She grabbed one of the knives in the block and got to work. Thank God they thought I was some kitchen staffer, Zelda thought. Whoever it was that really was supposed to be in her position would probably be kicking him or herself when they missed the boat—assuming they didn’t show up in the next few minutes.
Zelda kept her head down and chopped, diced, and sliced, listening to the chatter around her without contributing. The crew were discussing the supplies they’d gotten in so far, and what they were still waiting on.
“Two weeks at sea, how does he expect us to keep all this stuff fresh?”
Zelda looked up at that, startled.
“You knew it was going to be two weeks at sea when you signed up,” one of the other kitchen crew said, catching her expression. “Besides, he put in industrial freezers and fridges for this—we’ll run out before anything will go bad.”
“You’d think he’d want to take a jet to Murindhi,” someone pointed out. “He’s got that deal he’s working on; why take the slow route?”
“He does things on his own time—and so do we. He’s happy to take the two weeks to get there, and personally I’m happy to have two weeks of actual work.”
Zelda looked down at her cutting board again, her mind reeling. Two weeks?
Her heart beat faster in her chest; this was not at all what she’d had in mind. She’d thought that the yacht might be going to Jamaica, or maybe Mexico—not halfway across the world. She bit her bottom lip and mowed through garlic cloves with her knife, thanking the few weeks of culinary training that she’d received for helping her not to blow her cover.
I need to get off this ship before it leaves the marina, she thought, trying to figure out a way to get out of the galley without attracting attention. Maybe if she had a sudden bathroom emergency, she’d be able to get away; but that would only attract attention, and more than a little resentment from the rest of the kitchen crew who were already working as fast as they could manage.
She moved on to chopping zucchini, her mind working quickly. She could ‘accidentally’ cut herself, but Zelda knew well enough that all that would get her was a quick bandage, a latex food service glove, and an instruction to keep going.
Just when she thought she might be able to slip away, Zelda heard a loud, whistling wail from a few floors above. Her stomach sank to her knees.
“We are now underway,” someone—Zelda assumed the captain—announced over the PA. “Kitchen staff, dinner call is set for eight o’clock.”
Zelda swallowed against the tight, dry feeling in her throat, realizing that there was no way for her to get off the ship; even if she could manage to get out of the galley unnoticed, she had nowhere to go. She was stuck on board for the next two weeks.
Well, she reasoned, calling Petra over to get her approval on the prep work she’d done, I can just disappear once we get to Murindhi. Wherever that is. She had managed to sneak onto the yacht; she would just have to employ the same tactics when sneaking off. The fact that she had no business being on the ship was a major issue, but Zelda told herself that she would find a way around it once they got there.
“Okay,” Petra said, nodding at the prepped ingredients. “We’re finally catching up to the timeline we’ve been given, so let me get you over on the salad station.”
Zelda smiled, following the sous chef, trying not to let anyone see how thoroughly anxious she felt at the fact that she was in well over her head. You can get through this. You have enough kitchen skill to cover yourself—it’s not like they expect you to be some kind of Michelin-starred chef.
She went to work on her next task, focusing on staying as calm as possible. She would figure it out. As more conversation and banter flowed and ebbed around her, she attempted to relax, to get into the groove just as she had in classes; but still her mind turned over and over.
“New girl! Zelda! Get over here on the grill,” Babette called out, and Zelda nearly dropped her knife. She put it down carefully and darted to the other station, forcing her worries about her long-term future out of her mind in favor of the short-term crisis.
Zelda sat back on the lounge chair she had taken, pulling her hat down over her eyes. The yacht had been at sea for almost two weeks, and would very soon be pulling into port at Murindhi. For the moment, Zelda forced herself not to think too much about what she would do when that moment arrived; her feet ached from working in the galley, and the cocktail she’d gotten from the bartender out on deck tasted too good to ruin it with worry.
