December 2006 It was Tiki Night at Chadwick’s. A dusty neon palm tree—sporting a Santa hat—pulsed behind the bar. Fire hazard, I thought, as I flashed a holiday-watt smile at the Wednesday regulars, most of whom had moved down the bar to get away from me. I was currently both the most loved and most hated woman in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Mostly most hated. The drinker sitting three stools down, swaddled in a crusty L.L. Bean field jacket, considered it my fault he’d lost his job. Maybe, but it was not my fault he had overdone the whole Catholic thing and fathered seven kids. In my opinion, moderate birth control displayed good citizenship, akin to recycling. I told the bartender to put his next three drinks on my tab anyway. Call me Cyd Redondo, Secret Santa. I’d just jabbed myself in the eye with the pink mermaid in my Winter Windjammer Special, when a polar draft slammed through the padded swinging door. “Cydhartha!” There was nothing like an eighth-grade nickname to ruin a girl’s night, especially when it was bellowed across the bar by her ex-husband. Barry Manzoni and I, like most Catholic school survivors of our generation, had endured Sister Ellery Magdalene Malcomb’s obsession with Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha. During one of her dramatic readings of the German classic, Barry had christened me with a spitball and I’d been “Cydhartha” ever since, except, thank God, during sex. He shook off his overcoat to reveal he’d lost about forty pounds since he’d married Angela Hepler. I’d always considered her a succubus, so it made sense. He had the same oversized, slightly bugged eyes and the same dimpled chin I remembered, but hitherto hidden pecs had emerged and there were new worry lines around his mouth. I’d won exclusive Chadwick’s “visitation rights” in the annulment, so what the heck was he doing here? He sidled beside me onto one of the four empty bar stools, gestured for two of what I was having, then stared at the drunken reindeer napkin the bartender set down. “Make yourself at home.” I said, and waited. “What? What is it?” “You know my parents went on a cruise to Australia?” I took a long pause. “I heard.” It was a sore subject. After we split up, his parents, their extended family, and half of the Masonic Lodge had taken their travel business to my arch rival, Peggy Newsome—a pit viper disguised as an advertisement for plastic surgery. So I’d not only lost a husband and lifelong friend, I’d lost fifty Redondo Travel clients. “Did she get them the free excursions? Because you know, I could’ve.” “I don’t know what that means.” Barry rapped his fingers on the bar, then shot his drink—no small feat since it was blended. “Spit it out, Manzoni.” “They’re missing.” I really hoped the Captain Morgan’s rum was affecting my hearing. “They’re what?” “Missing, Cyd. My parents are missing.” I texted my Aunt Helen to say I’d be late for dinner, mostly to avoid Barry’s panicked expression. I recognized that look. It was the same one he’d worn walking out of that Wedding Chapel in Atlantic City three years ago. “How long?” He gestured for another drink. “Two days.” “Two days?” How did I not know this? News in Bay Ridge usually set land speed records. I instantly forgot all the times Barry’s mom, Sandra, had mentioned my weight or my inability to conceive in the three seconds Barry and I’d been married. However they might have treated me, the Manzonis were senior citizens, they were missing, and they were at best a twenty-two-hour flight away and, at worst, shark bait in the Bass Strait. I couldn’t help myself. I grabbed Barry’s hand, then dropped it. “Peggy Newsome is their travel agent. What has she done about this?” “Nothing. I can’t reach her. I guess she’s gone for the holidays.” Typical Peggy fricking Newsome, I thought. Barry looked down into his empty mug. “I know it’s a big ask, but will you help me?” It was a big ask, considering. “Of course.” I looked him in the eye. “We go back.” I wrote down the name of the cruise ship and we caught up on our mutually disastrous lives for a minute, then I ordered a round of drinks for my detractors at the bar and told Barry I would call him with an update. It was a shock to see him. I’m not going to lie. I still had some residual affection for the man. After all, I’d known him since I was four and had named my Madagascan chameleon after him. Mostly, though, he