Disclaimers:Janice and Melinda, descendants of Xena and Gabrielle were introduced in the XWP episode: "The Xena Scrolls." Therefore they are the property of Renaissance Pictures, MCA/Universal, StudiosUSA, or whoever else has legal claim to the money from this thing. They do NOT belong to me. I'm only borrowing them for the purpose of telling this story, which IS mine and cannot be printed or otherwise distributed without my consent or without these disclaimers in their totality.

ALT - This means that the story will contain scenes of intimacy between consenting adults who also happen to both be female. If for reasons of age, location or personal belief you are not permitted to read this story, then please move on to another work.

TIMELINE - Basically just after "The Xena Scrolls" episode ended.


Going Home
By LZClotho
(c) June-August 1999

E-Mail LZClotho at lzclotho@cfl.rr.com

Chapter 1

Janice was late, and she knew it. Dusting the rain from her jacket, she pulled it off and handed it to some stuffed Greek shirt in black bow tie and coattails.

"Your hat..." The battered gray fedora came off to reveal a tumble of honey blonde hair. It apparently surprised the maitre'd since he stuttered, "Si--, ma'am. Miss?"

Flashing him a broad smile with tight lips and raising her light eyebrows over mirthful green eyes, Janice flipped the hat at him. "I'm joining someone," she said. "Tall, brunette. Young woman. Pappas?"

The maitre'd studied her for a long silent judgmental moment. Janice Covington could practically hear his mind screaming indignantly at the thought. She knew that she and Melinda were unlikely to know one another by most standards. Melinda's American South breeding clashed visibly with Janice's preferrably rougher appearance.

"Does Miss Pappas know you're coming?"

Janice eyed him with shock at the underlying officious tone. Now he'd gone too far. She reached for his lapels with both hands.

"Janice." The voice was quiet, her name rolling off the speaker's tongue with a gentle lilt.

The blonde dropped the man's lapels and turned to face Melinda. She easily lost her focus in the stormy blue eyes boring into her own green ones. "Hi."

"It must not have gone well at the Historical Ministry." The brunette said quietly. "Come on." She stepped back, smiling at the stunned maitre'd and gestured for Janice to walk with her.

"Strange Americans," the host muttered. Melinda's broad long-fingered hand splayed momentarily over her lower back kept Janice walking.

They passed several tables of diners and then Melinda's guiding hand turned them up a short set of steps to a raised area of tables to the left of the restaurant's stage.

The brunette said nothing and Janice, in the silence, began to suspect she might become the recipient of a display of the Southerner's full-blown anger. To forestall it, she held out the woman's chair, gesturing for her to sit first. Janice winced then, when, instead of a thank you, Melinda silently picked up her water goblet and watched over the rim as Janice took her own seat opposite.

The blue eyes had gone to a vaguely steel color. So Janice swallowed and apologized. "I'm sorry I'm late." The look she was receiving did not change. Janice bristled. "No. He looked at me as if I was some sort of *growth*, Melinda Pappas."

"You didn't have to *grab* him, Janice." There was tension in the Southerner's voice but Janice heard a note of acquiescence too.

So she unbent a notch. "OK. You're right. I didn't exactly have my best foot forward either."

"You came directly from the Ministry then?"

Janice took a deep breath and decided the initial pique of her companion was finally past. "Paperwork should be outlawed."

"What could be so paperwork intense about a couple of glyphs, a handful of scrolls and a couple of drawings?" Melinda lifted her glass of water again and drank a bit.

Janice's reply went on hold as a waiter approached them. "Are you ready to order something, ma'am'selles?"

"Not yet," Janice replied. Melinda nodded her agreement. The waiter departed quickly. Janice returned her gaze to Melinda's face and admitted, "He... um... saw the chakram pieces in my bag."

"Janice!" Melinda sighed. "I told you to leave those behind. Are we going to be able to take that out of the country or not?" She scanned the dish descriptions quietly waiting for the response.


Melinda lowered the glass. Blue eyes narrowed suspiciously. Janice realized she had not been casual enough when Melinda added dryly, "Legally?"

"He wants fifty thousand lira to turn the other way."

Melinda whistled low, the action drawing water into her lungs choking her.

Janice stood and circled to firmly pat the brunette's back. Finally Melinda collected herself and looked around at the other patrons before catching Janice's hand and demanding in a rough whisper, "What do we do now?"

The blonde settled back into the seat directly to Melinda's right. "You're going back to the hotel."

"What are you going to do?" Her tone suggested that she already suspected the answer.

"It's not theirs," Janice pointed out, keeping her voice even and reasonable, avoiding Melinda's incisive gaze.

"How do you propose we get out of the country?"

"That's why I was late."

Melinda rolled her bottom lip between her teeth. The waiter took that moment to walk up a second time. "Madames ready?"

Janice gladly looked away from Melinda's face and replied, "Cuonamas and soup for me."

"Soup and salad, please." Melinda's smile was forced, but the waiter just nodded, collected their menus, nodded and walked away.

Alone again, Janice eased her gaze back to Melinda's face. "There's a boat headed for Morocco at daybreak." She reached for the taller woman's hand and threaded their fingers together. "It's the only way," she added.

"How much is the boat?" Melinda fought for calm in the direct gaze of those green earnest eyes.

"We're going to work our passage," Janice replied quietly.

Melinda's voice dropped an entire octave. "How?"

"Galley." The brunette groaned something inaudible and dropped her head to the tabletop, closing her eyes. "It's better than the boiler room."

Melinda frowned but nodded. "Guess I better plan some menus." She had a thought. "Does the captain know we'll be fugitives?"

"I was desperate, Mel, but I'm not stupid."

"You better hope the Greek navy doesn't decide to check his manifest and crew then before we hit international waters."

Janice lifted her water goblet and took a fortifying swallow. "So... it's all right?"

"Next time, *I'll go to the Ministry."

Green and blue eyes met, held and the women shared rueful smiles.

Melinda shook her head, allowing a light chuckle to escape. "I guess I should be grateful you, or I did not have to sleep with anybody to do this."

Janice's blonde eyebrow lifted in surprise. "I can't believe you actually just said that."

The taller woman's cheeks pinked. Lifting her glass, she swallowed some drink for a long steadying moment. "Guess you're rubbing off on me."

Chapter 2

Janice closed the restaurant door behind Melinda, after helping the brunette to the curb with a hand. The moon was already high and the streetlamps were the only other lighting.

The blonde watched her companion for a long moment walking away down the street, caught by the way the light played across the dark and light features. Tucking her hands in her pockets, she made longer strides and quickly caught up.

