Ozark Retreat - Part II - Prolog & Chapter 1


Ozark Retreat - Part II - Prolog


“I don’t know, Sweetie,” Joshua Hardcastle said. “With things going the way they are, I don’t think going on a world cruise is such a good idea.”

“It’s because of Precious, isn’t it?” She used Joshua’s daughter’s name almost like a curse. “She’s a spoiled little brat and you shouldn’t cave in to her the way you do. She should be making a living for herself, not living off you.”

“Of course Sue Billingsly living off me is all right,” Joshua thought, but didn’t say. “I like it this way. She’s the only family I have or am likely to have.” Sue had told him that outright. No babies.

“You have me,” Sue said, slithering over to him and plastering her body against his. “Don’t I keep you happy?”

“You do. You do,” he said. And thought, “In bed.”

“Let’s wait until Precious gets here. Maybe she’ll want to go. I feel bad about what happened the other day.”

Sue un-plastered herself from her Sugar Daddy. A conniving frown curled her lips. “We need to leave tomorrow to get on the cruise. You believe me, don’t you? She’s the one that did it.”

“Of course I do, Sweetie. Of course.” Of course he’d never known Precious to lie to him, either. They couldn’t both be telling the truth.

Sue used her best weapon. She took Joshua’s hand and tugged. “Let’s go upstairs. I’m in the mood.”

It was too good an offer to refuse. Joshua went along eagerly.

While Joshua was napping, afterwards, Sue got on the computer in the bedroom. She took his wallet from his pants and pulled out the Platinum American Express card. It took only moments to finalize the booking on the cruise, with payment in full. She’d been planning this for weeks after she found out the cruise was getting cancellations and bookings were again available. The bags were all packed, stored in a spare bedroom, without Joshua’s knowledge.

Ozark Retreat - Part II - Chapter 1

Joshua couldn’t bring himself to tell his daughter he was leaving, until he was leaving. As the Cruise Ship Elite left New York Harbor, he used his cellular phone to call her before they got out of range. Sue was suddenly no longer in evidence.

“Hi, Precious. I have something to tell you. I’m going on a world cruise with Sue.”

“We’re leaving the port now. Sue and I think you need some time away from me. To do more on your own. I know you can do it. You’ve done it at times before. Don’t be mad, but I’m closing up the house, too, so you’ll have to use your apartment. I put a hundred thousand in your credit card account, so you have plenty of money. And don’t worry about us. Sue thinks this will all blow over, just like always. Bye.”

Sue was back at his side. “How’d she take it?” she asked.

“Very well, actually,” Joshua said, putting away the cell phone. He noticed that Sue seemed to be disappointed.

But she took his arm and said, “Let’s go down and wait for them to open the casino.”

With a sigh, Joshua went with her. He wasn’t too interested in the casino. He’d gambled in most of the major casinos in the world. He’d never won big and he’d never lost big. It just really didn’t interest him much anymore. But the casino wasn’t going to open until after the Lifeboat drill, anyway. They went to their suite and waited for the alarm to sound.

After the drill, Joshua left Sue, a glass of champagne in her hand, at the casino, that excited look in her eye of a gambling addict. She had several addictions, including alcohol. Joshua set about learning his way about the ship. He didn’t like not knowing where everything was. When it was time for their early dinner seating Joshua had to go get her from the casino. She was already moderately drunk.

Joshua got her to the dining room and as much of a meal into her as he could. They were sitting facing the stern of the ship. Suddenly bright lights began to flare in the far distance. “Fireworks for us! Cool!” said Sue.

Absolute quiet fell over the dining room. But it didn’t last. There was total pandemonium as people realized the were watching the nuclear destruction of New York and surrounding areas. Bells began to ring and then the Captain’s voice came over the public address system.

“Be calm. Everyone go back to your staterooms while we find out what is going on. I assure you we are in no immediate danger. Go back to your staterooms. The crew will assist you if you can not locate your stateroom. I will be talking to you again soon.”

Joshua got Sue up on her feet. She was drunk. He half carried her toward the stateroom. He had to struggle slightly. She wanted to go back to the casino. “It’s closed, Sue! We’re at war now. Please. Please. Just let me get you to the stateroom.”

“You’re no fun,” she said, but quit struggling. She seemed to have no grasp as to what had happened. As he started to undress her she tried to turn it into fun and games, but Joshua resisted the urge. He got her undressed and into bed. Hating to need to do it, he got a 50ml bottle of gin from the dispenser in the room and poured her a drink.

Joshua had been in the Navy, an ordinance tech on aircraft carriers. He knew the feeling of a ship suddenly accelerating and turning. They turned left slightly. They were now going almost due north rather than northwest.

Knowing better, Joshua tried to leave the suite. He was ushered back inside unceremoniously. He thought about unpacking the cases, but decided to wait until the Captain spoke again. Joshua checked on Sue. She was out, the empty glass lying on the bed beside her hand.