She took a deep breath and reached out for the piña colada on the table next to her chair. She brought it up to her face as she looked around, taking in the different people scattered around the deck, in the pool, talking to each other. Some were crew, and some were guests of the owner, judging by their expensive clothes, their well-groomed hair, and the gleam of gold and platinum jewelry—nothing too gaudy, but worth more than Zelda would have made in a year had she gone ahead with her plan to become a caterer.
Zelda thought once again that it was a good thing she’d gotten those few weeks of training at Le Cordon Bleu. It was even luckier that she had run into Babette, and that the person whose job she’d taken on hadn’t shown up. She had impressed the kitchen staff early on, which had helped keep them from asking too many questions about what had brought her to the yacht. One part knife skills, one part introduction to stocks, one part personal experience.
Zelda sipped her cocktail and smiled to herself. She had left culinary school in no small part because she had found the drills stultifyingly boring, but she had picked up a few tricks of the trade in the few weeks before she’d given up; enough to be able to bluff her way through the kitchen tasks that had been assigned to her.
“His Highness”, as the kitchen crew called the man who owned the ship, liked to have food out for himself and his guests at nearly all times of the day and night, which explained why there was about double the number of crew to what would normally be on a ship with fewer than fifty guests on board.
In her near-fortnight on board the yacht, Zelda had worked no fewer than eight hours per day, and usually closer to ten: prepping fruits and vegetables, working the grill, sweating over the stoves. She knew she’d impressed the other members of the kitchen crew—including Babette—not just with her knife skills, speed and accuracy in following directions, but also in her instinct for cooking. Zelda’s inspiration for going into culinary school had come from comments her friends had made about the food she’d thrown together living in dorms, creating extravagant meals with no better equipment than an electric kettle, a toaster oven, a microwave, and a mini fridge.
One or two of Zelda’s personal creations had gone out of the kitchen; her “Three Cs” soup with carrot, caraway and cumin had gone over particularly well, as had her strawberry-basil granita. Nothing had been sent back so far, and Zelda had overheard one or two of the guests commenting favorably on dishes she had made. That, to her, was high praise indeed: comments made to her face could be disingenuous, but anonymous praise, between people who had no idea she could hear them, was more likely to be genuine.
“Attention all guests and crew,” a voice said over the ship’s intercom. “We will be docking in Murindhi in four hours’ time. Please remember to check your quarters and make sure that your documentation is in order.”
Zelda felt a flutter in her chest at the mention of documentation; she had her passport in her wallet, so that much at least would not be at issue—but she had no idea what visa requirements Murindhi had. Until two weeks ago you’d never even heard of Murindhi, she reminded herself.
She took a deep breath and finished off her cocktail, pushing the flurry of panic aside. Whatever happened would happen, she told herself. There was no sense in giving herself away before the end of her unexpected trip.
The cadre of guests around the top deck pool chattered amongst themselves, and Zelda watched them, fascinated as always. Of course, it’s easy for people who have money to lo
ok good, she thought, taking in the details.
Most of the men looked as if they had dedicated personal trainers, and probably dietitians as well; they were muscular and lean but not so built that they could be mistaken for athletes. There were a few women in the group, but to Zelda’s eye they all seemed attached to particular men; the women were almost impossibly beautiful, with makeup that didn’t budge in the water, elegant hats to shade their faces, and bathing suits that Zelda was certain cost more than her putative paycheck for the voyage.
As she watched, Zelda’s gaze paused on one of the guests: a tall, lean man, with dark hair and brilliant hazel eyes. She’d spotted him several times since they’d left Miami, and every time he had somehow managed to surprise her.
Living in Florida, Zelda was accustomed to male beauty, but the stranger in question seemed to become more good-looking every time she saw him. His olive-toned, deep bronze skin, hairless chest, and long legs caught her off-guard as much as his thick, groomed eyebrows, and surprisingly beautiful smile. So far out of your league it isn’t even funny, Zelda told herself, sitting up and retrieving her cocktail glass to get a refill.
The bartender was more than happy to make Zelda a refill, and she took her fresh cocktail to one of the railings to look out over the glittering ocean. Even with the back-breaking work, this actually isn’t a bad life, she thought, watching the wake behind the enormous yacht.
