I started up but turned down instead on a hunch.

The door opened as I squeezed behind a pipe one floor down.

“I’m telling you mate; it wasn’t cut.”

“How do you explain the burn marks?” That was the voice of the first mate.

“That’s what I’m trying to show you. There’s somethin’ on the other end of the rope.” This man had an Australian accent.

They started up the stairs.

I crept quietly after them, careful to stay out of site.

They went two floors up and out into the hallway.

I peeked out the door.

“What the heck? Who left this door open?” The Australian man in a security uniform flung a door open. The music got loud so I couldn’t hear what was being said but several crewmen streamed out of the door and toward me.

I ducked back into the stairway and behind the pipe again as the crewmen flew into the stairway. They were running too fast to notice me.

I heard one say, “So much for the free concert. Great idea, bone head!”

I peeked out the door again.

The first mate and the security man were walking toward me. “I said get back to your quarters sailor!”

I slammed the door and ran up a level, hoping to hear more of their conversation.  That didn’t happen as they didn’t come back into the stairway.

After what seemed like an hour but was probably ten minutes, I crept back down and tried the door. The hallway was clear. I went down to the door they had opened earlier. It was locked.

On a hunch, I went down three levels, one level below the stage. The hallway here was narrower. I tried the next door down the hall. It was a double door hinged on the hallway side so the doors would swing out. It was locked but not with an electronic lock like the others.

I tried sliding my keycard between the two doors. It slipped open.

I crept inside.

The lights were on.

The stage floor above vibrated with the music and dancing of the band.

It looked like a storage room with all kinds of props and chairs and stuff like that. Just to the left of the door was a bunch of stanchions, those things they hang ropes from in lines. Next to them was a bunch of poles with black drapery hanging between them.

The things around the bases of the poles caught my eye.

They were held down with weights that looked just like the ones that fell on the stage.

As I stood staring at them, I heard something other than music across the room.

At the far end of the room, someone was seated on a stool at a workbench. There was a line of little black items in front of him.

I strained to get a better look. Somehow, I bumped into a backdrop and knocked it into the wall. It’s okay, the music will cover the noise, I thought. Then I realized that the music had stopped.

The man at the bench looked up.

The music started again, and I ran.

 I flew into the stairway and up. I was fast and apparently the other guy wasn’t. I ducked out at stage level and ran toward the other end of the ship.

“Whoa there, mate.” The Australian security man grabbed me by the arm. “Where are you going in such a hurry.”

I struggled to catch my breath. “Man. Under stage. Chasing. I think he was making explosives.”

The man’s face turned serious. He touched a mic button on his shoulder. “Teams 1 and 3 check the under-stage room on level 3, stat.”

            “Bring him down.” The man shoved my arm in the direction of the first mate and ran for the stairs.

            As we walked, the first mate asked, “What were you doing under the stage? For that matter, why are you in the service hallways?”

            “I couldn’t sleep with all the noise from the concert, and I was curious.” I figured the truth was best.

            The radio on his hip squawked. “It’s clear down here, bring him down.”

The room was exactly as I saw it except for the man and his little black objects were gone.

The security man said, “I had Smithers check the video. The nearest camera is by the elevators and the only person seen recently besides this kid running past was Tom Ilish. I can’t see him working at this bench.”

“No doubt.” The first mate said.

“Why not?” I asked.

They looked at each other.

The security chief answered, “Tom is paralyzed. That’s a high work bench. He couldn’t reach it from his chair.”

I thought back to the image of the room in my head. Was there a wheelchair in the room? I couldn’t see to the right of the stool. I looked at the floor. No wheel marks. “I don’t know who it was but there was definitely someone sitting right on this stool working on some small black objects right here.”

“We’ll look into it,” the security man said.

He looked at one of his crew. “Franklin, would you escort our new friend… What’s your name?”

“Wil Clarey.”

“Please escort Wil back to his quarters.”

“Should I assign a guard.”

“That won’t be necessary. Wil won’t be wandering the service halls anymore, right?”

That last bit was directed at me. “No sir. I’ve had enough excitement for one cruise.”

“Good. Sleep well, Wil.”

I didn’t. Sleep well that is. I kept having dreams of being chased. In one dream, I tripped and fell and was about to get captured when I woke up. I couldn’t see the face of the person chasing me.