He took out a book and tried to read in the sitting room of the suite. Finally he just stood by the windows and stared out, thinking about Precious and how big a mistake he’d made.

The Captain didn’t make them wait long. The alerting signal sounded and the public address system came alive again. “This is Captain Roger Bainseborough-Smith. It is my duty to inform you that a thermo-nuclear war has begun. The flashes of light we saw behind the ship were nuclear warheads detonating. Do not worry. We are steaming north by northeast at top speed to try and remove ourselves from the path of any fallout.

“I am going to allow you out of your staterooms now so you can use the facilities of the ship. Stay calm. Please do not go out onto the decks. You will be asked to return to your stateroom if you do so.

“If, in fact, we do begin to experience fallout you will be ordered to the lower levels of the ship. If such is announced, please cooperate with the crew. They will show you to the safest locations in the ship. Thank you. More later.”

The Cruise Director came on and announced the various activities that would be available. Joshua wasn’t interested in the activities. He wanted to know something. Figuring there would at least be some rumors floating around in the various bars on the ship, he left the out-for-the-night Sue and headed for the smoking parlor. He’d have a cigar and a tonic water and see if anyone knew anything else.

No one did, but there was plenty of speculation. Joshua discounted it all and just enjoyed his cigar. He didn’t smoke often, but when he did, he enjoyed it. The cigar done, he headed back to the stateroom. Being among the obviously terrified passengers and crew of the ship was as bad as being in the suite. Quite a few of the passengers were getting drunk.

Joshua had an excellent sense of direction and took the shortest route to his suite. It led him past the children’s arcade and play area. A rather harried looking woman in crew’s uniform was chasing a laughing three or four year old child down the passageway. Another darted out of the play room. Joshua swept the little girl up and swung her in her arms the way he had done with Precious when she was little.

The little girl squealed in delight. The crewperson returned carrying her captive, who was not looking happy at the moment. Another female crewmember came hurrying up and took the girl from Joshua. “Thank you,” the first woman told him.

He read her nameplate. Patricia Paine – Youth Activities Director “Looks like you have your hands full.”

“Yes, we are quite busy. If you’ll excuse me…” She hurried back into the play room and got the little boy involved in a toy before he began crying or screaming. There were a dozen children in the play room and at least that many older ones in the arcade. All of them seemed agitated.

“Feeling the tension of the adults,” Joshua thought to himself.

Only Patricia and the other woman were in evidence. Another child headed for the door, but stopped and stared up at Joshua. Joshua guided him back to the toy box and helped him select a toy as Patricia arbitrated an argument in the Arcade.

It was midnight when the last child’s parents stopped in to pick him up. Joshua had stayed the entire time, helping. Joshua was leaning against the door frame when Patricia came out of the Arcade with the teenaged boy.

“Fallout yet, Dad?” he asked.

“No, son. Still no sign. Your mother and I have been keeping watch.”

“Sure wish we could have brought our BOB’s,” he said as he followed his parents out into the passageway.

Patricia came up to Joshua and thanked him profusely for his help that evening. “Any time,” Joshua replied. “Any time.”

He went to the suite, undressed, and climbed into bed by Sue, wondering what the next few days would bring.

As beautiful as she could make herself, Sue was not a pretty morning person. She seldom let Joshua see her until she’d showered and had on make up. It usually wasn’t a difficult task. Joshua normally got up early and went for a run each morning. He was still in the suite when Sue woke up, groaning.

He went to the door of the bedroom of the suite and asked, “You okay this morning?”

“Yeah. Yeah. What happened last night?”

Joshua explained it to her. He wasn’t sure she believed him, but she nodded and went to the bathroom. He went to the sitting room and waited for her. She took her usual hour to get ready. They were late for the dining room breakfast, but were able to get something at the buffet.

Watching the people moving around, Joshua decided many of them were in denial. The routine seemed normal for a cruise. It was the same with the crew. Most were acting as if nothing had happened. But as the day wore on, people began to talk. The Captain had not addressed the ship again.

The crew was still not letting anyone on deck. Sue asked for more casino money. He refused. Sue got an ugly look on her face, but it was gone in an instant. Joshua wasn’t even sure if he’d seen it.

“Is it okay if I try the ATM? They have one, you know. I checked.”

“Sure,” Joshua responded. He didn’t bother to tell her it wouldn’t be working. “I couldn’t get a run this morning. I’m going to get some exercise, walking the corridors. I’ll meet you at the dining room for lunch.

“Whatever,” Sue called over her shoulder, already headed for the ATM near the ship’s bank. The card didn’t work. She looked around to make sure Joshua wasn’t anywhere around. She went to the bank counter and signed for cash on Joshua’s shipboard account. She did have signatory power, so she got the money, no questions asked.