She took a slow breath and sipped her cocktail, deliberately not thinking about what the next four hours would bring. If she could get through with just her passport, then that would be okay—she would figure something out once she got off of the ship and collected her pay.
In the back of her mind, however, Zelda had a sensation like when she was on a rollercoaster, right as it climbed to the top of the first hill: the lurch in her stomach, the feeling that instead of a controlled descent, she was about to plunge headlong into chaos and disaster. Stop thinking about it. Enjoy your drink and go back to your cabin. You can’t change anything now.
“Careful, Sahar, or Ali will dunk you into the pool with your phone in hand,” Zelda heard someone saying.
She looked around and saw the handsome Middle-Eastern man she could never quite tear her eyes off, walking towards the bar and grinning at one of his friends.
Zelda finished her drink and made her way through the bowels of the ship towards her quarters. In theory, she should have at least two thousand dollars to her name—pay from the work she’d done the past two weeks—to figure out what she was going to do with herself once the yacht docked. That was assuming that she could get through with a minimum of fuss—something that she still wasn’t certain of, but had to hope.
She began packing up her things, making sure she didn’t forget any of the meager possessions she’d brought with her on the spur-of-the-moment trip, for she didn’t intend to be on the boat ever again.
As she prepared for the ship’s arrival, Zelda tried to think of how she could manage a quick, seamless departure without alerting anyone. She reasoned to herself that with so many guests and such a large crew all being processed at the same time, it shouldn’t be that difficult for her to slip past the guards; after all, she’d managed to get into the marina and onto the yacht two weeks before without arousing any suspicion.
Zelda smiled to herself, giving herself a mental pat on the back for the quick thinking that had turned her from a stowaway into a member of the crew, accepted and valued for her contributions.
“It really wasn’t that bad,” she mused out loud to herself, checking and rechecking the drawers in her room. She’d left culinary school because she’d thought that she’d end up working as a line cook in some kitchen, a grunt and a cog in the machinery of someone else’s plan, never actually achieving the goal she wanted. But the skills she’d drilled on so many times—the very work that had made her want to leave the culinary school—had come in handy when she’d least expected it.
The announcement came over the intercom that the ship was pulling into port, and Zelda made one final pass around her cabin, making sure she had everything. The alcohol from the cocktails had more or less worn off, and she tried to tell herself that she was fine, not anxious at all, and ready to go through with her plan. She had decided that she would find a particularly dense clump of people leaving the yacht and follow them, waiting until the security agent attending was distracted enough not to notice her slip past. It was a trick that had worked for her in the past, and Zelda thought—hoped—that it would work for her again.
Zelda went up to the main deck of the ship and milled around with the others as the captain made the last-minute adjustments. She looked around, trying to look calm and collected like always; the crew had self-segregated from the guests, and Zelda decided it would be safest to stick with the people who at least partially knew her.
She felt the slight tremble through the yacht as it made its mooring smoothly, and then watched as the guests began to debark the ship. The crew waited behind, and Zelda frowned slightly as she realized that she couldn’t see the gorgeous man who’d taken her fancy amongst the rest of the wealthy and glamorous guests leaving the boat. Ah, well. You’ll never see him again anyway.
She followed the kitchen crew down the ramp and immediately saw that there wasn’t going to be any easy way to slip past the security: roughly a dozen officials stood around, ready to check documentation; the crew all had not just their passports, but working permits, visas—more paperwork than Zelda could feign having misplaced. She pressed her lips together, looking for an exit, for a way to slip past the uniformed people smiling but looking serious all at the same time. Her heart began to pound in her chest as it became more and more obvious that she was trapped.
“Ma’am, your papers please?”
Zelda swallowed against the lump forming in her throat and extended her passport towards the man in the uniform.
“Where are your other papers? Visa, work permit, certificate of immunizations?” the official barked.
“I don’t have them,” Zelda said quietly.
Babette, apparently sensing something going wrong, came towards them. “What’s going on?”
“This woman has none of the documentation required for entering the country,” the official said, shaking his head.