inspired sadness and regret. And fury re: Angela Hepler. My Charles David kitten heel boots slid through the grainy, gray-black “snice” that had been mushing up our sidewalks for weeks. I pulled my Dooney & Bourke silver quilted jacket (eighty percent off with coupon at Century 21) closer. The red and white icicle lights around the Redondo Travel sign gave it a rosy glow. I breathed in the frigid air. The smell of soon-to-be-uneaten fruitcake baking in every house almost masked the ever-present tang of truck exhaust and garlic. I locked the door behind me, sat down at my desk, and switched on the computer. Someone was already lurking in the machine, going through my files.
My Uncle Ray was at it again. He had a history of intervention, starting with taking me and my mom in after my dad died in a crash on the JFK Expressway. I was four, the youngest of the ten cousins, and the only girl. Ever since then, he’d been my surrogate father, my travel agent mentor, my landlord, my employer, and a million other things until a month ago, when he entered a Martha Stewart-esque minimum security prison for a two-year stretch. The whole thing was a touchy subject, as half of Bay Ridge thought I’d as good as put him there. I’d uncovered an endangered animal smuggling ring in Tanzania, not knowing he’d been a part of it on the Brooklyn end. He’d used the proceeds of his crime to save our floundering travel business. In the end, to protect his equally guilty son—my “brousin” Jimmy—he’d turned himself in. Before he did, he’d signed Redondo Travel over to me, impending bankruptcy and all, saying it would be safe in my hands. Still, the benevolent, old school sexist part of him couldn’t quite trust me to handle things on my own. He saw his bi-weekly spying as “protective.” I saw it as likely to provoke ten minutes pulverizing the punching bag I had hanging in the supply room. I changed the password for the forty-eighth time (thank God Linda Ronstadt had a huge catalogue), settled on PoorPoorPitifulMe!2, closed the computer down, and did a few roundhouse kicks, pretty much evenly divided between fury and guilt. I loved my uncle. He was still the reason I tried to go above and beyond in my job, but he had broken my heart. And right now, I wanted to punch him in his substantial gut. Everyone has repressed anger toward the ones they love, right? The first time Uncle Ray brought me to the office to help, I’d been ten. And nervous. After I’d alphabetized all the files, swept the front steps, and cleaned the coffee machine, I stood near the door, staring at the Orient Express poster and bouncing from one leg to the other. “Cyd! Don’t just stand there, you’ll drive me crazy.” “What should I do?” I was terrified of being sent home. “Find out what time it is in Cairo.” I spent the rest of that afternoon memorizing all the international time differences, with and without Daylight Savings. Just about everything in the world had changed in the last twenty years, except Greenwich Mean Time. It was eleven in the morning, tomorrow, at the Darling Cruises corporate offices in Sydney, Australia. The Manzonis had been on one of their ships, the Tasmanian Dream. I kept seeing Barry’s crisis face. I hoped, for his sake, they were okay. I gave the bag one more punch, then headed back to my desk. There was no point in calling Peggy Newsome. Not only would she refuse to help, she would find a way to blame the whole thing on me. Better to keep her out of the loop and catch her red-handed, slathered in incompetence. Or kickbacks. It was easier to break into her files. I guess hacking ran in the family. To be honest, it wasn’t the first time I’d breached Peggy’s Patriot Travel security. I rationalized this particular misdemeanor as “researching your competition.” It helped that I had arranged a free trip for the IT guy at our travel server, so he could pick up his Ukrainian bride. Comping IT guys was always worth it, but to be honest, I could have figured out her password myself—DameDiana#1—as she fancied herself a cross between Princess Diana and Diane Sawyer. I found Peggy’s Manzoni file, clicked on it, and swore. The woman’s irresponsible travel agent behavior never failed to astound me. She hadn’t even arranged travel insurance for them. I, of course, included it in everyone’s original quote. There was no way I was letting my clients die of sepsis or be buried in an unmarked