Out of the corner of her eye, Melinda watched the lighting play across the shorter woman's face. Despite Janice's late arrival and decidedly bad news regarding their discoveries, Melinda had a really hard time remaining upset.

It had nothing to do with seeing Janice's reasoning and everything to do with the seafoam green eyes now lifting to meet hers.

Then Janice tilted her head slightly. Melinda realized she had a funny expression on her face when Janice asked, "Hey, where'd you go? You okay, Mel?"

Snapping herself out of her reverie, Melinda nodded. "Yes." Janice tapped her hat brim and turned away, stuffing her hands in her jacket pockets. "Janice?"

The blonde stopped on the sidewalk but didn't turn. "Yes?"

"Be careful." Janice nodded, her jaw tight. Melinda closed the few steps separating them and encouraged green eyes up to meet her gaze. "Maybe we should just leave it and go home."

"No, it's family property. I wasn't careful. It's my job to get it back."

Melinda decided to toss the gauntlet. "Well, since it's my family property, I should go with you."

"That's crazy, Mel," Janice predictably retorted. "I've got to sneak it there as it is."


Janice's jaw set mutinously. "Why are you doing this?"

"We're partners, Janice Covington. And partners do things together."

"For crying out loud!" Janice found Melinda's hand clapped over her mouth at the outburst. Assailed with the brunette's subtle daisies scent, she was stunned into silence. When the hand came away she pitched her voice lower. "Then pack us up. Mel, I'm serious. You can't come. I'll meet you at the dock at daybreak."

Mel fought against the urge but found her hand drifting over Janice's cheek. "You're not invincible, Janice." She pulled the blonde against her for a hug and whispered in the ear close to her lips. "Be careful." Her lips brushed the other woman's cheek as she pulled back.

Embarrassment flushed her cheeks pink and Janice's green eyes were wide, swallowing Melinda whole.

Thoughts skittering wildly, Janice felt her eyes well with tears. "Don't leave without me, Melinda Pappas."

"I'll be packing," the brunette replied. She remained on the hotel steps and watched Janice walk quickly into the night.

Janice approached the street where she had visited earlier to discuss the site relics with the Greek Minister of Antiquities. The graystone building about two-thirds the way along the block, stood imposingly behind a stone wall, topped with barbed wire.

She could just see the top of the patrolling perimeter guard's head. The building was several dozen meters inside the wall. A covered walk led from the entry guard station up to the front doors.

The guard now working the desk was different from the young soldier who had let her in to see the minister that afternoon. She remained out of sight however, since a figure alone at this hour would invite suspicion.

Moving carefully in the shadows Janice worked her way around to the alley, identifying the guard circulating in the back gardens. The high wall here ended just below the level of the third floor windows. She spotted a tree leaning close to the wall and watched patiently until the guard moved out of sight.

Brushing her hands clean on her jacket, Janice slipped on her digging gloves and settled her fingers into several grooves in the crumbling mortar. Here I go, she thought, beginning the forty foot climb.

Hand over hand she pulled herself up, then found toeholds and the progress she made increased dramatically.

Reaching out with a long stretch, she finally felt her hand slide over the top of the wall. Grim-faced, Janice pulled her body up and laid flat against the top stones. The tree's branches were just an arm's length above her head.

Eagerness warred with caution as she rolled to her side and scanned down inside the garden to locate the guard. He was just rounding the corner moving out of view when Janice heard a commotion in the distant street.

She had to bite her lip from gasping in surprise as a previously hidden guard leaped from the nearby wall walk landing on the ground with a thud and running toward the noise.

Wow, she thought, that was close. If the guard hadn't moved, Janice would have jumped right through his watch area and been instantly spotted.

Now she moved into the tree, sliding along branches carefully toward the central trunk. Edging her way around the massive trunk she gauged the distance to the third story ledge under a window cracked slightly open. There was no light inside.

The minister's office she remembered from her visit earlier. Taking a deep steadying breath, Janice then launched herself toward the window hearing the creak of the branch and feeling it sway as she levered her weight off.

Her stomach sank to her knees then bolted to her throat as her fingers closed over the ledge. Abruptly she slammed against the building. Collecting her wits she pulled herself into the open window.

Slithering to the floor, Janice rolled over and sat up to take in her surroundings. "Yep, this is the place," she murmured, noticing the same family portrait on the desk. She searched the darkness for the shelf where she had seen Minister Dinali set the bag of confiscated artifacts.

The bag was gone, but she spotted some of the artifacts now laid out with a few rudimentary notes under them.

Lifting the first of three scrolls, Janice scanned the note underneath and chuckled. Only the basics were written:

Scroll found Macedonian site 453 (1 of 3)

Author: G.P. (conjecture)

Subject: Xena (questionable subject)

Dating: circa 58-50 B.C.

Full translation: Not yet available (seek assistance of Dr. Melvin Pappas, UNC, United States)

The last made Janice chuckle again. "I had the same thought, Dinali. But I bet I'm happier with the alternate who arrived than you would be." She crumpled up the pieces of paper, and collected the scrolls.

She tucked them inside her coat pockets. "Where'd you put the chakram pieces?" she mused in a whisper.

Turning, the archaeologist spied a strangely tilted pile of papers. Sliding them aside she found the matched halves of Xena's weapon.

Melinda had been so mad when she first found out that Janice had grabbed them before pushing her toward the falling door as they escaped Ares's Cave. It had taken some fast talking on Janice's part to convince the brunette that the pieces were best kept as far away from the cave as possible anyway. Otherwise, she suspected Melinda might have ordered them reburied at the exploded site.

As she ran an admiring hand over the hatched pattern and the small inlaid gemstones, the same sense of wonder stole over Janice again. The solid metal object also was considerably lighter than it ought to be. She ran a finger along its edge. Certainly it was sharper than anything else the time period had produced.

Dinali must have held it though, Janice realized, feeling a residual warmth in one half of the weapon as she transferred it to her inside pocket.

Checking that all the items were secure, Janice returned to the window and peered down. Shaking his head and chuckling to himself about some strange woman, the guard was resuming his usual rounds.

A breeze touched her face. Turning into it she glanced toward the tree she had used to cross over earlier. It looked a lot farther than before.

Footsteps resounded slowly in the corridor beyond the office door. No time remaining, Janice stepped out onto the window ledge hugging the building's shadow from the overhanging tree. Identifying a relatively level branch directly out in front of her, Janice sprang toward it. the feeling of freefall seemed to last an eternity longer than the original trip. Just as she was afraid she would hit the ground, Janice felt the branch slam into her stomach, its rough bark scratching painfully. She steadied herself and rolled forward over the branch, waiting breathless moments for the tree to stop shaking.

