Adventures in Time and Space with Max Merriwell
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Publisher's Weekly and Booklist gave Adventures in Time and Space with Max Merriwell great reviews. This has left me feeling joyous, dazed, and confused. You can read more about the book on Amazon.com. Here's Chapter One.
Adventures in Time and Space with Max Merriwell is an adventure story about the nature of fiction. It's also the final book in a series of three books that are linked by the pseudonyms who wrote them.
"Are we lost," the young woman asked.
From Here Be Dragons
Susan was lost. She stood in the corridor, peering first in one direction and then in the other, hoping to see something that would give her a clue about what deck she was on this time.
The ship's engines hummed softly underfoot. The faint vibration served as a constant reminder that she was aboard the Odyssey, a cruise ship that was about to set sail. She had hoped to find her stateroom and rendezvous with her friend Pat before that happened, but at this point, the odds didn't look good.
She took another look at the map in her hand. Just half an hour before, when she had blithely accepted it from the man at the top of the gangway, this map had seemed so promising and trustworthy. Such a festive map, showing all ten of the ship's decks in bright tropical colors. Half an hour in her hands, and the map was already dog-eared and wrinkled and she was lost.
A few doors down the way, sunlight shone through an open door onto the turquoise blue carpet. Voices--men's voices--drifted down the corridor. She could smell fresh-brewed coffee. Tucking her purse firmly under her arm, she headed for the open door, determined to ask directions.
"But Mr. Merrimax," a man's voice was saying. "I just don't see...."
"The name is Merriwell," said a patient voice. "Max Merriwell. Weldon Merrimax is one of my pen names."
Susan stopped in the doorway, looking into the room. It was an office. A balding man in a Hawaiian shirt sat behind the desk. He looked flustered. The etched glass name plate on the desk identified him as "Gene Culver, Cruise Director." A bearded man sat in the upholstered chair across from him. Neither of the men looked in her direction; they were absorbed in their own conversation.
Susan recognized the bearded man as Max Merriwell from the author photo on his books. He looked like an author, with his wire-rimmed glasses, bushy eyebrows, gray hair, and gray beard. In the photos, he always wore a tweed sports coat with suede patches on the elbows.
Max Merriwell looked a bit less imposing in person than he did in his photo. He was a short man. His hair needed combing. He was wearing a tweed sports coat, but the patches on the elbows were shiny with wear.
"A pen name. Of course." Gene rubbed his balding head. "But the company contracted with Weldon Merrimax to teach a writing workshop aboard the Odyssey."
Max Merriwell nodded in agreement. "I understand that. My agent made the arrangements. But I'm sure he explained that my name is Max Merriwell. I write books as Max Merriwell, as Mary Maxwell, and as Weldon Merrimax."
Gene shook his head, frowning. "I don't know. All that paperwork went through company headquarters in Los Angeles. But I need to use Weldon Merrimax's name in the ship's newsletter. We have a lot of mystery fans aboard who will recognize that name. We have to let them know that Weldon Merrimax will be teaching a workshop."
Max looked, Susan thought, rather uncomfortable. "I'm afraid that's not possible."
"But you are Weldon Merrimax."
Max shook his head. "No, I'm not." An edge had crept into his voice. "I write as Weldon Merrimax, but I'm not Weldon Merrimax. That's not the same thing at all."
Gene was fidgeting with a pen on his otherwise empty desk. "I just don't see....it seems to me that you're splitting hairs, Mr. Merriwell. What difference does it make if we call you Max Merriwell or Weldon Merrimax."
"It makes a great deal of difference to me," Max said.
"You're putting me in a very difficult position. I have a contract that says Weldon Merrimax will teach a workshop."
Max frowned at Gene. Susan sympathized. She didn't like the way that Gene was trying to bully the writer. She was pleased that Max rose to the challenge.
He stood up. "Well, you'll have to take that up with Weldon Merrimax if you can find him," he said. "I guess I'd better get back on shore while I still can."
