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Cruises Can Be Costly

by John Welford 2 months ago in Short Story

A scam artist overplays her hand

Rosetta Mary Swinburne. Born 7th July 1993. Died 23rd January 2015. Aged 22. Our Rosie - A Bloom That Faded Too Soon.

“How tragic”, Vicky thought to herself as she read the gravestone in a small village cemetery in Norfolk. “But Rosetta is about to rise from the grave and make me a lot of money”.

Vicky’s trade was conning rich and stupid people out of their money. She did this by pretending to have inside knowledge of investment opportunities that had to be seized at the earliest possible opportunity. This was best done by pretending to be someone else, and the best candidate for “someone else” was a dead person whose birth certificate could be obtained and used to get a fake passport and open a bank account in the false name.

Vicky’s scam was performed on cruise ships that hopped from port to port, such as around the Mediterranean or the Caribbean. All she had to do was buy a ticket, get on board, swindle a few victims out of several thousands apiece, get them to wire the funds to her fake bank account, then disembark before anyone could make too many awkward enquiries.

It had worked several times in the past, with a new identity taken for each of her ventures. The expense of setting up the scam was always rewarded many times over.

Vicky liked to make sure that her false identity was believable. She was 28, which was only three years older than Rosetta would have been now, had she not been the unfortunate victim of a car crash on an icy Norfolk road that took her car into a water-filled ditch from which she could not escape. Vicky found this out from researching back issues of the local newspaper, which also had a colour photo of Rosetta. With the help of the right shade of hair dye, Vicky could easily pass for Rosetta. Although this was not strictly necessary for the task at hand, it was an added touch that pleased a consummate professional like Vicky.

Terry had been a steward on the Tourmaline Star for two years, having previously worked at a top London hotel. He enjoyed the work, not least the added bonus of visiting so many interesting places. Having customers who were there purely to enjoy themselves rather than be in town for important business reasons was also an advantage.

When Terry glanced down the passenger list before leaving port he had a shock. There was a name on it that he had had no occasion to remember for at least ten years, but he had clearly not forgotten it entirely. Just how many Rosetta Swinburnes could there be?

The cruise of the Tourmaline Star on this occasion was a winter trip along the coast of Norway. The passengers would fly to Bergen and then be taken all the way to the North Cape and back, stopping off in various fjords and with an excellent chance of seeing the Northern Lights.

From Vicky’s perspective this provided many opportunities to work her scam as well as plenty of escape routes should anything go wrong.

For Terry, there would clearly be many chances to talk to his long-lost friend and renew his acquaintance with her, which had ended when her family had moved to Norfolk and he had stayed put in Southampton.

And so it was, on the first night out of port, that Terry was able to speak to “Rosie” on an otherwise deserted promenade deck. The average age of the passengers was well over 50, so a single woman in her 20s stood out from the rest and was easy to track down.

“Are you Rosie Swinburne?” he asked.

For a second, Vicky was about to say “No”, but remembered in time who she was pretending to be.

“Yes”, she said. “I am”.

“Do you remember me? I’m Terry Muldoon.”

Of course, the name meant absolutely nothing to Vicky, who was suddenly aware of her mistake in choosing a name that was unlikely to belong to anyone else. Had she chosen to impersonate “Claire Smith” or “Ruth Jones” a stout denial would have been perfectly acceptable. But as it was, this was not going to be possible.

“How are you?” asked Terry. “I often wondered what became of you.”

Clearly Terry had not heard about Rosetta Swinburne’s untimely end in a Norfolk ditch. But it was not going to be easy to play along with the deception for long, especially as Vicky had no idea just how well Terry had known Rosie ten years previously. And Vicky’s researches had not been thorough enough to allow for the possibility of meeting someone from Rosie’s past and getting away with it.

“Have you been in touch with any of our old friends? Alan Bostock, for example? Or Bobbie Randall? You were great friends with Natalie Watts, if I remember. Did she end up marrying that guy from the bakery? You must know if anyone does”.

This was getting far too dangerous for Vicky. Getting into a conversation about people of whom she knew absolutely nothing would soon reveal that she was not who she said she was. Stewards on cruise ships were used to the activities of con artists such as herself, and once she aroused this man’s suspicions it would all be over for her.

She wondered about feigning an illness and leaving the scene without saying anything further, but that would have meant moving from the dark near the ship’s rail to a much brighter area. Although someone’s appearance can change a lot in ten years, she could not be sure that Rosie’s former schoolfriend would not have been able to see that she was not who she claimed to be.

There was no-one else about. There seemed to be only one solution to Vicky’s problem. She had had some training in wrestling in her youth, and she knew that if she could take Terry unawares she could throw him clean over the rail and into the sea. What other alternative did she have?

Not being the woman she said she was, she was not to know that Terry had been the captain of his school’s judo team, and that he had kept up his training ever since. This would not be a one-way fight.

It did not last long. There was a single splash and then silence.

The original Rosetta Swinburne had ended her days drowning in ice-cold water. Sometimes history repeats itself.

Short Story

John Welford

I am a retired librarian, having spent most of my career in academic and industrial libraries.

I write on a number of subjects and also write stories as a member of the "Hinckley Scribblers".

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John Welford
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