And for her heart to start beating again. Earnestly she searched the ground, making sure she knew the whereabouts of the patrolling guard. He rounded the corner of the building and moved on out of sight.

Cautiously Janice moved through the tree toward the wall.

A light materialized below and to Janice's right. The blonde froze, not daring to breathe. She pinned herself to the level branch, hiding her small frame.

Finally the light was extinguished. A few cautionary moments of waiting, then Janice moved forward again, creeping along the thick branch. Employing sheer strength, she lowered herself slowly to the top of the wall, flattening herself against the top.

She lowered a leg over the outside and began to work her way down the maze of handholds.

A strong hand grasped her ankle, freezing Janice's breath in her chest. She let go hold of the wall and fell back, landing hard on the packed dirt of the alley. Her eyes shut in the shockwaves of pain radiating through her body.

She felt, and fought, hands grabbing for her shoulders and arms. Finally a hoarsely whispered voice intervened, stilling her. "Hold still! You might have hurt something."

"Mel?" Janice took a deep breath and then pushed away the brunette's hands as she opened her eyes finding the inquisitive blue eyes of her taller companion only a few inches above her. "I'm all right," she said, rolling gingerly to her side, pulling in her knees to stretch her back muscles gently. Then she sat up. "Come on. We've got to get out of here."

"So you got it?" Melinda reached over and picked up a small lantern she had been carrying.

"I reclaimed the whole find," Janice confirmed. Standing shakily she ran a quick hand through her hair before picking up and replacing her fedora. "Come on. You can read me a bedtime story," she jested quietly, pulling one of the scrolls free and showing it to Melinda before she tucked it away once more.

She then noted Melinda's attire. An Italian styled overcoat belted loosely over a demure tan skirt and gray turtleneck sweater. The woman didn't look like she had planned to join a thieving expedition.

Then Janice remembered what Mel had been wearing the first day they met on the Ares's Cave dig. Her suspicions flared. "Mel, what brought you out here?" the blonde asked pointedly.

"Evening stroll," the brunette answered. "Nice cool night for it, you know." Melinda's eyes, almost colorless in the vague light, remained steady on the blonde's face.

Janice looked around as they emerged on the adjacent street. She threaded her arm through Melinda's and looked up into quiet, knowing blue eyes. Her own green ones twinkled with soundless laughter.

Chapter 3

Something had cramped her arm. Trying to move it to a better position woke Melinda groggily. Blue eyes sought to separate forms from shadows.

The first thing she realized was that she had fallen asleep on the worn lounge in the hotel's main room. The lumpy cushions had settled into odd bumps that pressed into her lower back painfully. Her right arm hung half off the deep cushion. It was her left arm that was pinned.

She turned and identified Janice, head and shoulders across Melinda's left forearm. The blonde's face was wedged against the brunette's stomach, and her right hand rested against Mel's left thigh.

It would have been positively indecent had both of them not been completely clothed, though Melinda had convinced Janice to take off the filthy leather jacket before they had settled intending to read some scrolls to remain awake so they didn't miss their boat.

The thought of the boat made Melinda sit up quickly, and that dislodged the sleeping blonde, causing her to stir.


Melinda bit her lip and took a deep steadying breath, surprised by the flood of warmth that tired voice murmuring her name elicited. "Janice." She lifted her free left hand and brushed at the blonde's cheek. "We have to go." She looked at the window, and even through the dust she could see the beginnings of the sunrise. "It's already dawn," she confided.

Janice pushed herself onto her hands, releasing Melinda's right arm from under her body. As the brunette moved, the blonde cast green eyes up the pale white shirt, to the open collar and strong chin, finally up to meet worried blue eyes. "Good morning," she murmured, then moved her hands away, sitting back as she settled her feet to the floor. "Guess we fell asleep."

Nodding, Melinda turned away and settled her own feet on the floor, rubbing her temples as she worked toward full wakefulness. She noticed the scroll that had slipped from her hand to the floor. "I thought reading these would keep us awake."

Dusting her fingers through her hair and reordering it, Janice stood, looking around the room. "Well it was only an hour or two." She looked over to the bags they had packed before settling on the couch to wait. "We'll get something once we're aboard," Janice said, pulling her jacket from the arm of the chair where it had been draped.

Mel stood and arranged her hair with quick precision, unpinning the dark mass and settling the turtle shell clasp back into place. Janice went to the wash basin and splashed the cold water still remaining in the bottom against her face, using a handtowel next to the bowl to dry. She passed it to Melinda as the brunette walked up.


Their hands brushed lightly as the exchange occurred. Blue and green gazes drifted together and Janice smiled. "Thanks for coming after me last night."

The Southerner shrugged. "It worked out." She tugged out the wrinkles from her dark blue pants and cream-colored cotton blouse.

Janice held back on the chuckle that bubbled up at the taller woman's nonchalance and just nodded. She watched Melinda splash her face and then nodded toward the bags. "Let's go."

Each woman grabbed her one piece of large luggage, then Janice slung her trail pack over one shoulder. Melinda was adjusting her purse strap when Janice suggested, "You probably ought to just drop it inside the other. You won't need it and it'll be safer."

Melinda nodded, agreeing and quickly unlatched her luggage, settling the bag inside on the clothes. Closing it once again, Melinda announced, "Ready."

Quickly and quietly the two women walked down the steps to the entrance. Janice set the room key, and forty lira on the desk. Melinda reached for a piece of paper to write their room number, until Janice's hand closed over her wrist. "What?"

"The ministry might trace us here. It's better to just to disappear, Mel." She settled her fedora on her head, tugging the brim into shape.

"But that's dishonest," the brunette replied.

"We're paying for the room," Janice replied. "We're just not putting anything in writing. The manager will figure it out."

Melinda frowned. "I don't like it." Her sense of order and law was being tested and that made her uncomfortable. "Janice, maybe this isn't such a good idea."

"It's too late now, Mel. The stuff is ours, and we're leaving with it."

"I remember objecting last night."

Understanding her friend's disagreement, Janice could only nod. "And I did it anyway. Yes, I know." She pointed out though, "You didn't have to distract the guards."

Shaking her head, and realizing the blonde's point, Melinda said, "You would have been caught otherwise."

Janice nodded and she lifted her chin, drawing their gazes even. Earnestly she said, "I'll try not to skirt things too often, Mel, but... I'm still my father's daughter." There it was, no apologies, just accept her.

