“He’s not here,” said Ronald Altas, detective.
Hanover managed to pull his head back over the railing, “He has to be. It’s a large boat, sir. We’ll find him.”
“No, we won’t,” said Ron, without looking at him.
“How do you know, sir?”
“Because, Hanover, Corporal Churney is heading toward us in a paddleboat.”
Hanover frowned out at the small figure approaching them from the shoreline. “Must be urgent,” he said.
“Especially if he’s paddling that fast,” said Ronald, lowering a match into his pipe and sending out a few puffs. “That can only mean the Spaghetti Strangler is not on the yacht. The tip was bogus. Likely one of his cronies trying to get us off his scent.”
“Oh,” said Hanover.
“Mm,” said Ronald. “Fancy a game while we wait?”
“Oh, don’t mind if I do, sir. Anything to keep my mind of this damn water.”
“We’re not in a damn, Hanover.”
“Very funny, sir.”
“I thought so,” said Ronald. “Anyway, I’ll deal them up, shall I?”
“Two rounds and he’s still not here,” Ronald stacked the deck.
“Poor sod. Must have terribly sore legs, sir.”
“Still paddling his heart out, though, isn’t he? Fancy another game?”
"I should probably see if the Captain will drop anchor, sir. Give Churney an easier job of catching us.”
“Oh, if you must, Hanover,” he pocketed the deck.
The man hesitated. “You don’t like Churney much, do you sir?”
“What gave you that impression, Hanover?”
“It’s the little things, sir. I am almost a detective, after all.”
Ronald heaved a sigh, “You better go rouse the Captain.”
Ronald was leaning over the railing when the other man returned. “He said no.”
“Thought he might.”
“Churney doesn’t look much closer than he was,” the yacht lurched and Hanover stumbled to the railing, puking for all he was worth.
Ronald let out an even louder sigh. “I’ll go have a word with him myself, shall I?” he patted his underling on the shoulder and set off down the deck. He still wasn’t used to the way the yacht rocked and rolled on the water, but he was stumbling less than he had been.
The Captain was behind the steering-wheel-thing, Ronald thought it might have been a helm but he was no sailor. He was a fit, middle-aged man with a neat beard, the Captain, not Ronald. He turned as he heard the detective approach.
He frowned, “Didn’t your partner give you the message? I can’t stop this ship!”
“You will stop it though,” said Ronald, producing an envelope from the inner pocket of his jacket. “This is a signed writ from Duke Arnold himself, and being that you’re operating in his fiefdom it would be wise if you did what I said,” he shrugged. “Or I could always lock you in the cells and drop anchor myself.”
The Captain’s eyes narrowed, and he snatched the letter, “You wouldn’t even know how.”
“No,” Ronald agreed. “I’d make a right mess of things.”
“He’s changed his mind,” said Ronald, propping himself against the railing alongside Hanover.
“Well done, sir,” said Hanover, looking up from the water for a moment. He hiccuped. “I thought we were slowing."
“My God, Hanover. You’re looking decidedly green in the face, are you feeling alright?”
“Fine, thank you, sir.”
“Oh, good. I just wanted to make sure—”
“Because you did insist on coming aboard the yacht.”
“And I did say you might get sea sick.”
“And I’d hate to say I told you so.”
“Oh, you’re not like that, sir.”
“Go throw the rope over for Churney, would you?”
“Right away, sir.”
Ronald had never seen a man looking closer to death than Corporal Churney at that moment. And he’d seen murders in progress.
“My God, man! Did you capsize? You’re sopping wet!”
Churney hauled himself over the railing and all but flopped onto the deck. “Inspector Legume sent me, sir,” he said between hoarse intakes of air. “‘Get this to Altas,’ he said. ‘Let nothing stop you.’ And I didn’t sir. I got here, though it near killed me!”
“What’d he give you?”
Without so much as raising his head, Churney pulled an envelope from his jacket and thrust it skyward. Ronald took the thing with a grimace.
“Soaked right through your shirt, I see,” he said, holding the letter with thumb and fore finger. “Get the man a drink, will you, Hanover? He’s in worse shape than you are.”
“Right, sir,” said Hanover, with a nod.
“Caught you eventually,” said Churney, smiling to himself. “I thought I might die on the water, but I caught up to you eventually.”
“I stopped the boat for you,” said Ronald.
“Oh, don’t tell me that, sir! I thought I’d done really well.”
“You did do well, Churney. You delivered the message. Did you happen to read it beforehand?”
“No, sir. That would be a felony,” the big man pushed himself into a sitting position.
“Mm, but I don’t really want to touch it,” said Ronald, tearing open the envelope.
“What’s it say, sir?” asked Hanover, leaning down and pressing a glass of water into Churney’s hand.
“I was right. He’s not on the ship. They have him trapped, but he has hostages,” the detective’s face split into a mad grin. “He says he’ll only speak to me.”
“What are you going to do, sir?”
Ronald rubbed his hands together excitedly, “Oh, I’m going to get him this time. He’s done, the bastard! Churney I’m commandeering your vessel.”
“The paddleboat, sir?”
“Yes, there’s no time,” said Ronald, swinging a leg over the railing.
“Mind if I come, sir?”
“There’s no room, Hanover.”
“But it’s a two-seater, sir.”
“There’s no time!” said Ronald, casting the rope over the edge. “You and Churney will just have to get off at the next stop.”
“It’s a cruise charter, sir.”
“Enjoy it then! Try not to think about how sick you feel!” Ronald shouted, paddling faster than Churney ever had. “The chase is done, Hanover!” Ronald thrust a fist into the sky, “The Spaghetti Strangler is done!”
Hanover watched the detective moving ever so slowly toward the shore. Churney pulled himself to his feet and leaned on the railing beside him. “Fancy a game, then?”
“Can’t,” said Hanover. “Ronald’s got the bloody deck in his pocket.”