Mom was just getting out of the bathroom with wet hair. “Get up and get showered. It’s breakfast at the Captain’s table today.”

How Mom could be so cheerful so early I’ll never know.

Chapter Seven – Captain’s Table

I opened the door when Mercy knocked. “Dad’s on his way down to take us to breakfast. You wanna wait on the balcony?”


What was I thinking? Her mom and stepdad were grumpy. We rushed through the room.

I heard her mom saying something like, “Why do you care? We get to join him for dinner. That’s more important than breakfast.”

On the deck, Mercy filled me in. “Jimmy’s bent out of shape because Mikey and I’ll be with dad when he and Mom get to sit at the captain’s table.”


I know. I’m a great conversationalist.

“You don’t talk much, do you.”

“I talk as much as I need to.”

Mercy’s phone chimed. “Dad’s here.”

As we walked through the room again, I asked, “You have a phone at your age?”

“Daddy” was all she needed to say.

I’m pretty sure I saw Jimmy roll his eyes.

Captain Percival Sutherland greeted us at the door of a small dining hall just off the main hall. “You must be Wil Clarey. That was a very important tip you gave us last night.”

“Did you catch the man?”

“No but my security team found some evidence. You can rest assured that they will figure this out by the time we reach the Bahamas.”

He spoke to the whole table. “Merry Christmas Eve! I hope you’re excited for a Bahaman Christmas tomorrow!”

We all sat down to a special breakfast brought by servers. The pancakes were so good I think I ate ten!

Cliff and Captain Sutherland talked most of the time. That is, until the first mate came in.

“I’m sorry folks, there’s some ship business I need to take care of. Please, have as much as you like.” The captain walked out with the first mate.

I leaned over to Mom. “I have to go to the bathroom.”

“You know the way?”

“Yeah.” I dashed out in time to see a service doorway closing just across the hall.

I was about to sneak through the doorway when I heard voices. I stopped short.

It was the Australian security guy. “That was a good idea to run those checks, sir. Besides the ex and her husband and his employee Riley, there are four former associates of Mr. Patterson. One of them was fired by Mr. Patterson himself. I just need your permission to search their rooms. On the open ocean, sir, your word is law.”

“I’m familiar with Maritime Law. I’d like to question them myself. Let’s start with the one he fired.” The voices faded as they walked away.

For a second I considered following them but thought better of it. Besides I did need to use the bathroom.

Chapter Eight – Google It

After breakfast I grabbed my Chromebook and did a couple of searches.

First, I looked up Tom Ilish. He was in the news about ten years ago. It was an article about an accident in a warehouse in Tampa. He was crushed when a careless forklift operator dropped a pallet of heavy car parts on him.

Since I didn’t know any other names of people on board, I searched terms like “Cliff Patterson argument”, or “Cliff Patterson disgruntled”. I was surprised how many hits there were. It was about everything from his ex-wife and girlfriends to disagreements on how his companies were run. There was even an article about how Fallen Apples lead singer Adam Noyes wanted more freedom in his lyrics.

At first, I thought this guy must be some kind of tyrant. The more I read the articles, the more I tended to be on Cliff’s side.

I decided to look up Adam Noyes. He wasn’t a very nice guy. I’d suspect him except he was on stage when I saw that guy below the stage.

I figured I should look up Jimmy but realized I didn’t know his last name. I got up and knocked on the door across the hall. Mercy and Mikey’s mom answered.

“Are Mikey and Mercy here.”

“They went mini-golfing with Jimmy.”

“Oh, okay.” I started to turn away but stopped short. “Just out of curiosity, what’s you and Jimmy’s last name? It feels wrong for me to call you Angela.”

She smiled. “Aren’t you a sweetheart. It’s Bolton.”

“Thanks. Have a good day Mrs. Bolton.”

As soon as I got back across the hall, I looked up Jimmy Bolton.

No hits.

Then I tried James Bolton.


Besides marrying his ex-wife, Jimmy has had a number of encounters with Cliff. None of them pleasant.

Most appeared to be about representing musicians. It seemed that Jimmy wanted more freedom with lyrics with several singers and Cliff insisted that the albums be as clean as the FCC regulations required for radio play.

