The Imperial Conquest had five swimming pools, four gyms, a three- story waterslide, a twolane bowling alley, an outdoor movie theater, a giant climbing wall, a miniature golf course, an icecream parlor, a pizza parlor, a sushi bar, a taco stand, a twenty- four- hour arcade, an eighteen- and- under dance club, an eighteen- and- over casino (that was a little lax about its age limit), a full- service spa, and a multi- floor luxury shopping mall, but so far the thing Brett liked best about this gigantic cruise ship was the Jell-O parfait at the Lido Deck Snack Shack.
Jell-O and whipped cream. It was the perfect combination. Sweet and tangy. Rich and soft. He couldn’t believe it had taken all twelve long years of his life to discover it.
Eating slowly to make his parfait last, Brett waded through the sea of sunbathers. He was the only person around who was fully clothed, not to mention wearing a bow tie— sometime in the sixth grade, Brett had decided that bow ties would be his “signature accessory”— and as usual he got some funny looks.
A sunburned boy pointed at him. “Hey, penguin, wrong cruise— North Pole is the other way.”
“You mean South Pole,” Brett replied automatically. “No penguins in the North. Just . . . elves.”
And next time, try a higher SPF, he thought. Lobster.
A woman squinted at him from behind her sunglasses. “Are you my waiter? Where’s my drink?”
“I don’t know,” said Brett. “Maybe you drank it?”
By the way, I’m not your waiter; my dad owns this ship, he almost added. But she probably wouldn’t have believed him anyway.
Even though it happened to be true. All he wanted to do was return to his stateroom and eat his parfait in peace. Was that too much to ask? Well, maybe just one more bite before he—
BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!
He almost choked when the alarm sounded. Three high- pitched beeps so loud they made his head hurt.
Brett looked down in dismay— a dribble of green Jell-O had landed on his bow tie. He could barely see over his chin, but he wiped it away as best he could.
“This is your captain speaking,” said a woman over the ship’s intercom. Her voice had a distinctive accent— Australian, it sounded to Brett. A good sign, he thought. (Australia was the home of the Great Barrier Reef, and if she could navigate the world’s biggest coral reef, she could probably navigate anywhere.*) “Please report to your assigned muster room immediately. This is only a drill. . . .”
* In fact, as I’m sure Brett would be the first to tell you, the Great Barrier Reef is not just one coral reef; it is a group of reefs that together make up the biggest structure in the world to have been built by living organisms— so big it can be seen from a spaceship. Or so they say. I myself have never seen it from a spaceship, only from a submarine— and once, memorably, from the mast of a catamaran.
NOW YOU SEE HIM . . .
NOW YOU DON’T!
An Evening of Magic and Mystery