Book Excerpt: 'Sammy's House'

I laughed along with the others and helped toast to our future, but RG's shrimp dip comment made me wonder about the possible hazards of the hors d'oeuvres we were consuming. Now that one of the waitresses had turned out to be a hired stripper, I was newly leery of the chefs. It's not like "cruise food" enjoys the most stellar reputation as it is. It seemed to me that I was perpetually coming across news stories about cruise ship passengers stricken by some mystery virus or another, and the sheer number of these incidents was worrisome. As far as I could tell, it was tough to go on a cruise and not come down with a hideous food-borne illness. Good Lord, we were probably surrounded by salmonella. I looked around suspiciously at the dumplings, bruschetta, and crabcakes laid out on their trays like so many invitations to gastroenteritis. We were doomed. I could sense it.

Feeling nauseous, I checked my bag for backup. I had Dramamine, various antihistamines, an eye patch, an EpiPen, some antibacterial ointment and Band-Aids, a Z Pak in the event I needed to start antibiotics right away, and Tamiflu to combat a sudden outbreak of avian flu. Friends found my first-aid kits creepy, but I considered them reassuring. I spent enough time researching health care issues to have an ever-expanding understanding of the countless mishaps and illnesses that were out there, just waiting to pounce. In light of the omnipresent danger, the best I could do was arm myself. The EpiPen had been the hardest to procure, since I wasn't technically deathly allergic to anything. But you never know, I argued with the doctor. Maybe I was deathly allergic to something obscure that I hadn't yet come across. I needed to be geared up for it when I did. I reminded myself to stay calm and not get too carried away. I knew deep down that the food was more than likely completely fine. But was that my abdomen cramping? If I'd contracted salmonella, I shouldn't experience symptoms for another six hours. Perhaps this ship was host to a particularly aggressive strain. I looked up from my kit to assess whether a medical helicopter would have enough room to land on the deck and saw that some of my more lubricated colleagues were fashioning a conga line. Should I break up the party to inform them of their intestinal peril?

Behind them, through the dusk, the Kennedy Center lights slid by. My eyes moved to RG, who was a few feet away, extricating himself from a conversation as he moved a safe distance from the conga parade. He happened upon my gaze as he made his way back toward the cabin.

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