There was one other article regarding a lawsuit. Jimmy sued Cliff for wrongful death after his mother died of cancer under the care of a cancer treatment center that Cliff owned. The suit claimed gross negligence due to Cliff’s management practices.

Wow, it’s a wonder these two could stand to be in the same room. I thought.

Chapter Nine – Cutting In Line

Mom burst into the room. “Get ready for lunch, kiddo.”

I shouldn’t have been surprised to see Cliff and Mercy and Mikey waiting for us at the dining hall.

“I swear I’m going to gain ten pounds this week,” Cliff said.

“You and me both.” Mom replied as she went to the salad bar.

I didn’t see how she could gain anything from there. I headed to the pizza bar with Cliff and his kids.

“Dad, you can get more exercise by climbing the stairs to the water slides,” Mercy said.

“We have our own slide in our suite.” He replied.

“But it doesn’t go out over the ocean like the big starboard slide.” Mikey put in.

As we walked back to the table, I noticed Tom in a wheelchair at a table next to the pizza. I mentally compared him to the guy at the workbench under the stage. Same color hair, but that’s about it. Besides, he couldn’t have gotten on the tall stool at the workbench.

“Alright, if you guys come with me, I’ll do the big slide this afternoon.” Cliff looked at me. “You can join us too.”

“Okay.” There’s the brilliant conversationalist in me coming out again.

The line was long. A steward offered us a short cut, but Cliff refused it. Mom watched us from a hot tub down below.

I looked all around us. The first mate was greeting passengers by the big pool. Jimmy sat on a lounge chair by himself doing something on his phone. On a balcony overlooking the pool, I saw the man with binoculars looking straight at us, and then around us. Below him, a wheelchair zoomed toward the Christmas Tree.

“Are you ready for this dad?” We had reached the top and Mercy stood next to Cliff by the opening.

“I don’t know, looks scary.” I think he was joking.

I looked around one more time.

“I’ll go first.” I jumped ahead of Cliff and slid down the tube.

The tube hummed and I could smell something burning. I was right! I put my hands and feet out wide.

I slowed.

I pushed out harder and skidded to a stop just as I approached the clear section above the ocean.

Carefully I kicked the clear section.

It fell away.

This is the point at which I realized there was nothing between me and the ocean.

And my grip was slipping.

The water beat down sliding me ever so slowly toward the opening.

I went to adjust my left foot.

My right foot slipped.

Chapter Ten – Wheel Figure It Out

You know how they say scary things happen in slow motion. Don’t believe it. Before I could blink my body was sliding over the rough edge of the damaged tube. I scrambled with my hands to grab something. Anything!

Just as the sensation of free-falling took over, my fingers found a support brace just below the tube. My fingers felt like they were going to snap in half as I swung there by one hand.

I breathed a momentary sigh of relief as my other hand joined its mate and my swing settled down to a sway.

Breathing was difficult with hundreds of gallons pouring over my head.

Through the thick veil of water, I could see the open ocean ahead.

Over the roar of the water, I heard an alarm blasting.

I lowered my head so I could see below me.

At first, all I could see was water. Then, just below my feet I caught a glimpse of something.

A catwalk!

I stretched my toes back and down. I could just touch it!

A little swing.

A leap of faith.

A jarring impact.

I was on my hands and knees on the catwalk.

I crawled to a ladder at the end of the catwalk. It would have led down to a promenade below, but the lower ten feet of the ladder was covered by a locked panel.

I started down the ladder anyway.

“Hey kid, I gotcha.”

A wheelchair pulled up to the ladder. Tom pulled himself up by the handle on the panel and removed the lock.

The panel swung open, and I climbed down. “Thanks!”

“Just glad I saw you. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. So why did you do it?”

From both direction, crew members came running.

“I saw you trying to get down the ladder.”

“No. I mean why are you trying to kill Cliff Patterson?”

He expression changed. He swung his wheelchair around.

“Don’t let him get away.” I told a man with binoculars around his neck. “You’ll find a remote detonator on him somewhere.”

Cliff jogged up to the small crowd. “Are you okay, Wil?”

“I’m fine,” I replied. “You knew Tom Ilish, didn’t you.”

“I know of him. He worked for a company I owned when he was injured in a warehouse accident. Caused us to rework all our safety protocols. Is he here?”