"Hold on," Gene said unhappily. "Can't you just teach as Weldon Merrimax?"
Max picked up his battered leather suitcase. "That wouldn't be right."
"But I have passengers who are looking forward to this writing workshop." Gene was clearly unhappy that Max had called his bluff. "I suppose you could teach under your own name."
Max put his suitcase down and pushed up his glasses, which had slid down his nose. "That's what I was planning to do," Max said. "That is, if you think anyone would want to take a workshop from me."
"Well, I certainly would," Susan said.
Both men turned to stare at her. She felt her cheeks grow hot. Interested in the discussion, she had forgotten that she was eavesdropping. "Oh, I'm so sorry. I was just walking by--I'm lost, you see." She held up the map that she still clutched in her hand, feeling like a complete idiot. "I was going to ask directions and I heard you talking. I didn't mean to interrupt. I'm so sorry, but I love Mr. Merriwell's work. I've read all your books." She knew she was babbling. Feeling the heat rise from her cheeks to her ears, she took a step backward into the corridor and bumped into someone, dropping her map. "Excuse me!" She turned to face a man in a crisp white uniform with black-and-gold striped epaulets. "I'm so sorry."
Tom Clayton, the Odyssey's chief security officer, had been on his way to the bridge when the woman bumped into him. He smiled politely and stooped to pick up her map.
"No problem," he said, handing her the map. "I should have remembered to be on my guard when passing Gene's office. Pretty women are always rushing out. He's a very busy man." Tom peered in the open door. "Isn't that so, Gene?"
Gene looked pained. Tom had overheard a bit of the conversation as he came down the hall. Something about Max Merriwell. He had noticed that name on the list of additional staff for this cruise. He wondered if the tweedy gentleman in Gene's office was Max Merriwell, and if Mr. Merriwell were giving Gene a hard time. That seemed strange. The tweedy gentleman didn't look like the sort to give anyone a hard time.
"Tom, perhaps you could assist this lady," Gene said. "She seems to be lost."
"Of course. I'd be happy to." Tom closed the office door and turned back to the woman who waited in the corridor. She had curly, red-gold hair fastened at the nape of her neck with a large silver hair clip. Wisps of hair had escaped this restraint and curled around her face. She wore dark gray slacks, a forest-green v-necked sweater that looked very soft and very expensive, and a light gray blazer. She clutched an oversized black leather purse under one arm.
She looked good. If she had relaxed and smiled, she would have looked great. But her forehead wrinkled in the hint of a frown; her mouth was tight with worry.
She wasn't wearing any makeup. She had the kind of fair skin that freckles and burns, the kind that shows a blush. She was blushing like mad.
"Now where are you trying to go?" Tom asked.
"I was trying to find my stateroom." The woman's cheeks were still flaming red. She shook her head. "I'm always getting lost. My husband says....my husband used to say that my sense of direction was installed backward. If I said turn left, we should turn right. I guess he had a point."
He nodded politely. She was fidgeting nervously with the wedding ring on her left hand.
"That map is enough to get anyone lost," he told her. "None of the companionways are marked, so it's a wonder that anyone can find their way from one deck to the next. Now what deck is your stateroom on?" He started down the hallway and she trailed him, for all the world like a wayward child who had been caught out of school.
"Calypso Deck. Stateroom number 144. Where am I now?"
"In the officers' quarters, right by the bridge."
He glanced back in time to catch another wave of color flooding her cheeks. "Completely off limits to passengers, I'm sure."
"No harm done." He held the door open for her. "And you really weren't too far off. Calypso Deck is just two decks below the bridge."
"Well, I took a stairway that wasn't on the map--I thought it might be a short cut. I should have known better."
"Right down here," he said. "By the way, aboard a ship, stairways are called companionways."
