When Pauline Edmunds agrees to accompany her workmate Shirley on a Caribbean cruise, she is disappointed to be left alone almost at the start when Shirley starts a holiday romance with Joe Collins, a guitarist in a band working on board the ship. However, Pauline does not like the look of Joe, and tries to dissuade Shirley from continuing the affair. When Shirley cannot be found one morning, Pauline starts to investigate her friend’s disappearance, opening up a whole can of worms amidst a background of Caribbean scenery and sunshine.
November 18th 2005 05.30 hrs – Sheffield, UK
She heard the horn honking twice outside; loud enough to make Elsie Osborne’s net curtains twitch wildly in the front bedroom window opposite. Pauline Edmunds picked up her passport and airline ticket from the hall table, and put them in the side pocket of her handbag:
“Shirley’s here, Jim! I’m off now!” She ran back into the kitchen.
“Go on; off you go. Have a lovely time!”
She smiled at her husband sitting at the table with his newspaper and coffee. He stood up as she entered the room and she kissed him, knowing that the feel of his solid frame and strong, dependable arms around her would keep her going for the next couple of weeks.
“I’ll miss you.” She buried her nose in his warm, stubbly neck.
“Bugger off. You’ll soon forget about me when you’re laid out on that Caribbean beach.”
“Don’t be silly; have a good day at work. I’ll be thinking of you.”
“Yeah, yeah; pull the other one, it’s got bells on.”
They embraced for the last time, but a third hoot caused Pauline to pull away quickly and make for the door:
“I’ll call you in two weeks when we land back at Manchester.” She grabbed the handle of her case and wheeled it up the hallway to the front door.
“I’ll come and pick you up if you’re early enough.” Jim took his seat back at the table. “’Bye darling”.
Nobody was about yet in the quiet suburban street. Pauline put her finger to her lips in an effort to quieten her friend. Shirley Harris grinned at Pauline, stuck her middle finger up in the air, and let the passenger door swing open:
“Come on…. we’ve got a plane to catch!”
“I was saying goodbye to Jim.” Pauline chuckled, opened the back door and heaved her case onto the seat.
“After four hundred years there can’t be much left to say.”
“Actually it’s only twenty seven…………it just feels like four hundred sometimes!”
“I didn’t even make it to two years with either of mine. They were just wankers!”
“You’re too fussy, Shirl. You should have given them a bit of slack.”
“I did; shame they didn’t hang themselves with it!”
The two women giggled as Shirley pulled away from the kerb:
“Have you got your passport and ticket?” Pauline checked her handbag again.
“Yes, mother.” Shirley snorted. “I’m not that daft.”
“Well, you know I’m always the quiet, sensible one at work.” Pauline yawned. “I have to check these things.”
“Lighten up and smell the roses.”
“Figuratively speaking. Chill out, wind down, and drop out.” Shirley turned up the radio.
“No, no, it was tune in, turn on, and drop out wasn’t it?” Pauline looked quizzically at her friend.
“I’ve just tuned in, and I’ll definitely turn on if some hunk wants to come in through my porthole.” Shirley laughed. “Hopefully he’ll look like Leonardo Di Caprio.”
“He’s young enough to be your son!” Pauline wrinkled her nose. “Cradle snatcher!”
The traffic started to pick up as they neared the airport. Shirley followed the signs to the long term parking, and manoeuvred the car into a space near the entrance to zone 5. After wheeling their cases to the office to drop off the keys, they waited impatiently for the courtesy bus:
“It’s bloody freezing this morning.” Shirley stamped her feet up and down. “I can’t wait to get to Barbados.”
“I’m looking forward to all the trips we’ve booked, especially swimming with the dolphins in Costa Maya.” Pauline felt quite excited as well as a little nervous.
“Yeah; it’s going to be awesome! Shirley from Sheffield is going on a cruise at last!” She did a little dance unselfconsciously in the car park as the bus arrived. “Barbados here we come!”
As Pauline boarded the bus she realised nervously that she was stepping out of her comfort zone. Never in all of her 27 years of marriage had she ever taken a holiday without Jim. When Shirley had tentatively asked at work one morning whether anyone would be interested in accompanying her on a Caribbean cruise in order to help tick a box on her bucket list, Pauline had remembered previous similar holidays with Jim and had jumped at the chance. She had always got on well with Shirley, and had enjoyed their good working relationship. Now the reality of her decision was only too apparent. She had been out with Shirley on several office celebratory dinners and considered her to be her best friend at work, but unleashed from the confines of the office, her workmate seemed to be quite a definite live wire.