“That’s some dead man’s float he’s doing in the pool!” A teenage boy who was leaning on the rail said to his parents. When I looked over the rail for myself, I thought, that’s no dead man’s float, that’s a dead man floating. I reached out and grabbed the nearest porter to call security.
Working on a cruise ship wasn’t exactly how I had imagined it, but there were so many things I liked about it. One: I love the sea, the smell of it, the rolling motion, whatever the weather, everything about it. Two: Food was easy, prepared by someone else, always available with plenty of choices. Three: I had wanted to get far away from the drudgery and often depressing details of my old job. Taking a position on the cruise line plucked me neatly from my old life. I had been a medical examiner in Montreal, specializing in forensic pathology. In case that isn’t quite clear, I dealt with dead bodies.
Being the cruise ship’s doctor was usually pretty low key. Yes, we had a lot of senior citizens on our voyages and they had their health issues, but they were rarely serious, and I liked giving short term care. It was like being a good ole general practitioner in a small international town. A town that traveled from Montreal, up the St. Lawrence River, out to the Atlantic Ocean, down the coast, and then back again. In the winter months, I was assigned the Caribbean route. The pay wasn’t high, but the travel and the free room and board made up for it.
On the ship I could just be passive and let the days take me with them. I cut my dark, curly hair short for easy maintenance. I had plenty of time to exercise, making it easy to keep my five-foot frame fit. In between working I enjoyed relaxing on the ship with the guests, mingling with the families and their kids, the retired couples enjoying their golden years, and the singles looking for romance.
If an occasional burst of energy grabbed me, I could go ashore with the crowd and explore whatever port we were visiting. Or best of all, I could just be by myself, even amongst the multitude. There were plenty of corners to hide on the ship. Yes, for the first eight months I’d been pretty satisfied with the way things had turned out. Then, this man had to show up dead in the pool.
“Yes, ma’am,” the porter said to me, “Right away, ma’am.” The staff is always so formal and respectful, even when you’re telling them that you think there’s a dead body in the pool. That’s cruise life for you, formal, yet relaxed.
The body wasn’t in the Main Pool, which was on the Lido deck, Level Eleven, mid ship. That pool was much larger and more public. No, he was floating face down in the Sea View Pool, back aft on Deck Ten. The Sea View Pool was often empty, especially in the morning. My cabin was below it, to the port side. I‘d often leave my room first thing in the morning, walk down the aft end of the hallway and up the side stairs so I could stand by the rail near the Sea View Pool. It was a nice view, after all, quiet and calm in the morning. It only got crowded there after lunch when the bar opened.
You could look out at the back half of the Sea View Pool from Deck Eleven, from the windows by the tables at the all-you-could-eat-buffet and from its patio. That’s where I was when I heard the teenage boy make his comment, just finishing my lunch on the buffet patio. More than a few guests began to gather and look over the rail after they heard the boy’s comment.
After speaking to the porter, I escaped to my cabin. My original plan was to grab my book and sit in the sun. I had finished open hours in my little medical center before lunch and I didn’t open again until late afternoon. But that was before I saw the man in the pool. After that, I was agitated. Seeing a dead body in a swimming pool is unsettling, even for someone who’s done autopsies for a living. It’s like one of those ‘what’s wrong with this picture?’ games. It didn’t fit. It wasn’t supposed to be there. It made my stomach lurch and my mind start to race.
Who was that man and what happened to him? Why was he floating dead in that swimming pool? Did he die of natural causes, or something rather un-natural? I wanted to know and then again, I didn’t want to know. It wasn’t any of my business, I kept telling myself. But I knew, as the ship’s doctor, there was a responsibility from which I couldn’t hide. I paced in my tiny cabin, waiting for the inevitable. Then my phone rang. It was the ship’s captain.