Melinda realized the offer was akin to Janice putting her head on the chopping block. And trusting Melinda not to use the axe. "Are you telling me you *like* going around the law?" The brunette knew she couldn't willingly hurt Janice, but their friendship wasn't all that long-lived. Someone had to put the trust forward first.

"No." Janice pointed out as they stepped onto the front stoop and closed the building's door. She grasped Melinda's hand once in a reassuring squeeze. "I'm telling you I know how."

Taking a deep breath and silently conceding the point, Melinda trailed Janice toward the water district. The sun's early rays danced across the back of the blonde's head, bringing out the woman's reddish highlights. She tried to take the words as a salve to her conscience and just hoped they could leave the country without Janice having to skirt the law again.

Chapter 4

The cobblestone street clicked quietly under the women's shoes as they moved toward the wharves. The distant dulled sounds of masts and rigging and the odd steam engine moving in the fog filled the quiet morning with signs of activity that prevented the absolute feeling of aloneness that began to pervade the thoughts of both the brunette and blonde.

Janice rounded the corner of a warehouse first, stopping suddenly and putting out a hand to bring Melinda to a halt as well. "Wait." Her voice was the barest of whispers.

Setting down her bag to give her shoulder a rest, Mel leaned close to Janice's back and peered beyond into the dispersed light of the street lamps illuminating the dock ahead. "What is it?" she whispered back. She took a deep breath and caught the scent of Janice's hair.

"Those aren't dockhands," Janice realized. Discreetly she pointed out one or two of the closest figures moving through the fog. The men wore tight-fitting dark-gray uniforms, buttoned staidly up the front, with high starched collars and the sounds of military-shined boots echoed on the wood walk.

Melinda put a hand on Janice's shoulder and stepped backward pulling the blonde out of sight around the corner with her. "Ministry police," she confirmed.

Janice's expression pinched as she tried to think of another way out to their ship. Melinda however came up with an idea first.

"Janice, Give me your hat." Green eyes shot up to her face and she gestured. "And the jacket."

"You can't go out there, Mel," the archaeologist protested quietly though she took off both the hat and the jacket as asked. She shivered slightly against the cool breeze coming off the water.

Melinda slipped her own hat off her head and untied the cream-colored scarf from around it. Bending down, she quickly opened her suitcase, and then tugged Janice's to do the same. Rearranging the contents Mel pulled out a thicker shirt. It was one of Janice's lumberjack shirts she had liked wearing on cold mornings at the dig. She passed it up to the blonde. "Put this on," she said, stuffing the leather jacket and fedora inside their bags before standing.

Janice quickly buttoned on the shirt and was running her fingers through her hair to pull it out of the collar when Melinda stepped up and started wrapping the scarf around Janice's hair. "What's this for?"

"Disguise." Melinda looked down into green eyes and smiled. "They're looking for a blonde woman in a leather jacket and a beat up--"

"Hey!" Janice protested the maligning of her favorite piece of attire.

With a smile, Melinda shook her head and finished tying off the scarf, which effectively concealed all of the blonde's golden curls. "The fedora was too recognizable," she finished simply. "Now you're not."

Jan ran a curious hand over her scarfed head and nodded. "Guess you're right." She pointed to Melinda. "What about you?"

"I was wearing the overcoat last night," Mel pointed out. "Now," she added. "I'm not."

Janice's smile broadened suddenly, lighting up her face and warning Melinda a split second before strong hands clasped hers and pulled the startled brunette into a hug. "Quick thinking, Mel."

The soft voice praising her, sent skitters up and down Melinda's spine for a long enjoyable moment. "Thanks," she whispered back, hugging the smaller woman and hiding her smile in the scarf. "Let's go."

"Slip 42," Janice pointed out as they moved quietly with their luggage down to the wooden planked piers. They had to pause several times as Ministry police and other authorities strode through the area questioning the dockhands busy loading cargo holds of the smaller ships and dinghies for the trips out to the larger ships moored near the mouth of the harbor.

In slip 42, as they stepped out from behind a pile of rope and steam engine parts boxed and stacked a person high, Melinda and Janice stepped down to the dinghy moored there. A ragtag collection of men moved around the bottom of the boat, between fore and aft, securing the supplies and settling themselves for the task of rowing out to their boat.

Melinda whispered, "What's the boat's name?"

"The Lob Lolly. Captain Bristol."

"British?" Janice nodded. Melinda frowned a long moment, but then turned to the men as they began to take note of the women's presence. "We're shipping out with the Lob Lolly. New cooks," she said distinctly, wiping any trace of her Southern accent carefully from her voice, a fairly easy task for a woman who spoke eight languages and could translate and read six more.

But the depth of her companion's changed voice sent shivers over Janice's shoulders, settling a warm feeling in the pit of her stomach. It was so reminiscent of Xena's in the Ares Cave that the blonde had an urge to check Melinda's face for signs that the ancient Greek warrior was back. But when the men below gruffly gestured for them to get in the boat, and Melinda turned to tell Janice, there was no sign of Xena in the still Southern face.

"New cooks, huh?" remarked one as Melinda stepped down behind Janice and he noticed her shoes. "Been visiting a lover, eh, ladies?"

Janice bristled and turned. Melinda's hand closed over her wrist though even as her hand closed into a fist. Keeping her voice even, the blonde said, "Careful. Cooks can make the worst kinds of enemy."

That caused a ripple of male laughter mostly at the expense of the fellow who had spoken up and a space on a midbench was cleared for them to sit. Janice watched as their bags were stowed under another bench toward the back. A longpole was retrieved. Another man cast off the ropes from the dock irons as the dinghy was pushed away.

Melinda and Janice dropped their heads and turned to look out toward their destination, as a couple of Minister police moved onto the pier they had just vacated. One shouted to the dinghy in rapid-fire Greek.

Melinda translated, her voice pressed up against Janice's ear: "Have you seen a blonde woman in a leather jacket this morning?" He gestured. "This tall?" She translated his last words.

The men around them all shook their heads. "No," one shouted back. "But next we're in port, you tell me where I can find her and I'll show her a good time." The ribald laughter filled the fog-shrouded morning as the boat drifted out into the open harbor.

Melinda looked up and spotted the Lob Lolly materializing out of the mists. Its gray iron sides looked well cared for. Some of the portholes had lights behind them, and the deck railing, about fifty feet over their heads looked sturdy. She took a deep breath and sighed, swallowing against a sudden rolling sensation in her stomach.

Janice grasped her forearm and leaned back into the brunette. "What's wrong?" she whispered.

"I forgot to take my medication this morning," Melinda confided.

