Masked to Death
By Christina Freeburn
What had I walked into? A mass of bodies filled the shopping district, a.k.a. the hallway that stretched from mid-point on Deck Five to the bow. Cruisers occupied every inch of the area near a kiosk in the middle of the area. Pieces of gray fabric covered the items on the shopping tables. The tall tables of the kiosk protected four clerks from the shoppers desperate to get to the goods underneath. Four other tables were lined up against the walls with crew members stopping shoppers from taking off the covers too early.
Two women with heads bent toward each other marked out a battle plan on a hastily drawn map. Another woman gave her husband a list of items: leather bags, wallets, and makeup cases. She was going for the memory charm bracelets, necklaces, and watches. I had never seen so many overeager shoppers, even on Black Friday. Frantically, I scanned the growing crowd. Where was John? He’d excused himself for a moment and was now swallowed up in the masses.
“Two more minutes, folks, before the unveiling.”
I tried excusing my way through the crowd but was thwarted at every attempt to get closer to the jewelry shop Dazzles. “I have an appointment to pick something up at the jewelry store.”
The group in front of me closed ranks. Not even a breath could squeeze between their bodies. Why had Lucinda picked this time? This was a pickpocket’s dream. I covered the bracelet on my left wrist with my right hand, holding it pressed to my stomach.
Had John come to the same conclusions and decided to use me as the mark? I hated to think he’d put me in danger, but I didn’t know the man very well. Stop with the drama, I thought. I was in the midst of hundreds of people, and besides some squished toes and an elbow or two to my body, I was safe from harm. If I could only get across the sea of shoppers and to Dazzles, I’d be able to get this task done and head to my next one: giving Claire her tiara. Of the two, I was certain this one sent me into less of a minefield. But I was willing to risk life and limb to wiggle partway into Claire’s good graces.
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