74. Windfall from the dead.

The dead don’t need money. That’s how I justify it – it’s a means to an end.

I’ve just returned to my cabin. It’s the early hours of the morning and the ship is as quiet as— why, as quiet as the grave.

Not long ago, the thought of walking the decks at this time would have terrified me, but I have purpose, and I need to find the dead.

I searched the corpses I came across – picking under stiff limbs, rummaging through cold pockets and bags. Dollars were in abundance, sometimes sticky, sometimes crisp – so few murderers check the possessions of their kills, it seems.

Now there’s a stack of wrinkled bills on my bed, and, on a quick count, it’s $2850 lovely dollars!

But money wasn’t the only thing I was looking for. Oh yes, a good part of my search was to recover my most beautiful Bat, who had been taken from me by that beastly judge! Where else would he be, but amongst the fallen?

But if he was to be lost for good, then I would need other help…

As I searched for the money, I found weapons concealed in suits and dresses, or clattered nearby, but compared to Bat, these striplings brought other challenges.  How does one weigh the relative benefits of murder with everyday objects?  The pool cue is long and whippy – has reach, I suppose, and one can chalk it for accuracy (ha, ha) – but the frying pan is a sturdy old whang! of iron, and could potentially be used to deflect an attack, or bludgeon it down.  But do I really want to enter a fight-to-the-death with a cooking implement?  Personally, no. So that also rules out the pot, the rolling pin and the barbeque fork (although my fondness for pointy things did afford the latter some serious consideration).Weapons

Of course, rules are made to be broken, so while passing through the dining room, I did, reluctantly, pick up a kitchen knife. I found it in the breast pocket of my erstwhile, Bellboy – pierced through, rather than tucked in –who was lying in a flurry of his own baseball cards – a little study of Autumn. The wicked knife came free with a rather squeaky, chicken-carcass, sort of noise, and it is not my preferred choice, but it will do the job. Haft, stabby – all fine.

Searching the leisure facilities didn’t offer any better options, either – the croquet mallet seemed impressive, like a ludicrous clown-hammer, but didn’t feel quite right, and the tennis racquet really wasn’t a serious option – it was redolent of Pimm’s and summer evenings, tennis whites and gentle applause.

In one of the lockers, there was an unfamiliar baseball bat. It was odd – all shiny and new.  Didn’t feel right to cheat on my absent Bat.  But perhaps I was being too picky?  It’s not as if there’s a plethora of guns and swords just lying around for anyone to pick up…

Still, it wasn’t right – I’ll stick with the knife.

73. Post-prison epiphany

It was late at night when one of the guards released me – possibly at a word from the Chief – and once again, it seemed to happen in the blink of an eye. Stumbling, I found myself outside, in the brig’s foyer.

The adrenaline of my earlier battles had long since departed, leaving nothing more than an increasingly familiar sense of emptiness – hello old friend.

Bailey was nowhere to be seen, but he left a message for me outside the brig:  my name, scrawled on the wall, in what I can only presume were the browning stains of his own blood (or an unwilling donor). The cleaners were already at it, borax and buckets, scrubbing away the looped spatter of fingerprints.

Despite what I had already endured, that stint in prison must have loosened something – perhaps it was the fact that the brig had felt so safe compared to what awaited me out here.

That’s not normal. I gritted my teeth. Despair was creeping over me.  It was always lurking, but I had been able to hold it back – I was good at that, damn it!  But, time alone to think about the horrific things I’d done was a novel experience – I guess that’s the point of prison.

I stood, face buckled, refusing to cry, but a few tears leaked out none-the-less. My face firmer, harder – the way a soldier might stand to a flag for a fallen comrade. I was half-expecting – and not caring – that I might fall victim to one of the Cotopaxi’s few remaining passengers.

Guard

The answer came to me in the form of a nearby guard – ramrod straight, arms to his back, head forward – who stood there, dispassionately, staring right through the woman in front of him.