"I like that." Her voice echoed from the bare metal and concrete. A service companionway, this route had none of the carpeting and wood paneling of the passengers' areas. "It sounds so friendly. I guess I took the wrong companionway." She sounded a little less breathless; she was starting to relax a bit.
He opened a door into a corridor on the Calypso Deck. "This is your deck," he said. "Now your stateroom is right down...."
"Don't tell me," she said. "I can find the way from here." She was peering at the map, turning it around in her hands. "In fact, I'll bet it's right down here." She turned to the left.
He reached around and took her arm, gently steering her in the opposite direction. "Actually, it's this way." He walked her down to where the corridor turned. "Straight down that way, on the right," he said. "You can't miss it."
"Really?" She frowned at the map again.
Looking over her shoulder, he took the map from her hand and turned it around, so its orientation matched that of the ship. "The bow is that way. The stern is that way. We're right here."
She contemplated the map for a moment, then nodded tentatively. "All right," she said, as if agreeing to a sort of compromise.
"It'll all make sense to you in no time," he said.
"I'm sure it will." She seemed to have about as much confidence in that as she did in his orientation of the map. "Thank you so much for your help. Sorry to be such a bother."
"No bother at all."
"I've got it straight now." She folded the map neatly and tucked it into her purse. She pushed her hair back out of her eyes, straightened her shoulders, and smiled at him bravely. "I'm sure I'll get it all sorted out." She held out her hand and gave him a firm handshake. "Thank you again."
He watched her walk down the corridor to her room. She smiled, waved, and disappeared from view. With almost two thousand passengers aboard, he probably wouldn't see her again.
Susan found Pat, already in the stateroom, already unpacked. They both lived in San Francisco, but Susan had flown into Manhattan just that morning. Pat had spent the last week in New York, visiting friends.
Now Pat sat cross-legged on one of the twin beds. Pat's hair was cropped short in a spiky crew cut. While she was in New York, she had had it bleached white, then dyed a blue-violet shade that she called "electric blue." In the sunlight that shone through the sliding glass door that led to their balcony, Pat's hair seemed to glow, like a psychedelic poster under black light.
Having boarded at the earliest opportunity, Pat had already explored the Odyssey thoroughly. Pat had already unpacked--their suitcases, she informed Susan, had been delivered to the stateroom by a cheerful steward named Mario.
Working together at one of San Francisco's branch libraries, Pat and Susan had become close friends. In the two years that Susan had known Pat, her hair had rarely remained the same color for more than a few months at a stretch.
Susan recognized that the other folks who worked at the library thought she and Pat were an unlikely pair of friends. In matters of the heart, Susan was cautious and Pat was impulsive, given to sudden passions. In matters of fashion, Pat was trendy where Susan was conservative. But Susan admired the Pat's self-assurance and her bold enthusiasm.
At twenty six, Pat was a few years younger than Susan. She was a graduate student in theoretical physics at University of California, Berkeley. Currently, she was writing her dissertation. Until recently, she had been working part time at the library--maintaining the library's computers and internet connection. Actually, as far as Susan could tell, Pat wasn't working on her dissertation much. She had had a falling out with her advisor. Pat said he was an idiot with no imagination.
Two months back, Pat and Susan had both been laid off because of budget cutbacks. Since the layoff, Pat had been doing temp work and writing copy for a web site called "The Bad Grrlz' Guide to Physics" (www.badgrrlzguide.com). The web site, Pat had told Susan, would provide bad girls (or bad grrlz) with a justification to do what they wanted to do anyway. Susan had her doubts about the project, but working on it seemed to make Pat happy, so Susan kept her reservations to herself.
In a raffle sponsored by a writers' magazine, Susan had won a cruise on the Odyssey--from New York to England, with stops in Bermuda and the Azores. She had invited Pat to come along, and Pat had accepted with enthusiasm.
