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Why You Bribe Cruise Agents

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Congratulations to my latest cruise book, Unsinkable Mister Brown, which won the bronze at the London Book Festival. This marks the second international award for the book, (also took the silver medal in Paris). For those not familiar with my Cruise Confidential series, Unsinkable Mister Brown is the third book, but actually a prequel and a good starting place. I say an excerpt is in order! Here’s how to get a job on a cruise ship: persistence, bribes, and a lot of lies!

An hour later we were sitting in the office of Ovidiu, the Romanian recruiting agent for Carnival Cruise Lines. He was a slender man with a handsome face, a very handsome wardrobe, and an extremely handsome office. His suite comprised the entire second floor of a brick building, featuring numerous windows looking into a lush interior court. Light filtered in through an angled glass skylight and past his mezzanine entrance, making it look like a bridge over a jungle. “Americans can’t handle ships,” he said.

“So I hear,” I replied, giving Bianca an amused look. She sat in the chair beside mine, looking relaxed but serious.

“What is it you think I can do for you?” Ovidiu asked. “I am a recruiter for Romanians, not Americans. There are no American recruiters, of course.”

“So I hear,” I repeated. “Why is that?”

“Because none apply,” he replied thoughtfully, leaning back. “Why would you want to? The work is very hard, and the money is very small.”

Bianca raised an eyebrow, and Ovidiu hastily added, “For an American.”

“I’m not thinking big,” I said. “It’s just a waiter job. I’ve been in restaurants for a decade.”

“Not on ships, you haven’t,” he pointed out. “Do you know computers?”

“He knows computers,” Bianca interrupted, before I could protest.

“Other than doctors, who are supernumeraries anyway, and entertainers, who have their own agencies, the only position I can even think of for an American would involve computers.”

“I just want to be a waiter, man,” I repeated.

Ovidiu leaned forward skeptically. “Why?”

“My reasons are irrelevant.”

“No, they’re not,” Ovidiu insisted. “Why would they bother with someone who will just quit? They’ll want to know your story before they even think of meeting you. And believe me, they’ll need to meet you.”

“I want to be with Bianca,” I explained. “If we have the same job, we can be together. That simple.”

“I see,” he said, nodding. “Well, in my ten years at Carnival, I’ve never seen even one American. I would not even talk to you, but Bianca is a good employee and a friend. Again, what is it you think I can do for you?”

“You can think Romanian-style,” Bianca answered for me. “Not American-style.”

Ovidiu thought for a moment, frowning. “No, that won’t work. The bribes are to convince me, and you don’t need to worry about that. Really, Bianca, I would sign him on if I could. I can’t.” He opened a drawer from his desk and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. We declined his offer, so he casually lit one for himself. He leaned towards me, elbows on the desk. “You want to know why Bianca doesn’t need to bribe me?”

“Suddenly I’m not so sure.”

“Bianca is the only one who almost beat me. Almost, of course.”

I looked at Bianca, but she said nothing. Her delicate wiggle of satisfaction was corroboration enough.

“As agent to cruise ships, my job is to screen people. If I like them, and there is a job opening, I find the right place for them. Bianca applied for the restaurants. That’s the highest paid job, so everybody applies for it first. It is also the toughest, so I don’t let them by easily.” He paused, grinned, and offered Bianca a cigarette again. This time she accepted, leaning forward to accept the light with a creak of leather skirt.

“She said she worked at a certain restaurant. I called the owner and he said, ‘oh, of course, she has worked here for years!’ That, of course, only meant she could lie and bribe. Romanian-style. Turns out, she only volunteered there for a summer.”

Bianca shrugged, explaining, “I needed to learn restaurants.”

“I knew she was lying, but couldn’t catch her. She was too smart. She had asked all of her waitress friends penetrating questions and listened close. I asked her this and that, and of her experiences here and there. She had an answer for all of it. The performance was amazing.”

Bianca laughed, and added, “Until Ovidiu pulled his bloody secret weapon from the filing cabinet!”

Reflecting upon what I knew of Romanians thus far, I presumed this meant a large knife.

“A linen napkin,” Ovidiu clarified. “I told her ‘You said you know half a dozen napkin folds. Show me.’ She wilted before my very eyes, like a Gypsy had spit in her ice cream. I told her to relax, go have a cigarette, then come back. I had her paperwork done by then.”

“All that to be a waiter?” I asked. “It’s not rocket science.”

Ovidiu leaned back again. He casually blew his smoke into the air, then looked me in the eye. “You have no idea what you’re getting into, do you?”

The London Book Festival awards ceremony will be held Jan. 24th in London. Until then, the most popular formats of Unsinkable Mister Brown will be 50% off. See my website for details at http://brev.is/mS94

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