"What medication?" Concerned eyes, almost transluscent in the low light reflecting off the fog, held steady on Melinda's face.

"I get seasick," the brunette confided in raw silence.

Janice groaned and buried her face in her hands for a long moment, feeling the water shift under the boat as its wake and that of the moored ship collided. The men around them scurried to secure the dinghy to the side of the Lob Lolly and the clatter of the rope ladder from the deck broke the silence.

Behind her she could feel Melinda's body stiffen, no doubt steeling herself against the queasy feeling in her stomach. "And you haven't eaten anything since yesterday, have you?" Blue eyes met green and Melinda shook her head slowly. "Great."

Chapter 5

Hand over hand, Janice moved up the ladder and finally slipped over the railing to stand on the Lob Lolly's deck. Two of the men from the boat had already carried up both her and Melinda's traveling cases. Now the blonde reached a hand back over the railing to grasp her brunette partner's.

Muscles straining in her back and legs, she was able to bring Mel over the railing. She watched Melinda straighten up and glance around the deck while she rubbed her shoulder. "Remind me not to do that again," the blonde remarked, drawing blue eyes to her face. A slow smile crept onto Melinda's queasy face and stayed there. Janice's smile broadened. Mission accomplished.

In tandem they picked up their bags and walked across the deck to a man holding a clipboard and leaning against an open hatchway. Janice brushed her hair from her face and reached out a hand. "New cooks reporting, Mr. Teneby."

A clean-shaven broad face lifted from his reading and leveled hazel eyes on both women. He looked Janice up and down and apparently recollected they had met before. Taking her hand firmly he studied her face while talking. "Covington, right? This must be your friend you mentioned." He studied the brunette who towered over the Covington woman by at least a head and leveled intelligent eyes the color of the Caribbean Sea on his face. "I'm David Teneby, First Officer."

Melinda took the offered hand, feeling the grip, which started strong, go softer against hers. She countered that by firming her own grip. His eyes widened slightly and his handshake firmed up once more. "I'm Mel Pappas." She allowed her accent only to slightly shade her words. It seemed suddenly very important to not permit this man to underestimate her or Janice.

Janice watched the lengthy greeting and intervened when she could tell Melinda was trying to remove her hand but Teneby was holding it just a fraction beyond polite. "Which way to the crew deck?"

He stepped out of the doorway and gestured inside. "This way, down two decks to the end of the corridor. Your quarters are just off the galley. Follow your noses. Our last cook left only about two hours ago." He paused a moment as Janice entered the doorway, then Melinda. "I'll walk you down."

The trio moved down hearing nothing but the metallic clang of their feet against the metal steps. When they reached the next deck down, Melinda spoke. "Was he a local just signed on for a one-time trip, Mr. Teneby?"

Teneby shook his head emphatically. "Blo-- h-- Um, no. We nearly threw him off at our last port. The captain gave him his papers when we first docked."

Janice chuckled and then continued walking to the next set of steps leading down. "Next deck right?"

Teneby, who still hadn't taken his eyes from the Melinda's face, snapped out of it and nodded. "Yeah. Next level. Aft. Bottom of the steps turn around and go behind them." He stopped at the top of the steps. "Need any help, Ms. Pappas?"

"Not at all, Mr. Teneby." Melinda shook her head. Janice could see she was fighting to keep her jaw still, and the woman's usual light coloring was exacerbated by stark white around her mouth and in front of her ears as well as the bridge of her nose.Janice turned forward in order to step down safely on the crew deck. She held the rail for a long moment as she looked down the corridor and then back up the steps. This deck was considerably less well lit. The shadows were deeper between the small mounted electric lamps set only next to the crew cabin doors. And the entire end of the corridor was dark.

She swallowed and moved back to let Melinda and Teneby step down next to her.

"This way," Teneby said helpfully. Both women followed, carrying their cases as he led them toward a cabin just beyond a wide opening. As he passed the opening, he gestured. "There's the galley. Crew eats there twice a day, either coming on, or going off, shift. Four bells and eight bells usually."

Janice could see Melinda was barely holding herself together, and just nodded. "We'll check the supplies as soon as we can put our bags away."

"Good. Captain's been looking forward to a few better meals since I told him we might have a couple of ladies doing the cooking for a while."

Nodding again, Janice pushed the handle on the door and pushed inward. She gestured Melinda inside and said, "Thanks. Tell the captain we'll have a meal for him soon." The brunette brushed past her and Janice patted her friend lightly on the back, still smiling at Teneby. "When will we be getting underway?"

"Tide's already moving," he replied. When Janice said nothing else and the silence had gone on uncomfortably long, Teneby finally nodded, and climbed back up the steps.

When he was gone from sight, Janice stepped inside the cabin. Melinda fumbled with a candle on the table. Just as the match flared and the wick ignited, Janice turned to close the door, lingering there a long moment before slowly closing it.

When she turned back, Melinda was seated stiff-armed on the furthest of the two beds. Thank God, Janice thought, thankful for the bed closer to the door as she sat down on it. Melinda winced and then closed her eyes, taking several steady deep breaths.

"Anything I can do?" Janice asked, her own voice sounding a bit thin.

Melinda tried to lean over and open her bag. The movement upset her stomach's precarious balance and she sat bolt upright suddenly.

Janice watched her lean over the back of the bed and heard a metal bin being moved, just before the painful sound of the brunette losing what little she had in her stomach. Crossing to the other bed, Janice settled next to Melinda, patting the woman's shoulder gently. "Where is it?" she asked, meaning the medicine.

"With my toothbrush," Melinda replied, her voice raw and faded.

Janice opened the Southerner's suitcase and sorted quickly, finding both the toothbrush and a small vial of liquid. She passed both to Melinda over the woman's still turned shoulder. "Here."

While Melinda worked herself back to a sitting position, Janice left the cabin and went in search of some water in the galley. Finding the tapped supply, she filled a large mug with the clear liquid, and quickly tasted it. Good, it was water, and not spirits, she thought. As she walked back to their quarters, she looked at the doorway again and slugged down a quick sip herself before reentering the cabin. "Found some water."

She studied her companion and remarked, "We better settle your stomach first. The galley is going to be quite a cleaning job."

"That bad?"

Janice nodded. "Here, drink this."

Melinda was relieved to be sitting up now instead of crouched over the back of the bed. "Thanks," she said, taking the mug and drinking slowly. "It'll work pretty quickly," she assured Janice. Over the rim of the mug, she watched the blonde sit on her bed, fingering the cover quietly. "Some way to start a trip, hmm?"