While Susan unpacked, Pat read aloud from a brochure that she had found in the "Welcome Aboard" fruit basket. "The Odyssey offers its fun-loving, adventurous passengers a fully equipped gymnasium, an aerobics studio with classes running from early morning to late evening, two dining rooms, three swimming pools, five restaurants (including a pizzeria), and eight bars. The Odyssey crew wants to make your stay with us a memorable experience, an adventure in luxury."
Susan hung the last of her sundresses in the tiny closet. She felt neither fun-loving nor adventurous. Instead, she felt more than a bit timid and uncertain.
"Why are you still wearing that?" Pat asked her.
Susan glanced down at her hands and realized that she was twisting her wedding ring on her finger, a nervous habit that she had developed in the past few months. Her divorce had been finalized just before she left for the cruise.
"I thought you signed the divorce papers," Pat said.
Susan nodded. "Just before I left."
Pat frowned. "So you're not married anymore."
Susan stared down at the ring on her hand. "I guess I haven't figured out what to do with it."
"Stick it in a drawer until you figure it out," Pat advised. "Who knows--you might meet some cute guy."
Susan gave her friend a warning glance. She had made Pat promise not to play matchmaker on the cruise. Susan wasn't in the mood--and she certainly didn't trust Pat's opinions about men.
But Pat was probably right about wearing the ring. She tugged it off her finger and shoved it in her pocket.
At 6:15, the pilot who had guided the Odyssey from the harbor to the open ocean disembarked, boarding the pilot boat and heading back home.
Tom Clayton watched the pilot boat head for New York and relaxed a little. Escorting the pilot off the ship was his last duty related to the ship's departure from New York City.
Tom always liked putting out to sea. The ship was at its most vulnerable when it was in port. Port was where the trouble was. People could bring contraband aboard; stowaways could sneak aboard. Once they were at sea, the ship was isolated from the rest of the world. Tom enjoyed that sense of autonomy.
The Odyssey was a grand old lady with a checkered past. She had been built in 1961, at a time when the shipyards of France were turning out grand ocean liners. But the Odyssey had been built in a Yugoslavian shipyard, ordered by a Brazilian coffee company that wanted to get into the cruise business. Christened Thetis, after the sea nymph of Greek mythology, the ship had been sold just a year after delivery, a victim of a bad year for the Brazilian coffee crop.
The British company that purchased her renamed her Wendolyn, an Anglo-Saxon name meaning "wanderer." The Wendolyn made a number of trans-Atlantic voyages, a solid, reliable passenger liner. The company that owned her was perpetually undercapitalized, a bad position for any player in the cruise industry. As a result, the standards aboard the Wendolyn never quite measured up to those set by the Queen Elizabeth, the Norway, and the other grand ocean liners.
After a number of years of faithful service, the Wendolyn was sold again, this time to a British-based, Ukranian-owned cruise operator. Renamed the Happy Traveler (a sad fate for a former sea goddess), the ship was retrofitted to accommodate more passengers. For a number of years, she cruised the Mediterranean, a budget cruise ship for the family market, a grand ship that had fallen on hard times.
Finally, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, a California-based, Italian-owned shipping company purchased the ship at a bargain price. She had been retrofitted, upgraded, renamed the Odyssey, and relaunched as a luxury cruise ship.
Having spent five years as second in command of security aboard one of Princess Cruises megaships, Tom had signed on to be the Odyssey's chief security officer. He had, over the past three years aboard, grown fond of the Odyssey. According to the engineering staff, the ship still suffered from her years of neglect. In the latest retrofit, they said, money that should have been spent on upgrading engineering and infrastructure had gone to cosmetic improvements of the passenger areas. The Odyssey had her problems, but she was still a solid and dependable vessel.
Tom figured this cruise for an easy run. It was a repositioning cruise; the company was moving the ship from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean for the winter. He had scanned the passenger list and had noticed no obvious troublemakers. A large convention of historians from California had booked their cabins together at a discounted group rate, but he didn't figure them for trouble. Probably a group of stuffy academics on their way to tour Europe. There was the usual assortment of savvy cruisers who had sought out the repositioning cruise for its bargain price.