Joshua strolled firmly, corridor after corridor, staircase after staircase. He found himself at the Arcade and Children’s play room. There weren’t as many children about, but Patricia was busy with the ones that were. She smiled and waved at him. Joshua gave a smile and small wave back.

He stayed on that deck and made several circuits, stopping at the play room each time. Finally he had a chance to lend a hand. Patricia smiled her thanks and went to change one of the babies.

Joshua stayed there, helping with the children. Patricia had quit trying to get him to go along and let them deal with it, but more parents brought more children. Patricia admitted they were shorthanded. One of the crew in her department hadn’t showed up for the cruise.

He left, reluctantly, to meet Sue for lunch. She was beaming, talking to a group of people about her own age. She ran over to Joshua when she saw him and wrapped her arm around his. “I won! Big! Almost a thousand dollars!” She didn’t tell him she’d spent twelve hundred to make the thousand.

Joshua was surprised. He’d been sure the ATM wouldn’t work.

She was bubbly all through lunch, telling him about the people she’d met in the casino. They had invited her and Joshua to go dancing with them that evening after dinner. Joshua was disinclined, but Sue got him to agree the same way she usually did. Bedroom antics. Joshua had just stepped out of the shower, afterwards, when the public address system chime sounded and the voice of the Captain began speaking. Sue had already left the suite.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the Captain speaking. I regret to inform you that my supposition that World War Three had begun last night has proven to be true. My communications officers have been trying to make radio contact all night into the morning. They were finally successful after the ionization of the atmosphere lessened.

“Both the United States and Europe have been devastated. Canada much less so. I have decided to make way for Canada after we get reports that the radiation that does exist on the eastern side of the nation has diminished. I assure you, we have enough provisions for a substantial wait. Over two weeks. There have been no signs of radioactive fallout. You may now use the regular outside decks. Please stay calm. The medical staff is available for those that may have problems dealing with this. More later.”

Joshua dressed and headed for the open air. He breathed deeply, feeling more free than the situation warranted. He began to stroll the decks. There were many conversations about going to Canada, but he stayed out of them. He felt sorry for the Canadian citizens on board. They were being bombarded with questions.

He was going to go in and see if Patricia needed help in the Playroom, but ran into her on deck, supervising a group of youths playing shuffleboard. Joshua took a deck chair nearby and watched the children play. And Patricia. There was something about her, though Joshua couldn’t define it. She wasn’t stunningly beautiful the way Sue was, but she was very pretty. And carried herself very professionally.

She saw him finally and came over to thank him again for his help the night before and this morning. She had to go back to tend to the children. Joshua stayed and watched. He noticed a group gathering nearby and wandered over to see what was going on.

“I tell you they are!” said a woman, vehemently. “We have to do something about it.”

Joshua had missed the first part of the conversation. He whispered to one of those on the perimeter of the small crowd. “What’s going on?”

“She says the crew is beginning to lock people in their staterooms. People just wanting to find out what is going on.”

Two ship’s officers were approaching and Joshua saw the woman push through the small crowd and go up to them. They had to stop or run over her. “I demand to know why people are being locked up!”

“Madam,” said one officer, “People are not being ‘locked up’. There have been a few people restricted to their staterooms, but only on doctor’s orders. Not everyone is handling this situation rationally. We are trying to keep panic down, and worry to a minimum. Just keep listening to the Captain’s announcements. He will notify the passengers as new information comes in. Now if you will excuse me, I have duties to perform.”

The woman didn’t look happy as the two officers went around her and continued on their way.

“I figured as much,” Joshua said to the man he’d asked about what was going on. “By the way. I’m Joshua Hardcastle.”

“Jerry Bastigone. What do you think of all this war stuff? You think it’s real?”

Joshua was shocked. How could the man not believe it was real? “I do believe it. I was sitting in the dining room and saw the explosions on the coast.”

“Yeah. I know. Just wishful thinking on my part. What do you think the Captain will do?”

“I’m sure he is developing plans. I think going to Canada is a good start.”

“I guess so. Have to make the best of it. Mostly I’m worried about my wife. She’s not taking this well. I can’t get her to come out of the stateroom. I just wish I knew what to do.”

“Have the doctors check on her. Maybe they can give her something.”

“I think I will. Thanks. I’m kind of jittery, myself. You seem to be calm enough. That’s a big help to me. I’ll see you around. I’m going to go check on my wife.”

Joshua nodded and decided he’d better go check on Sue. He tried the stateroom first, knowing the chance of finding her there was slim. She wasn’t there. What was there, slid under the door, was the previous day’s financial accounting summary. It was normal procedure for the cruise line to provide each passenger a summary of their purchases using the onboard credit system.

