“We must learn to sail in high winds.”
— Aristotle Onassis
“Never been on a boat before, huh?”
Barbra grimaced and pulled the towel off her face to peer up at the speaker. It was the purser’s assistant, Fred, whom they had met when first coming on deck and given him their tickets. His smile was bright and toothy, and his eyes looked amused as he stared down at her.
“I have,” Barbra said, yanking the towel down again. “Just not one this big.”
She heard him chuckle and walk away, probably to go annoy her friends. The young man had taken a liking to the gaggle of girls that had come giggling up the gangplank, calling them “fresh beauties”, and he frequently stopped on his strolls around the ship to make conversation.
Well, Barbra knew that Tonya and Charlotte were holed up in their cabin, even more seasick than Barbra was, and Wanda had insisted food was the best cure and was haunting the cafeteria–taking a seat near the bathroom, just in case.
The only one whose complexion hadn’t turned a vague shade of green was Tina, who was absolutely bursting with excitement and running all over the ship with abandon. It might have been embarrassing if Barbra hadn’t been too nauseous to care, instead opting to recline in a deckchair near the bow until her body became accustomed to the rolling ship. If she could just rest for a couple hours…
She groaned and lifted the towel once more. It was Fred again, now accompanied by Tina, who was munching happily on a large pastry of some kind. Her simplistic joy and easy stance on the rocking deck made a mockery of Barbra’s sufferings, and she made no attempt to keep the irritation out of her voice.
“What do you want?”
“Fred’s taking me to see the captain’s quarters! Doesn’t that sound luscious?”
Practically everything was “luscious” to Tina.
She waved the pastry toward the center of the ship. “Do you want to come with us? We’ll see how this big ol’ thing actually works!”
Barbra glanced at Fred, who looked particularly smug. He probably thought he’d wangled a sort of date out of the short blonde, not knowing her sweet, innocent, naive demeanor was all a playful act, designed to get the handsome crewmember to be her personal tour guide. She had a beau back home, besides.
“No, thanks,” Barbra said, smoothing her dress out and adjusting her hat before putting the towel back over her face. “You have fun, though.”
“You’re still not feeling well?” Tina asked, sounding concerned.
“Not yet, but probably soon. With some rest.” Barbra placed slight stress on the last word.
“Alright then. Do take care of yourself, and I’ll tell you all the luscious things I learned when we come back!”
Barbra listened to the pair walk away and then to the soft slapping of the surrounding waves.
Their rhythm was soothing, and she slowly drifted off into a light sleep, dreaming of pastries.
She was awoken by Fred, whose face she was frankly quite sick of seeing by now.
“Fred!” Barbra scolded, snatching back her towel he had removed. “Don’t you have someone else to annoy?” She looked around. “Where’s Tina?”
“That’s what I’m wondering!” he said, and she noticed that he wasn’t smiling now, but actually seemed rather worried. “I can’t find her.”
Barbra bolted upright. “You lost Tina?”
Fred looked uncomfortable. “I didn’t lose her, per se. After we left the captain’s, I offered to take her to the cafeteria, and she said she wanted to see if you were feeling better first.
“So I got us a table, and I waited there for a long time, but she never showed up. I thought maybe you two had gone back to your room for some reason, but then I saw that you were still here…”
Barbra could see the genuine concern in his face. “Well, Tina couldn’t have gone far,” she said, trying to sound more optimistic than she felt. “Perhaps she did go back to the room, to check on the others.”
After gathering her things, she and Fred left the bow deck and entered the main part of the ship. It was cool, yet humid in the carpeted hallways. Barbra paused at a directory on the wall.
“Second floor, Room 2B,” said Fred, before she could ask. She shot him a glare before moving toward the stairs.
The room was dark and quiet when she entered, with Fred waiting respectfully just outside the door. Barbra tiptoed to the beds, two of which featured disheveled lumps. She hated to wake her friends, but if Tina had been here…
She grasped Charlotte’s shoulder gently and shook it. The sandy blonde head stirred.
“Charlotte?” Barbra whispered.
“Charlotte, have you seen Tina?”
Barbra took a deep, controlling breath. “Tina. Have you seen her?”
“She hasn’t been here. Why?” came a sleepy voice on the other side of the room.
“I can’t find her,” Barbra said, moving over to Tonya, who sat up.
The girl’s shock of red hair was a tangled mess, but her bright blue eyes became sharp with concern. “Is she lost?”
Barbra shook her head. “I don’t know. She went with Fred to the captain’s quarters, said she was going to meet him at the cafeteria, and then never showed.”
Tonya looked as though she was about to say something, then the color drained out of her already pale face, and she leapt off the bed and bolted into the bathroom.
“So you’re both still sick, then?” Barbra asked Charlotte loudly to drown out the sounds of retching.
Her friend sat up and stretched. She looked peculiar without her glasses on. “Yes. Her more than me. I only feel nauseous now.”
“It’ll pass!” said Fred from beyond the ajar door. “We have to find Tina!”
Charlotte gave Barbra a questioning glance.