Tom glanced at his watch. He had just enough time to stop by the security office for a final check before he got dressed for dinner.
The security office was near the bridge--a small room furnished with two desks and a filing cabinet full of forms, procedure sheets, and company memos. Tom kept his desk clear, dealing with each day's paperwork as it came in. He didn't much like spending time in the office; he felt he could do a better job on his feet--talking to people, keeping an eye on things.
The other desk in the office was currently occupied by Ian G. Macabbee, a blonde Californian computer expert in his mid-twenties. Officially, Ian's title was "Information Management System Analyst/Integrator." The company had supplied him with an official etched glass name plate with that title. But Ian had covered the official title with a different title, neatly printed in large, block letters. It said "Consulting Propellerhead."
Ian had been aboard the Odyssey for just over two months, installing and debugging the "A pass" system, a computerized security system that tracked passengers, crew, and all visitors as they boarded and exited the ship. Each passenger and crew member had a key card that served as a pass to the ship and a key to their stateroom. Each gangway was equipped with a card reader. The system read the cards as people boarded the ship or disembarked and noted who was aboard and who was missing. Passengers also used their cards, known aboard ship as "cruise cards," to charge drinks and services that were not included in the cruise package. Ian had set the system up and had been monitoring its performance.
Though he'd been cruising in the Caribbean for weeks, Ian retained the pallor of a man who spent his life in front of a computer screen, living on coffee and junk food. During his first week aboard, Ian had ordered only coffee, turkey sandwiches, and fries from the galley. After a week of this, Osvaldo, the steward who took care of the bridge staff, had taken on the task of improving Ian's diet. Ian still drank too much coffee, but he ate what Osvaldo brought him--and his diet now included fresh fruit and an occasional salad. Ian was still thin, but he no longer looked quite as malnourished.
When Tom stepped through the security office door, Ian looked up from his computer screen and grinned. "So who is she?" He spoke quickly, as always, riding as he did on a constant caffeine buzz.
Tom frowned. "Who is who?"
"The beautiful redhead you were escorting to her stateroom," Ian asked.
Tom sat down at his desk, shaking his head. "How do you know about that?" Then he held up a hand. "No, wait--let me guess."
Ian grinned and poured himself another cup of coffee from the pot on his desk. The coffee pot was on a tray from the galley. By the aroma, it was quite fresh.
"The coffee was delivered by someone who talked to someone who saw me."
Ian nodded. "Osvaldo delivered the coffee. He had talked to Mario who was making up a stateroom on the Calypso deck when you passed by. According to Osvaldo, Mario said she's quite attractive."
In his first week aboard the Odyssey, Ian had taken it upon himself to know everything that happened aboard the ship. He wanted to know who was sleeping with whom, who was angry about what and why. He had an astounding predilection for gossip and intrigue. He was, he explained to Tom, very fond of information.
"Just a lost passenger who found her way onto the bridge somehow. She was asking Gene Culver for directions when I passed by."
"Why didn't Gene didn't escort her himself?" The cruise director, the man in charge of the ship's entertainment and passenger activities, had a reputation as a ladies man. Ian knew that, of course.
Tom smiled. Ian was grilling him, but Tom was willing to indulge the younger man. "Gene was not having a good day. He was talking to a tweedy looking chap about a writing workshop."
"Max Merriwell," Ian said. "Excellent science fiction writer. He also writes fantasy as Mary Maxwell and mystery as Weldon Merrimax." Ian opened one of his desk drawers, pulled out a hardcover book, and tossed it to Tom. "That's his latest. I just finished reading it last night. Wonderful book."
"Seems like he has too many names," Tom said.
Ian shrugged. "He writes in different genres under different names. He doesn't want to confuse his readers."
Tom laughed. "Then I'd say he's going about it the wrong way."