Tom was surrounded by security officers and the binocular man.

I pointed to him. “He was next to us at lunch when you said you’d go on the big slide. And he was on the pool deck watching you and pushing some kind of button as you walked up to the slide.”

“That’s Tom Ilish?”

The first mate and Mom rushed up at this point.

Mom hugged me. “I heard you were in the slide when it fell.”

“I’m fine.” I turned to the first mate. “Tom Ilish has been trying to kill Cliff Patterson.”

“But Tom’s paralyzed. How could he have set this up?”

“People assume, because I’m on the autism spectrum, that I’m dumb or at least, can’t communicate. People assume that Tom Ilish can’t do much. They look at his skinny legs and assume he’s lame. But have you looked at his arms? They’re super strong.”

The first mate’s jaw fell. He went over to the group around Tom.

Cliff took the opportunity to shake my hand. “You saved my life. But why didn’t you just tell me to stop.”

“You might have ignored me. Plus, it would have fallen for the next person.”

“How did you know it would fall?” Mom asked.

“On the way up the stairs I noticed something black on the bolts of the clear section. At first, I thought it was just some sort of weather protection until I saw Tom racing across the deck in his chair. That’s when I realized his arms were strong.

“Then I remembered the black objects on the workbench and realized that Tom could use his arms to get in the chair at the workbench and to climb the service ladder to the tube.

“Finally, I saw Tom with a device in his hands, punching a button. I did the only thing that made sense at the time.”

“Which was throwing yourself to certain death!” Mikey said.

“Which was testing the tube myself.” I replied and turned back to Cliff. “Your security guy would have figured it out soon.”

“Security guy?” Mom asked.

Cliff pointed to the binocular man and another next to him. “I have a small security team follow me whenever I travel. How did you know?”

I answered, “They were always keeping an eye on you. I saw you glance their way a couple of times. You didn’t seem worried.”

The first mate returned. “They found a detonator on Tom. He’ll be in the brig until we reach port tonight.”

“Do you have anything to test for explosives residue?” I asked.

“We do. That’s how we knew there were explosives on that workbench.” The first mate said.

I was surprised. “Why didn’t you tell me this before?”

He gave me a look. “You’re how old?”

“Old enough to figure this out.”

Chapter Eleven – Silent Night in the Friend Zone

They held a Christmas Eve Candlelight service in the theater that night. Somehow, we ended up next to Cliff and Mercy and Mikey.

Cliff kept looking at Mom at times throughout the service. As we left Cliff told us kids to wait in the lobby while he and Mom went out by the rail overlooking the ocean to talk.

I couldn’t hear what they said but I saw Cliff hold her hand. She put her other hand on his and shook her head.

I smiled.

I’d seen that before.

Mercy came up next to me. “You think my dad and your mom will get together?”

“I think my mom just friend zoned your dad.”

Mom turned and walked to me. “Come on kiddo, let’s go for a walk.”

She took my hand.

I know, I’m kinda old for that but what can I say – moms.

It was a little cool out, but the three-quarter moon shone brightly on the water.

I think nights like this put Mom in a good mood. “Are you disappointed we aren’t home for Christmas?”

“Nah, not really.”

“Cliff invited us to join him for Christmas, but I’d rather spend it with you and Grandma and Grandpa in our little rooms.”

“Okay.” It was more than okay with me. It’s what I wanted.

Chapter Twelve – the Gift

Mom woke before me on Christmas but once I heard her moving around, I jolted awake, remembering it was Christmas Day.

“Are Grandma and Grandpa awake?” I asked.

“They’ve been texting asking when you’d be up. Let’s go to their cabin.”

Their cabin had a sitting area with a sofa and a coffee table. On the table was a two-foot-high Christmas tree.

Under the tree was a pile of gifts, mostly for me. Sometimes it pays to be an only child.

I plowed through them as quickly as they would allow. Soon I was down to one small package.

“Who’s that from?” Mom asked.

“The tag says, ‘Cliff and kids’.” I read.

Grandpa said, “He dropped it off last night.”

I opened it. “It’s a Leatherman multi-tool. It’s engraved.”

“What’s it say?” Mom leaned forward to try to see.

“Stay curious.”

I think I will!