Help isn’t coming.  I don’t think it can.

Even if I survive this game, will they let me leave?  And then what?  How do I move on?  How do I look at my family again?  How do I look at myself again?

But remember that mirror? I felt I had finally looked into my own soul.

In this world of the mirror, my wounds felt like battle scars, and the pain and despair faded. It was replaced with something much more homely – a sense of purpose.  As I left the brig foyer, I offered the guard a bared, toothy grin and thanked him for his help.  Oh, yes.

I had decided I was going to need some cash.

71. This jailbird won’t sing!

I must confess I love it in prison – languishing.

Most people would be afraid of going to such a commodious brig, possibly confused as to why such a place exists aboard a cruise ship, at all – but not I. I can see our host’s attention in these merry, little details. Why, that darling little court could just as easily have been judged by Punch, himself, in a stripy, seaside theatre, with me cast as the penitent Judy.

So yes, I welcome this respite from the horrors that occupy the other side of those barred windows – let the dumb animals kill each other for a while. I’m out – at least for now.

When I arrived – in what felt like the blink of an eye – I stood alone in the empty brig, the little safety I felt flushing away as a rather annoying feeling of vulnerability washed in. Ha – the toilet pan of my fear!

I made my way to the cell block and peered into the first cell.  It was empty, and although there was no lock on the door, the concrete and steel ‘ornamentation’ was much more comforting – at least until signs of life echoed from elsewhere in the brig.

That noise? My beastly partner in crime.

I needed a weapon.  I searched the bedside cabinet, briefly distracted by the reek of the recently used bedpan under the bed – what dirty squab would squat there, when there was a perfectly good toilet at their elbow? I found only a few books. Not good enough.

I edged my way out of the cell as my fellow arrestee did the same at the other end of the block.  He was badly injured and although my wounds ached – burned like fire – they weren’t likely to kill me (in the expert medical opinion of Dr Lucy, M.D. that is).

Any thought that I and the Beast could be amicable cellmates, united by our shared injustice, was a barefaced lie.  We understood what the other was thinking.  He staggered out of his cell – not toward me, but into the adjacent room.  From the ruckus I assumed he was searching for a weapon of his own, so I moved to the next cell and continued to do the same.

More books, books, book, and… and a stabby piece of metal with a tape handle. Somewhere, the word: ‘Shiv’.

Shiv

Not ideal, but a weapon is a weapon. Tiptoe, tiptoe, and it slid easily into his gut, just before he could get both hands around my neck.

‘Twas love, dear Beast. Sigh.

I washed the thick blood from my hands and searched the other cells to ensure I really was alone. Now I wait (and hope) to be released: ‘He was just lying there, your honour. Must’ve tripped, overcome by the bedpan fumes…’

I was most recently passing the time by flicking through a few pages of ‘Ham Day’ by Frankie Patterson, but it ended in a scowl when other matters intruded – I swear I could hear Bailey laughing from outside of the brig.

70. Chief Engineering Officer’s Log, SS Cotopaxi (Confidential).

Date Duty Notes
Sat_______1926, Two Bells Aft Bilge – recovered 1x mannequin arm blocking pump. Noted blood and matted hair on wrist joint. Reported to Captain bilges free of extraneous material. All well.
Sat_______1926, Seven Bells Report of disturbance in Port stow, Deck D. Recovered carpet roll of red, Moroccan design containing 1x passenger from Deck B, Cabin 3. Had Able Seaman Lavery pay better care to his cord winding (on report). All well.
Sat_______1926, Eight Bells Female passenger, Miss R___ in Cabin 8, Deck D. Reports severe blockage of her commode. Removed 1x passenger missing, Cabin 6. Detritus showed vigorous plunger marks. Miss R____ ‘unsure how such-and-such got in there’. Told not to flush anything but faecal and urinal material in future. Miss R____ a picture at word ‘faecal’. All well.
Sun_______1926, Three Bells Private matter on Deck B. Requisitioned 1x scrubbing brush, 1x Mule Team Borax, 1x 20’ light hemp rope and 1 x four square yards of good seaman’s tarpaulin, to amount $2.85. All well.
Sun_______1926, Five Bells Dumped all shipboard garbage to sea. All well.