"Well, his pseudonyms are not common knowledge." Ian sipped his coffee, smiling a self-satisfied smile. He was, Tom had noticed, fond of knowing things that were not common knowledge.
"How did you find out?" Tom asked.
"I'm on an Internet mailing list with people who make it their business to know this sort of thing. When I found out he was coming aboard, I asked about him."
Tom nodded and glanced at the book in his hand. There and Back Again, by Max Merriwell. On the cover, a woman with a tattooed face gazed into a cube in which stars swirled.
"You can borrow it," Ian said.
"I don't read much fiction." Tom handed the book back to Ian and sat down at his desk. He glanced at the stack of papers in the center of the desk — Ian's print-out from the A Pass system. Over the past month, Tom's security staff had been trained in the new system and had simultaneously maintained the old system, relying on roster sheets and paper records. On this cruise, the switch to the new system would be complete and security would rely on the A Pass system.
Tom glanced at the print-out, knowing that Ian would tell him what he needed to know before he could ask.
"Everything went smoothly," Ian said, not waiting for Tom to review the print-out. "All crew accounted for. Last visitor disembarked at 4:15 with minutes to spare."
"Great. I checked at the gates, and there didn't seem to be any problems there."
Ian nodded, sipping his coffee.
Tom glanced at his watch, then stood up. "I've got to get ready for dinner." On the Odyssey, company policy required officers to dine with the passengers, making small talk and serving, according to company memos, as "ambassadors for Odyssey Lines."
Ian nodded. "I'll see you there."
"Really?" Tom was surprised. As a consultant, Ian was exempt from this requirement. He had, on all the earlier cruises, opted to eat with the rest of the crew, rather than dining with the passengers.
"I decided it might be interesting. So I checked with the purser and he signed me up."
"Interesting?" Tom shook his head. "You have an optimistic streak I'd never noticed before. You'll probably be seated with six little old ladies." Some officers enjoyed presiding over a table at dinner; Tom regarded it as a necessary part of his job.
"Watch your tongue," Ian said. "If they're passengers, those little old ladies are vertically challenged senior citizens." The company had recently sent out a memo on the politically correct terms to be used for passengers.
"Have it your way." Tom left the office, closing the door firmly behind him.
Ian returned to his computer screen. With a few key strokes, he called up the list of passengers dining in the Ithaca Dining Room at the eight-fifteen seating. They were listed by table; he searched for Tom's table. Eight passengers and Tom.
He tapped a few keys to call up the passenger list. According to Mario, the beautiful redhead was in stateroom 144. Two women occupied that stateroom: Susan Galina and Pat Murphy. For good measure, he located Max Merriwell, too. He returned to the seating chart, bumped four passengers to other tables, and inserted himself, the women from stateroom 144, and Max Merriwell.
He smiled. Much better, he thought. He liked Tom, but he thought the security officer could use a bit of loosening up. It had been more than a year since Tom had had a girlfriend; that's what Mario had told Ian. Tom had dated a singer for a while, but she'd transferred to another ship, and he'd been on his own ever since. Ian thought Tom deserved good company at dinner, and Ian was happy to arrange it. And even happier to set wheels in motion and see what happened.
It was shaping up to be an interesting cruise, he thought happily. He was looking forward to meeting Max Merriwell; he was looking forward to seeing what, if anything, developed between Tom and the redhead. And the ship was heading into the Bermuda Triangle — according to the navigator, it would cross the line that marked one side of the triangle at about 10:30 PM.
For the past few weeks, Ian had been reading up on the Bermuda Triangle. He didn't believe all the stories about ships and planes that had disappeared there, but he was interested in them, just as he was interested in anything that smacked of conspiracy and cover-up. He didn't believe in the mystical power of the Bermuda Triangle, but he enjoyed the fervor of those who did. He tried to keep an open mind.
Yes, he thought, it was bound to be an interesting cruise.
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