Janice looked up and Melinda watched the pupils contract quickly. "Oh. Um. Yeah. I'm sorry I didn't tell you about the boat trip sooner."

"My fault."

"But if you hadn't been running interference for me at the Ministry office..." Janice shook her head. "If I hadn't taken the chakram with me in the first place, none of this would have happened."

"We still would have had to take a boat to get out of the country, even when we left legally, Janice."

Janice gave a half-hearted chuckle and nodded, moving her hands from the cover to her lap and lacing her fingers together absently. "So, now what?"

Melinda swallowed down the last of the water from the mug and took a deep, relieved breath. "Time to check out the galley," she said resolutely. Janice stood, stretched a bit, her hands almost touching the low ceiling of the room. Her hands pulled back suddenly and she wiped her palms on her pants. "Let's get out of here," she said, with considerable relief in her voice.

Chapter 6

It was an unmitigated disaster, Melinda thought, as she got her first look at the Lob Lolly galley. There was a preparation counter, two deep sinks with exposed pipes, a gas rangetop with six burners, over an oven large enough to cook four turkeys with all the trimmings. The gas hood, like everything else, was coated with thick layers of blackened grease.

Even Janice, who had just been in to fetch the mug and water for Melinda a moment before, was appalled. "What in Hell blew up in here?" she exclaimed, picking up the top cup in a stacked pile of food-encrusted dishes. The entire pile, standing almost as tall as her, teetered next to the first of the double sinks.

She turned to find out Melinda's reaction only to see the brunette's back as she exited to the corridor. Following, Janice saw her enter their quarters. A moment passed in silence, then several scuffling noises could be heard.

Just as Janice was about to step out of the galley, Melinda emerged, pulling on one of her shirts backward and rolling up the sleeves.

She tossed another at Janice who caught it smoothly. "Smocks?" she guessed.

Melinda's blue eyes twinkled with her smile. "Roll them up. We've got work to do."

Janice slipped on the shirt with arms too long and the bottom hanging to her knees. "Reminds me of wearing Dad's shirts for art class when I was a kid," she chuckled, reentering the kitchen with Melinda on her heels, pulling her hair back into a low clasp.

Mel studied the green-eyed woman who started filling the dish sink with water lathering from a small bottle she'd found dropped in a mug on the back splashboard. She watched a lock of hair fall forward over Janice's shoulder. "Bet you were a cute kid," she said, just as she caught up the blonde's hair and pulled it into a low ponytail with a soft gray linen she had in her pocket.

Janice turned her head in Mel's hands and the brunette found herself steadily gazing into darkening turquoise eyes. "Thanks," followed by a tremulous smile caught the Southerner off guard. She ran a gentle hand down the blonde's shoulder and took a step back. "So.. dishes first I think. Pots and pans so we can get the counter clear."

"Wash or dry?" Janice asked.

"Do we have any towels?"

The blonde spotted a closed drawer. It was the only one in the whole room closed, so she made a wild guess and opened it. Inside rested a stack of folded towels. She pulled one out and waved it at Melinda. "Look," she chuckled. "Never been used."

"At least not by their last cook."

Janice shook her head. "Now I know what Teneby jumped at the offer. I'm surprised no one died of poisoning."

Melinda monitored the water level in the sink and dropped a pot in with a splash. "Actually we don't know that's the case."

The two women gave in to shared laughter as their hands dove to the daunting work of cleaning up before the first meal.

Melinda forgot all about her stomach, even as she and Janice had to shift their stances. The boat's movements sent shudders through the deck. Slowly though the layers of food and grime gave way to a functional kitchen. Supplies were identified and most of the pots and dishes cleaned. The larger pots and pans were washed, dried and hung up on hooks over the cooking area. They played a game of "guess what this was" as they washed the caked food off the dishes, and scooped congealed mess out of mugs.

There was a low toned bell heard, which clanged four times. "Food!" Janice and Melinda exclaimed together. Melinda had just begun identifying what was in the icebox.

"There isn't much," she confessed as Janice pulled down a box of dry milk. A seafaring vessel carried little that required refrigeration, the cost of keeping things cold daunting to most pockets in this day and age, but she found and ticked off, "Hard bread. A case of grits--" she stuck her finger in it and shook her head. "Never mind. That's ready to caulk leaks in the hull," she commented, then continued, "There's also oranges."

"No time to squeeze juice," Janice determined, hearing the first of the men's rapid steps on the gangway steps. Melinda reached into another cupboard and brought down a box of dry flake cereal. "All right. Cereal and oranges it is."

Melinda set down the cereal boxes and fetched the bowls from the drying rack.

The first wave of men tumbled into the doorway of the galley. She took a deep breath, smiled at the first man and handed him a bowl, which he held out to Janice for filling. Then he grabbed two oranges and took to the benches and narrow tables, sliding all the way down and to the back of the space. Others followed, commenting occasionally on their clean bowls but largely interested in simply grabbing food and sitting down to devour it.

The second wave of men finally noticed their servers.

"Hey, Mick. Lookee here." Melinda found herself the subject of scrutiny by a brawny balding man with brown eyes who stood only to her shoulder. "What's yer name, little lady?"

A narrow-faced, tall man with a shock of red hair, stepped up. Mick, Mel guessed. "I'm Melinda and this is Janice," she said quickly before he could speak. "We're the new cooks."

Melinda stepped back as Mick took a bowl from her hands and put his right hand on his compatriot's shoulder. "C'mon, Donegal. I'm hungry."

"Bet ye are that," Donegal replied with a laugh.

Melinda studied Mick. Younger than most of the other, apparently he was the 'ladies man' on board. Another rough voice drew her attention.

"Where's the meat. Hot stuff?"

Janice stepped in and raised a hand to presumably tell the sailor where he could take that comment. But Melinda put a hand on her friend's arm, silently forcing it back down. She turned to the man and answered him, choosing to ignore the uncouth interpretation of his question. "We still have a lot of work to do." Her voice was loud and even, carrying so she only had to say this once. "Cereal today in exchange for something cooked tomorrow." She laid her blue gaze on the speaker, a dour man still coming into the galley. "Leave us to our work and you'll eat well. Deal?"

"Deal," came a strong voice from the doorway.

"Cap'n!" The men in the room snapped to attention.

"Captain," Melinda dropped her chin in respect.

The man who stepped through the crowd had a bearing proclaiming his leadership, along with the midnight blue jacket adorned with gold buttons. She also noted the small insignia pin on the lapel.

Melinda took his measure and wiped her hands on a towel before extending it. "Captain, Mr. Teneby said you had some trouble with your last cook."