“He’s sweet on Tina,” Barbra said, rolling her eyes. “He doesn’t know about Henry.”
Nobody paid him any attention.
Tonya came out of the bathroom on shaky legs. “Well, that was awful.” She flopped back onto the bed, and Barbra fetched a wet washcloth for her forehead. “Thanks.”
“I don’t think either of us will be much help to you,” Charlotte said, giving Tonya a worried look.
“Don’t worry,” Barbra said, going over to her own bed to put away her things. “It’s probably best someone stays here anyway, in case Tina comes.”
“Try finding Wanda. Maybe she’s seen her,” Tonya said weakly.
Barbra nodded and picked up her pocketbook. “I’ll keep you both updated.”
The two girls gave faint waves of farewell, and Barbra rejoined Fred in the hallway.
“Going to buy a pastry to lure her in?” he asked, gesturing at her pocketbook.
In answer, she opened it and pulled out a picture of the five girls, one of their college sorority photos. Tina was front and center, smiling broadly. “So we can ask around if anyone has seen her.”
Fred looked impressed. “Smart thinking.”
“We can’t all be pretty faces.” She put the photo away, and started off smartly down the hall.
Then she had to stop and wait for Fred to catch up because she had no idea where the cafeteria was.
They found Wanda lounging in a chair in the corner, still looking a little pale, but much better than their two friends in bed.
“Tina hasn’t been in here,” said the black haired girl to Barbra’s query. She pointed to Fred. “I saw him come in, but he left after about ten minutes.”
Fred started defensively, “Tina was supposed to meet me here. I didn’t think she’d skip out on me.” He turned to Barbra. “And who is Henry?”
Barbra ignored him. “She wasn’t back at the room, either,” she informed Wanda.
Her friend frowned. “Well, she can’t have just disappeared. As big as this boat is, there aren’t that many places to go.”
Except the water, Barbra thought darkly, then banished the idea from her head. There were too many people around for someone to not notice a girl falling overboard, and Tina was an excellent swimmer.
“Come with us to search the rest of the ship, then,” Barbra said, still trying to sound positive.
The two girls and Fred left the cafeteria and went back up on deck.
“We’ll split up,” Barbra said, taking charge. “I’ll look around the bow; Wanda, you check the stern; and Fred, you look everywhere else.”
They both nodded and started off.
After a half hour, Barbra ran out of people to confront and went back to the interior entrance, hoping that Wanda or Fred had had more luck. She was disappointed to see them waiting there for her, both with glum expressions. A fresh pang of fear shot through her heart.
“Tina?” she asked hopefully as she approached. The pair shook their heads.
“Plenty of people have seen her, or at least someone who looks like her, but not recently,” Wanda said, scowling.
Fred looked particularly morose. “No one remembers seeing her after we left the captain’s quarters. Not a trace.”
“She has to be somewhere,” Barbra said, trying not to panic. “What about the crew?” She appealed to Fred. “Anyone?”
He just shook his head. “None of the officers or the cafeteria workers saw her at all.”
Barbra pondered this. “What about the cleaning crew? They go all over the ship, don’t they?”
His eyes widened.
The trio was in front of the janitor’s office a few minutes later, the girls huffing slightly as their clothes weren’t suitable for running.
Fred rapped sharply on the door. “Mr. Faraday?” he called.
A harried-looking man with graying hair burst into the hallway, startling them. “Yes?” he asked roughly.
“Sir, we seem to have a missing passenger,” Fred said, slipping into a more official tone. “A young girl, blonde hair and a blue dress. She was last seen a couple hours ago.”
Mr. Faraday gave such a violent start that Barbra’s heart flip-flopped. He stared at her and then at Wanda before swiveling his gaze back to Fred. “About their age? Short girl?”
“You have seen her!” Wanda cried.
The man licked his lips, and Barbra felt her stomach grow sour. “Oh yes, I’ve seen her,” he said darkly. “She went into the Dark Hallway.”
Barbra heard the capital letters in that pronouncement, and she could barely control her trembling as she repeated, “Dark Hallway?”
Fred, too, seemed suddenly nervous. “But it’s closed to passengers.”
Mr. Faraday gave a vigorous nod. “Aye, that’s what I was yelling at her. Thought she had merely taken a wrong turn. But she walked straight past the signs and disappeared around the corner.”
“You didn’t go after her?” Wanda asked angrily.
The older man looked as though she’d slapped him. “Into the Dark Hallway? She was a pretty one, to be sure, but I choose life!”
“What is this Dark Hallway? Where is it?” Barbra interjected impatiently.
“You’re not getting any help from me!” Mr. Faraday snapped. “I don’t get paid enough to mess around with that place. If you ask me, your friend had a death wish or was completely mad.” Before anyone could retort, he had bustled himself back into his office and slammed the door.
This story should be interesting, because I have no idea where I’m going with it! HUZZAH!
The characters and time period are inspired by the Betsy-Tacy series, which I’ve just finished re-reading. It’s a great bunch of historical fiction books, if anyone’s not read them before.
Header image courtesy of Wikimedia