grave in Belize because the family couldn’t afford to get the body home. I’d had enough clients encounter emergency situations to know how much they could cost. I swore again. She’d charged them the full fare, then given them the discount package. This meant that they would spend the cruise thinking everything was included, then owe thousand of dollars for drinks and extras, which had to be paid before they were allowed off the ship. Peggy must have a kickback with Darling Cruises or with someone on board. Maybe the Manzonis figured this out and jumped ship to avoid the extra charges. I knew for a fact Fredo Manzoni was a cheapskate of the highest order. Barry’s cannoli hadn’t fallen far from that tree. Before I called the cruise line, I checked HighseasSleaze.com for the latest scoop on any dubious cruise events. This week there had been a mob-sized fistfight off Zanzibar, a suicide off St. Bart’s, a slip-and-fall near Ensenada, an onshore robbery on Turks and Caicos, a customer overboard (while taking a selfie, of course) off the Greek coast, and two couples missing off the Australian coast. But it wasn’t the Manzonis. I couldn’t find them anywhere, even cross-referencing for location and crime. This might seem like a good thing, but the cruise lines were notorious for avoiding bad publicity at all costs. The worse the event, the more likely they were to cover it up, so it could also be bad. Darling Cruises was one of the better choices for travelers with hip replacements and bad knees—in other words, my clientele. The line had slightly smaller, classier boats, fewer drunk freshmen, proper art auctions, and, as much as I hated to say it, a standard three-coffin morgue. They sailed to bucket list locations and hadn’t had a norovirus/fire in the engine room/sinking disaster in the past few years, so I felt better putting my clients there. Apparently, so did Peggy Newsome. It was probably the only responsible thing she had done in her too-long life. Harriet Archer, the Travel Agent Liaison for Darling Cruises, was my main contact and my favorite. She’d worked her way up in what was a tough, male-centric organization, and we had been phone buddies for years. A few months ago, she’d flown to Manhattan for a conference and we’d had champagne cocktails in the Oak Room at the Plaza. We both had a history of hapless, unsatisfying boyfriends, and loved coupons. “Harriet? Cyd Redondo, Redondo Travel.” “Cyd! How great to hear from you. Happy Holidays! A classic oxymoron, if you ask me, but no one’s asking. What can I do for you, love?” “I’m calling about some passengers booked through another party.” “Would that party have a stick up her ass the size of Uluru?” Uluru was a sacred mountain in the Australian Northern Territory. Dollars to donuts Peggy Newsome did not know this. “That would be the one.” “That derro. She’s lucky I haven’t kicked her dazzling crowns in. What’s going on?” “There’s a couple named Sandra and Fredo Manzoni. They were on the Tasmanian Dream. Their son says they’re missing.” There was a long silence. Too long. “Harriet?” “I don’t know anything about this. And I should. They booked through Peggy?” “Yes. And I wish I could say I’m surprised she hasn’t done crap.” “She’s a middle-aged wasteland. Last time she took a Darling Cruise and the Wi-Fi and cell reception were crap, she commandeered the ship-to-shore radio when the steward didn’t leave a chocolate on her pillow. I’ll get into it and call you back as soon as I can.” I did a quick check with my contacts at Tiger Air and Jetstar to see if the Manzonis were booked on any flights from Tasmania back to Sydney. No Manzonis anywhere. The phone rang as soon as I hung up. “Cyd Redondo, Redondo Travel.” “What are you doing there at this hour? Are all the doors locked?” Honestly, from prison? “Yes, the doors are locked, Uncle Ray.” “The Manzonis are missing.” Light speed, like I said. “I’m on it. I’m waiting for a call back from Darling Cruises.” “I’m happy to handle it if it’s, you know, awkward for you. I wouldn’t help that son of a bitch Barry, but Fredo and I go back.” “It might be tough for you to orchestrate on a payphone. I’m fine. Really.” “If you’re sure. Love you, bye.” It was only a couple of minutes before he was hacking into my files again. What could I do? Have him arrested? The phone jangled, making me jump in my ergonomic chair. It was Aunt Helen. I sighed. “Coming.”