Death [and Apple Strudel] by Blake Pierce

CHAPTER ONE





London Rose was jarred by a shouting voice.

“London!”

She knew that particular voice always meant trouble.

She’d just been enjoying a nice feeling of success, watching Amir, the ship’s fitness instructor, lead water aerobics on the sleek riverboat’s open-air Rondo deck. The passengers were obviously enjoying themselves, and more than one had thanked London for organizing the class this morning.

The blue-tiled pool raised above the deck was too small for any serious water activity like lap swimming, but it was perfect for cooling plunges, games, and this sort of small-scale exercise class. The fresh air, warm sunlight, and happy passengers had gotten the Nachtmusik’s trip from Gyor to Vienna off to a great start.

But again came that sharp noise.

“London! We’ve got a problem!”

It was Amy Blassingame, the concierge here aboard the yacht-like river tour ship called the Nachtmusik.

And she just loves to bring me problems, London thought.

She turned and looked apprehensively at her colleague. Amy was a couple of inches shorter than London’s five-foot-six, and her figure was more robust. With her smooth helmet of short dark hair, she could appear almost militant when she wanted to take charge of an issue.

The concierge scarcely bothered to conceal a trace of a smirk.

“You’re going to have to get rid of that dog,” Amy announced.

London felt a jolt of alarm.

“No,” she said. “I’m sure that issue has been settled.”

Or at least she thought it had been settled. She’d gotten permission for Sir Reggie to stay with her after his owner had died.

“I’m afraid you’re wrong,” Amy said. “Because a passenger has complained. He’s in stateroom 108—the one right next to yours. Your dog has been yapping and disturbing him.”

Amy crossed her arms and shook her head.

“Oh, London,” she said. “You should have known it wouldn’t work out. You can’t keep a dog aboard this ship, I told you so. You should have listened.”

London stifled an urge to say, “You told me no such thing.”

In fact, the two of them hadn’t talked about the issue at all.

But it was hardly surprising that Amy was gloating over London’s predicament. Just yesterday, London had pretty much single-handedly solved the mystery of a passenger’s death and the disappearance of a precious antique snuffbox. Her impromptu amateur detective work had led to the culprit’s arrest by the police back in Gyor.

Amy was still stinging from embarrassment over the way she’d developed a crush on the man who had done the deed—or at least with one of the many personas he’d assumed—and had even invited him on board. Amy had fallen for one of the villain’s disguises hook, line, and sinker.

And London had exposed that mistake when she’d solved the crime.

Not that Amy and I were on great terms from the start of this trip.

“What are you going to do about it?” Amy demanded.

“I don’t know,” London said.

“Do you want my help?”

That’s the last thing I need, London almost said.

“No. I’m sure you’ve got other things to do,” she said instead.

“You’ll have to get rid of the dog, of course,” Amy repeated.

“We’ll see,” London told her, struggling to think of some alternative.

As Amy headed away, London glanced back at the pool. The guests in the water aerobics class were obviously having a good time. So were a few other passengers who stood at the railing looking out over the beautiful blue Danube, which was flanked on either side by lush, forested hills.

She was glad to see their contentment. There had been far too much trauma during the last couple of days, starting with Mrs. Klimowski’s mysterious death. Then the boat had filled with police, and the investigation had led to a full day’s delay in setting sail to Vienna. The whole episode had taken its toll on everybody’s nerves. London knew she had a lot more work to do before this voyage felt like a happy, carefree European river tour again.

But what am I going to do about Sir Reggie? London wondered as she turned and hurried to the elevator. She supposed she could turn him over to animal services when they arrived in Vienna, but …

No, I can’t do that, she realized.

I just can’t.

There has to be another way.

London got off the elevator on the ship’s lowest passenger level, the Allegro deck. The “classic” staterooms here were the least expensive on the ship. Nevertheless, they were very comfortable and the décor was delightful. London had been surprised and charmed to be assigned ones of these rooms for herself. When she was first offered this job, she hadn’t realized that her position as social director would carry a certain status.

But of course, the entire ship was much more elegant than any of the huge ocean cruisers that London had worked on in her previous jobs. The Nachtmusik was built low like other riverboats, but it was smaller, more advanced in design, and able to travel some rivers where others couldn’t go. In fact, it felt very much like a large yacht.

All was silent at first as she walked down the passageway. But as soon as she neared her own room, she could hear the yapping sounds. She opened the door to her room and found herself facing the tiny, teddy bear–like dog.