He looked around, taking off his hat. "Considerably improved." Janice stepped up and his eyes fell to the slightly smaller woman. "Thank you both." He took Janice's hand.

"We should be able to start warm dishes tomorrow," Janice explained, caught by the brown eyes and the warm smile.

"Let Teneby know if you need anything. We'll make a stop in Morocco for supplies before we hit the open ocean." He picked up a bowl. "Cereal's fine though." He cast another look at Janice, glanced briefly to Melinda and then flipped an orange lazily in the air, catching it with a smile.

The line filed through more quietly after the captain's departure. Still, it was nearly two hours before Janice and Melinda settled at a table with cereal bowls and oranges of their own.

"That went well," Melinda murmured on a sigh. She peeled away a section of her orange and popped it into her mouth. Her face puckered at the tart, sweet taste. "Not bad," she said.

Janice rubbed her forehead before digging into her cereal. "Yeah, I guess so. Just eighteen more days to go."

Melinda chucked her orange section at the blonde, raising a smile. "You can dry this time," she said as the fruit bounced off Janice's shoulder.

Janice brought up her spoon and let fly a small bit of her cereal at the brunette, laughing when she hit the other woman's throat. Melinda chuckled softly while wiping the mess away, and flung her wet fingers back at the blonde. "Feeling better, I take it?" she asked with a smile.


"I noticed you have a bit of a problem with closed in spaces," Mel asked gently.

Janice stiffened her back and her expression was that of a woman who had been slapped. "What makes you say that?"

"The entire time the men were filing through here and it was so full I felt stifled, I kept noticing your cheeks were ashen and you kept finding reasons to disappear."

Janice paused, steepling her arms in front of her watching the spoon swing slowly back and forth over her bowl. She sighed, resigning herself to the revelation. "Well, yes." She lifted her green eyes and pointed out. "Most of the time I can control it though."


"Taking my mind off of it," she said noncommittally. Come on, Melinda, she silently begged. Don't ask. Please don't ask. It had been easy to forget the small dimensions of the lower deck areas while they were so engrossed in cleaning, but the descent of the sailors had invaded that safety zone, forcing her to think about the confining space. So Melinda had been right. Janice had used every excuse she could think of to move back into the kitchen area and stand breathing in the relatively more open space.

And had her thoughts center around the brunette still out with the men, remembering the bright blue of her eyes and the warmth as their bodies had passed while working earlier. So she kept returning to the serving area and braving the trapped feeling. Just for a chance to be close to the woman that she had discovered had a blanketing effect on her fear.

Janice's thoughts must have shown in her eyes because Melinda just nodded and went back to eating her cereal. "Like me and being seasick I suppose. You learn to live with it. To get what you want."

Janice took a breath and concluded, "Yeah."

They talked about the food and what still had to be done in the galley. Melinda watched Janice's posture relax by degrees. First her shoulders stopped huddling around her ears and then finally she leaned back, breakfast finished. "Melinda Pappas, would you like a mid-morning stroll on deck?" she asked jauntily.

"I'd love to," Melinda replied, her tone equally soft. They dropped their dishes in the sink and ducked out of the galley, Janice leading the way up to the sun-drenched top deck.

A shudder ran through the metal railing they both held. "The ship's engines just reversed," Janice explained as Melinda's face went ashen. Obviously the sudden shift had unsettled the woman's stomach slightly. "Do you want to go back down, while I check things out?"

The two women had just reached the main deck. Janice was paused with one foot outside the doorway, looking back over her shoulder at the brunette. So Melinda saw the ocean first. "Greek navy," she whispered, alarm clear, even in her low tones. "We're being boarded."

Chapter 7

Janice and Melinda remained out of sight, watching from behind a lifeboat rack.

The Greek ship, a small speed craft, had eight figures standing on the deck. Two of them pointed weapons toward the Lob Lolly deck, and the two men standing at the railing.

Teneby shouted down, "We declared our cargo back in port. We've already been given clearance to leave."

"There is a report that you have contraband aboard, sirs. We are charged with scouting your vessel, or --" Here the man in a low-slung cap and loose-fitting coat, gestured toward the open water.

Following the gesture, Melinda and Janice, as well as all those aboard the Lob Lolly, could see two Greek naval ships rapidly steaming toward them.

The Greek captain finished his threat. "We board sir, or we send you to the bottom of the sea."

Even from here, Janice could see Captain Bristol's shoulders tense. Curtly he nodded, and stepped back, ordering a rope ladder lowered to enable the inspection team to board.

"What's going on?" Janice heard some of the inspectors exchanging rapid-fire Greek just before two of the three stepped onto the ladder's first rungs.

"The third man... the one staying behind," she clarified with a tiny gesture. "He demanded they search for a false hold." Melinda's blue eyes leveled on Janice's gaze. "And ordered a list of the entire crew's home ports and dates of hire."

Janice frowned. "I wonder how many other crew signed on with us?"

"Probably not many. The conversations over breakfast suggested this group's been together some time."

Janice was impressed. "You were eavesdropping."

The brunette's eyes drifted up and for a long moment the two women just quietly regarded one another, emerald floating in pools of indigo. "Can I help it if I can translate six languages without even thinking about it?" She finally said in a low voice. "Come on. Let's get back down to the galley." Janice and Melinda waited until the captain and the inspection team was in deep conversation, their backs turned to where the two women were standing. Then they quickly made their way back down the stairs.

Halfway down to their quarters, the women stopped at the sound of the general crew call for assembly. Do we go or not? They both thought, turning to question the other.

"What do you think?"

"Captain will be expecting us if he sounded the call," Melinda asked.

Janice considered this. "But it wasn't a duty report signal. So..." An idea hit her. "Mel, how would you like to get dirty?"

After a long considered pause where a smile began widening on her face, Melinda carefully thought about it, then said, "I'm right behind you."

Janice turned and the two women hurried the rest of the distance, ducking into their quarters just as they could hear the inspectors begin their tapping explorations of the other decks. The walls ringing with dull metallic thumps the entire time, Janice rummaged through her suitcase and gestured at Melinda to do the same. "Big shirt, and baggy pants, if you have anything," she told the brunette. "Then we're going to finish cleaning the galley."

Melinda pulled her suitcase onto her bed and began looking though she asked, "But we were signaled to report."

"We're going to be late," Janice replied. "Because we were busy. Grease fires are a messy business."

Without another word, Melinda finished her search and found the requested clothes. Janice retrieved her own. Without a word they changed into the new outfits.

