I burst through the door of the security office of the cruise ship, breathless and without the courtesy of knocking. I was in a panic mode and dressed haphazardly, wearing the thin grey cotton jacket of a cabin steward with tuxedo pants. I was also pushing a metal cart with a laundry bag sitting on top. In the office were two of the ship’s security officers and a man in a business suit. They were startled by my sudden intrusion.
“I need help quickly,” I blurted out. My life is in danger.”
One of the two guards stepped forward, eyed me up and down, and said: “You are correct. However, you first need to put your hands in the air.” He punctuated his demand by waving his 9 mm Luger in a small circle, pointed at the floor.
“And now you also need to surrender the bag so we can examine the contents.” I handed it over to him but still with a high degree of anxiety.
I need to back up to explain how I got myself into this mess. My name is Hadley Garrison and I was born in Akron, Ohio. In my early 30’s, I launched a wholesale plumbing supplies business in town. Thirty years later, I sold it for a good price and announced my retirement. I had been married and divorced in my thirties but the arrangement didn’t suit either of us. No kids. I’m now in my mid-fifties. I was no longer a carefree bachelor but not a quivering senior either. I still had some miles left on the odometer and I was eager to explore the world.
I have always taken some pride in my outgoing personality, my looks, and my dancing ability. I had concluded that Akron was not the right venue for me to flourish as I grew older so I began to seek out new opportunities. One possibility presented itself to me during a Web search —a cruise ship dance host. Never heard of it? Neither had I at the time.
On all high-end ocean cruises, there are always a large number of older single women passengers without a matching complement of men. The latter were either in the cemetery or on the golf course. Responding to this need for male companions, the cruise lines are continuously seeking male hosts with special qualifications to socialize and dance with the single ladies in the ship’s night clubs. This idea appealed to me so I said to myself: Better late than never.
To be clear, these hosting duties are not just a walk in the park. Not everyone can meet the qualifications. Dancing every night for hours on end can be tiring. Ditto the non-stop small talk. However and for serving as a ship’s ambassador, free passage is provided to the host — that’s the compensation arrangement.
There are also a set of rules regarding the duties and obligations of hosts. For example, they are never permitted to favor any one guest over another nor get attached in a romantic way to any of them. No sexual entanglements are allowed. Entering the cabin of any guest by a host is prohibited for obvious reasons. The only “entertainment” allowed is vertical and on the dance floors.
I applied for a host position for Royal Ocean Cruises and was accepted after a short delay for paperwork. My first assignment was a luxury cruise from Dubai to Hong Kong for 21 nights. The first night out to sea, I began my career by dancing in the club with any of the ladies who showed an interest. It was an international crowd and pegged at a much higher level than my normal social circle. I wouldn’t describe any of them as beauties but they were sophisticated, well-traveled, and presumably wealthy in order to afford the fares.
On the second night out of Dubai, I danced several times with an attractive British woman, Monica d’Armes. I interpreted her accent as high class and was somewhat surprised that we were getting along so well. During the evening, she asked me casually if I would be willing to accompany her on a shopping expedition in Colombo, our next port. I agreed because this was part of my job and also because I looked forward to seeing her again.
As the ship pulled into the steamy port of Colombo, I met Monica by the gangplank and disembarked into the city. She was carrying a canvas tote bag. A serious shopper by all indications. I served as her sherpa as she darted in and out of art galleries and gift shops. I did not always go inside the stores with her so the contents of her rapidly filling bag was a mystery to me. It was also growing heavier as we visited shop after shop. Near the end of the shopping expedition, it probably weighed about 15 pounds. She had told me that her purchases were of a private nature. I got the drift and paid no attention to the contents.
Something unusual then happened. She entered a jewelry shop and I stayed outside, watching the street hustle and bustle. She did not come out of the shop for perhaps twenty minutes so I became concerned and entered to search for her. She was nowhere in sight and, when queried, the owner said she had left by the rear entrance 15 minutes before with two men.
I was in a quandary and immediately began to look for her in the neighborhood but without success. I then realized that I had failed horribly as a host by losing track of her. However, the deadline for reboarding the ship was rapidly approaching so I walked quickly to the dock. I boarded the ship and immediately went to the reception desk and reported that I had “lost” Ms. Monica d’Armes in town.
Ship security officials were alerted as well as the Colombo police. I was also made aware by the ship officials that this incident was a serious black mark on my record as a host. I retreated to my cabin in an anxious state, her canvas bag in my arms. I planted it in the corner of my cabin and forgot about it. I then awaited news about Monica because there was the distinct possibility that she would miss the ship’s imminent departure for Phuket. Unfortunately, no news about her was forthcoming, at least to me. We left the dock and proceeded to sail to our next destination.
That evening, and as was expected of me, I returned to the club and continued my hosting duties but in a worried state because of what had may have happened to Monica. The various women with whom I danced seemed appreciative of my attention and praised my dancing skills. However, I picked up a rumor that a passenger had been left stranded in Colombo but the gossip offered no specific details. I did not elaborate on my personal role in the incident.
I returned to my cabin at about midnight and was preparing for bed when I heard a light knock on the door. I answered and was greeted by a middle-aged man in the ship’s uniform.