He found he wasn’t that surprised when he saw the withdrawal from the deposit account. Sue was at it again. “I knew that ATM wouldn’t work,” he said aloud. He headed for the casino to find her, but he suddenly detoured to the ship’s bank. He withdrew the entire deposit, except for one hundred dollars and then continued his journey to the casino.

“Oh, good!” Sue said, when Joshua went up to her at the roulette table. “Honey, I need a little more cash. I’m right on the verge of winning.”

“Sue, Sweetie… I need to talk to you.”

“But I’m so close!”

“Please, Sue.”

Sue frowned but followed Joshua out of the casino. As soon as they were through the fancy double doors, Sue asked, “What is it, Sweetie? You in the mood again? That’s okay. You know me. I’m always ready.”

Joshua decided to let her think that. It would get her to the stateroom without a scene. She was already unzipping her skirt when Joshua unlocked the door to the stateroom.

“No, Sue. No. I didn’t bring you down here for that. Not this time.”

Sue let the skirt drop anyway. She’d always been able to manipulate him through sex. No reason she couldn’t do it again.

“Sue. Stop that,” he said, rather forcefully for him as Sue began to unbutton her blouse seductively.

Her hands dropped to her side, clinched into tiny fists. “What is it, Joshua?” Her anger was beginning to show through.

“It’s your spending. Don’t you understand what has happened? World War Three is raging right now. We’re off on this cruise with nothing but the shirts on our backs. And a little money.”

“You have plenty of money!” Sue laughed. “You’re stinking rich!”

“Not any more, Sue. Don’t you get it? My book wealth doesn’t mean a thing now. I can’t sell a few stocks to get you a new dress every week. All I have left is what I brought with me, and what is at the house, if it is even still there. Kansas City was probably a target. Money might not even be any good now. But as long as it is, we have to conserve what we have. It may come down to selling our jewelry.”

“Like hell! I’m not selling anything! You gave those things to me. I won’t let you take it back! If you can’t take care of me, I’ll just find someone that will!” Sue stormed out of the stateroom.

On a hunch, Joshua followed her, staying well behind. It was as he suspected. She’d headed straight to the ship’s bank. Joshua watched her find out there was only a hundred dollars left in the deposit account. She was livid and began to curse. The bank clerk hurriedly gave her the hundred, to get her to quiet down, since she did have signatory powers. Joshua shook his head. Precious had been one-hundred-percent right about Sue. He’d been a fool not to listen to his daughter. Now he was stuck with her. It wouldn’t be right to abandon her, as tempting as that would be.

He went to the ship’s library and started researching Canada and possible routes to Kansas City. Precious was a resourceful young woman. There was an excellent chance she had survived. Joshua planned on finding her. He began to plan what he would do when the got to Canada.

One of his problems was solved, he discovered, when he went to dinner in the dinning room. There was Sue, draped on the arm of an elderly gentleman, beaming and laughing with those around her as they went into the dining room together. Sue had found another Sugar Daddy.

The talk at the table he shared with three couples was all about what was to be done now that the world was at war. Joshua stayed mostly silent, speaking only when one of the others spoke directly to him.

The consensus was that the cruise line had an obligation to take care of everyone on the ship for the duration. It was all Joshua could do not bellow with laughter at the naivety of the group.

After dinner Joshua went to the Smoking Parlor for a cigar. He ran into Jerry Bastigone having a cigarette. “How’s your wife doing?” Joshua asked.

“Same. I tried to get her to go to the infirmary, but she refused. I don’t know what to do. She can’t stay in the stateroom forever. Going to have to quit these things. May not ever be a supply again.”

Jerry lit another cigarette from the first one, belying his words. “What are you going to do when we get to Canada?” he asked Joshua.

“Head for Kansas City to find my daughter.”

“You sound so certain. I don’t have a clue what we will do. Try to settle down. I’m from New York. Not going to even think about going home. I’m sure I don’t even have one, now. Probably have to go back to working with my hands to pay my way. Own… Owned a construction company, but it’ll be back to hammer in one hand and nail in the other.” When Joshua didn’t comment, Jerry drifted away, leaving Joshua to his thoughts.

After his cigar, Joshua headed down to the Playroom and Arcade. Perhaps he could be of help again. There were only a couple of children, including the one young gentleman that had been the last to leave the other night. Joshua saw him in the Arcade. Patricia wasn’t there. Since they weren’t busy, she was taking a break. Disappointed, Joshua went out on deck. It was a bit cool this far north.

He took a turn around the deck. When he approached the stern of the ship he noticed their wake. It was curved. The ship was making a wide, sweeping turn, apparently heading for the Canadian coast line. Joshua went to the stateroom. Sue’s belongings were gone. Including her jewelry from the safe. So much for his responsibility for her welfare. She was now someone else’s responsibility. Joshua undressed and went to bed, thanking his lucky stars he’d taken his own things from the safe after he’d discovered the spending summary.