The blonde turned while buttoning her blouse and found herself face to face with Melinda's bare back. Long, smooth lines of muscles flexed under skin that reflected the low lamplight of the room in interesting shadows. The brunette was just bending over to step into her pants. Janice felt her heart start pounding, her cheeks heat up and her temples begin to ache. Janice, you've got to get a grip on yourself, she thought sternly, then waited, chewing her bottom lip between her teeth, for Melinda to turn around. "Tie up your hair," she said finally when the dark head just began to turn around.

Once that was accomplished, Janice tugged on the scarf borrowed for their earlier boarding adventure, and tied back her own hair beneath it. "Just in case they know what they're looking for," she explained with a rueful smile. "It worked last time," she added with a shrug as the two women left their quarters and walked into the galley. Janice pointed to the discarded greased rags stacked in the corner from their earlier cleaning job, a benefit of not being on land. Nothing could be thrown out until they reached a port.

"Time to get messed up," Melinda acknowledged, picking up three and tossing Janice two more.

Grimacing and wincing, Melinda and Janice applied the grease to their faces, clothes and hands in smears and smudges, and occasionally, in outright lumps.

Janice looked at Melinda. "You know something?"

"What?" Melinda looked up from applying the grease to her face. The fine bone structure of the Southerner's face was almost completely obscured, and incredibly enhanced by the dark mess coating her face. She looked childly cherubic and deadly exotic at the same time.

Janice felt the draw of the clear blue amid the grimy black mess and allowed the feeling to pull her closer, looking up into her companion's face. "You thought I was a cute kid." She lifted a glob of the grease in her palm. "But I bet you made a cute messy one."

She reached up with her hands and painted greasy lines amid the mess on Melinda's face. The blue eyes darkened to an iridescent indigo. "I bet you liked finger-painting as a kid too," her voice was low, filled with a soundless laughter that Janice could feel vibrating from the body in front of her. Fingers drifted up and touched her own face, painting lines and swirls in the greasy patches covering her own cheeks.

She was glad of the grease covering her flushed cheeks, since she could feel them heating under the brunette's touch. Melinda broke the spell with a dab of the stuff on her nose and letting loose the laughter. "We'd better report," she reminded Janice.

To hell with the report command, Janice thought even as she shook herself internally and realized the dire straits of their situation. "It could all end here, Mel," she cautioned.

"But it won't," the brunette said determinedly.

"All right. Let's go."

They emerged from the kitchen and started up the gangway, walking past an inspector who did not give them a second glance as they emerged on the top deck.

Quickly the two women crossed to where the crew was assembled, and moved into the back row, stepping between two men whose brows creased in confusion at their appearance. "Grease fire," Janice explained in a low voice to the man on her right, while Melinda stood straight and still to her left.

"Cap'n doesn't like it when people are late," he replied.

"He'd hate it even more if we'd left the fire burning," Janice pointed out.

The man nodded and the commotion in front of them shifted as they heard the next man answer questions.

"What's your job on board?"

"Mechanic, second class, sir," the man replied in a heavy British accent. Even the captain's wasn't that deep, Janice thought.

The man scribbled something on a pad. "When did you join the crew?"

"Four years ago it was, sir. Boarded her in Livuhpool," the reply came back.

Janice studied the back of the questioned crewman's head. Dark hair, trimmed closely, was tucked under a small dustman's cap.

The inspector moved to the next man. "Job?"

"Coal loader," the reply came back, from a dark-skinned, bare-shouldered man with hard muscles bulging in each arm. "Two years," he replied.

"What port?"

"Haiti," he replied. The inspector scribbled on his pad and started to move away. Janice watched with unmoving gaze as he began to talk to the man directly in front of her. Safely behind her mask of grease, she studied the Greek man's face. At her waist, she felt a hand close gently over her left and moved her head slightly to bring the taller woman into view.

"He wasn't from Haiti," Melinda said, her voice nearly soundless. Janice almost felt the words rather than heard them.

Lying? she thought. Well, it was what she planned to do, right? she admonished herself.

She hoped the inspector reached her first, instead of Melinda. Not that she didn't trust Melinda to play the game. At this point anything the brunette did wouldn't surprise her. First, drawing off the guards at the ministry, then she came up with the guise for their boarding the Lob Lolly.

No, Janice realized, she didn't want to put the burden of their lie on Melinda's shoulders. The inspector was several men away now, so she risked speaking more loudly than Mel had a moment ago. "I'll start," she said. "Depending on which end he starts, we'll switch so that I'll be first."

"You want me to follow your lead?" Melinda replied, keeping her voice for the blonde's ears only, by bending close and whispering against the scarf.

Janice nodded, unable to speak as the taller woman's warm breath seemed to short-circuit her ability to think and the hand wrapped around her own squeezed reassuringly.

The men and the two women fell silent, waiting for the captain and the inspector to work their way toward them. The low hum of the voices the only sound since the engines had been stopped and the turbines in the engine far below had been stilled.

Melinda watched the progress of the questioning, and listened to all the answers, though a lot of the accents did not seem to match up to their claims of homeport. Something else was going on here. She could sense it. The captain came up from the left, leading the inspector. Janice shifted to Melinda's left so that she would be questioned first. The blonde's compact body brushed Mel's as the switch was made.

Captain Bristol stepped up to them. "Our cooks," he explained to the inspector, whose eyes widened at the sight of the two. "Galley's cleaner than either of you, I presume," he coaxed.

"Yes, sir," Melinda answered, sparing Janice only a glance. "Small grease fire while we were finishing up."

"I noticed you missed the first call request," he replied.

"Couldn't be helped, sir." The inspector stepped forward.

"Enough. Job is cook. Hire date?"

Janice opened her mouth to answer, green eyes moving to the captain's face. The captain spoke first. "Six months ago."

"Port?" The inspector's voice belied his impatience. Janice stood stiff-necked under his drilling gaze.

"India," the captain answered. A British colonial holding. A bit surprised, but able to hide it, Janice nodded to confirm.

"Both of them?"

"What are you implying, inspector?" the captain lifted his chin.

Nodding and waving his hand dismissively, the inspector moved on to the next man. Janice held the captain's gaze a moment longer and then turned her eyes forward again. She struggled to slow the hammering of her heart in her chest, and again felt the warm squeeze of Melinda's hand wrapping around hers down at their sides.

She took a deeper breath with each move the man made away from them.

Shortly after the run in with the inspector, the bo's'n blew the whistle for dismissal. As the crew scrambled to resume their duties, the other inspector emerged from the lower decks, a bag in his hands. "I found it, sir. I found it!"

Continued in Part 2

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