“Good evening Mr. Garrison. I am the ship’s Purser, Martin. Ms. Monica d’Armes got lost in the city but was located by the local police and returned to the ship. She has asked me to secure her bag in your possession so I can return it to her.”
I responded quickly to his request: “I’m afraid that won’t be possible, Martin. She told me that her purchases were of a private nature and I prefer to deliver it to her personally. That’s not too much to ask.”
“That won’t be possible,” he replied, now getting slightly agitated. “She is resting from her stressful afternoon and she specifically asked me to personally retrieve her bag.”
I was now getting pissed off but the situation did seem strange. I understood that I was technically an employee of the company but I was not receiving a salary. I was not acceding to a request from one of the ship’s senior officials but I felt that my first duty was to the guest and not to him who I regarded as a pompous ass.
“OK,” I said to the Purser. “I want to defuse this situation. Merely ask Monica to call me in my room when she awakens and instruct me to hand it over to you. In this way, I will have fulfilled my obligation as a ship host to her as well as to you."
Now he became even more agitated and, I might add, unexpectedly so. He was turning a bright shade of red. “Your contract with Royal Ocean Cruises is now terminated for non-adherence to company policy. I am ordering you to stay in your cabin and I will return shortly with armed security personnel to enforce my request.” He slammed the cabin door on the way out.
I turned over in my mind what had just happened and plotted my next steps. There was no doubt in my mind that he would quickly return, as promised, with help. There was also something very fishy about him coming to my cabin in the first place. The Purser is in charge of financial arrangements on a ship. The visit to me should have been assigned to someone from Guest Services. And why was he growing increasingly angry? These guys, if nothing else, were always placid and well-mannered.
I quickly grabbed the canvas tote bag and carried it into the hallway. I had befriended my cabin steward and knew where his uniform and supplies were stored in a locker room. When I got there, I pulled the tote inside, stripped off my tuxedo jacket, and put on his cotton jacket as a “disguise.” I also grabbed the metal cart in the corner, pulled out an empty laundry bag from the shelf, and put the tote inside.
With the laundry bag sitting on the cart, I pushed it into the hall. My intention was to head for the security office but I ran down the hall in the opposite direction to where it was located . The Purser with friends would be chasing after me shortly and I had to navigate to the office with the most unexpected route in order not to be caught.
En route, one of the guests in the hall asked me as to why I was running so fast down the passageway and I replied breathlessly that I was responding to a rush order for clean pajamas. As described at the beginning, I then bolted into the Security office unannounced and transferred the bag from the cart to the table in the room as ordered by the officer.
“Wait,” I said, as the guard was about to spill the contents of the bag on the table. “I had assured Monica that I would hold the contents in confidence. I need to hand it to her personally. ”
The security officer responded: “It’s going to be difficult for you to do so. She was found dead this afternoon in a fleabag hotel in Colombo with her neck slashed.”
“But we all can’t be kept in suspense,” he continued. “Let’s take a look at what’s in it now.”
With a dramatic gesture, he opened the zipper and spilled the contents on the table. Three large plastic bags emerged, each containing white powder. The officer slit open one of them with a pen knife from his pocket, dipped his pinky into the powder, and tasted it. He nodded slowly and said: “High grade happy powder.”
He continued: “It seems that Monica d’Armes’ shopping expedition in Colombo was designed to retrieve nearly seven kilo’s of cocaine intended for transport and sale in Hong Kong, the last stop on the cruise,” the guard explained.
“My estimate of the street price of this product is about $2M. She had selected you as her patsy, holding the product for her on the street until it was safe for her to get it back on the ship. The tote with the coke made it back to the ship but she unfortunately did not.”
The man with the suit in the room who had not spoken previously stood up and walked over to shake my hand. He said: “My name is Henri Larousse and I am the director of security for the Royal Ocean corporation. I have just arrived on the ship via helicopter from Cairo.”
“We have learned from Interpol that Monica d’Armes is a well known drug trafficker. She recruited our Purser, Martin Murphy to be part of her ring as well as two of our security officers who are now in custody. He also recruited two street toughs in Colombo to murder her and seize the drug stash she had collected in town.”
“You were an unwitting accomplice and brought the drugs back to the ship and stored them in your cabin. Martin, our Purser, figured out where they were and came to your cabin to grab the product. He naively thought that you would hand it over to him readily, your being a mere dance host. Instead, you have carried the illicit drugs to us, eluding him and associates en route.”
“You are the hero in this story and risked your life due to your loyalty to d’Armes who clearly was tricking you. However, you have demonstrated the highest level of responsibility to the company as a dance host in service to one of our guests, if I may use that term for her. As a reward, we will allow you to continue to serve as a host until we reach our final port, Hong Kong. In addition and as an additional reward, I would like to present you now with this elegant pair of black patent leather dancing shoes.”
I remained on the ship until we reached Hong Kong from which I flew back to the Cleveland airport and then rented a car to drive home to Akron. I decided at that time to end my career as a cruise dance host, now viewing it as far too risky for my health. My major volunteer activity now is to serve as a docent at the Akron Art Museum. My new life motto is: Better never than late.