69. Mirror me.

What happened today?

Um…

Oh yes, Bailey. Ha, ha. How could I forget such a thing? What a silly rabbit.

Well, I was only a few corridors away from my cabin when I saw Bailey and this other joe-schmo. They were circling each other like pigeons intent on mating – chests puffed, wings to breast, waiting for the other to pitch over. Revolve, revolve.

Strangely unarmed though – Queensbury rules, and all that?

No. Concealed weapons…

Some old chuffer meambling down the passageway, turns right. No witnesses now, eh?

They didn’t notice me at first, and perhaps it was the lack of sleep, or perhaps it was Bat whispering a few delicious ideas, but I soon found myself drifting up, to say hello as it were – a lovely, floaty, uninvited guest at their trivial tête-à-tête.

The three of us considered those others in the abrupt circle, static as stone monuments, and I saw the glances the two men gave each other.

A little puddle of fear, soon quashed, convinced me that my last moments on earth were nothing more than a mild inconvenience to such men, who just wanted to get back to the business of killing – some little, distant part of me, that wanted to concede defeat, there and then. But another part, a larger and much more radiant part, wanted to look once more in the mirrored glass of the porthole, darling – and that’s what I did: I looked to the murky reflection of myself in that nearby circle of glass…

‘Mirror, mirror on the wall?’

And in that moment, I knew all three of us, in our little circle, could see it – see it in me! Not the same look as my first quarry – not fear, not broken, not defeated.  But a crafty old wolf.  A blood-stained, baseball-bat-wielding survivor.

A Hunter.

Oh, darling, I’m not giving in. Why should I?

What’s that Mr. Bat?

Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!

Bailey lunged first.  He had already weighed up his options: the brute man? Or the bloody baseball bat with the petite woman in tow?  Beast or Beauty?

He pulled out a hunting knife and lunged at the other man, tearing into his side and forcing him to retreat backwards, but not before the man slashed out at Bailey’s face with a cutthroat razor.

Really, he rather missed.

I rushed towards Bailey, swinging the bat with all the spit and polish I could muster, and almost landed a good old thump to his head.  Almost.  He lashed out with the knife, deflecting my strike by barging through it, and what little of Bat did connect, wasn’t going to slow down a man the size of Bailey.  His knife left a gaping wound in my shoulder, the baseball bat sagged, suddenly slick to hold, and he was ready to finish the job, grinning like a devil, hadn’t the other man slashed at Bailey’s rear quarters.  Luck be a lady.

I knew I couldn’t finish this. Wounded, it was time for a tasteful retreat.

I ran down the corridor, bouncing from wall to wall – it seemed pain wasn’t good for one foot in front of the other – and I let my momentum carry me through the doors to the Vesuvius Bar.  No time to hide under a table, as Bailey came crashing through the doors just after me.  Where was his knife? More heavy footsteps. The other man staggering through after him, banging through the doors, razor in hand and a rage in his eyes.

Bailey was trapped between us. He could probably have taken me, I suppose, though I still had the letter opener concealed in my pocket.

But why run? Only one thing was going to happen here: Bailey was going to die. This I decided in a muttered pact to myself. Either by my hands or those of the shambling man at the doorway – our fox had been run to ground.

But, ludicrous as it was, Bailey didn’t seem at all concerned about his situation.  Was it that he welcomed death? A scary thought: a Bailey with nothing to lose?

His eyes mocked me as I closed in on him, as he backed toward the man at the door.  What was he thinking? The letter opener was now firmly in my hand, knuckles creaking. You’re going to get it now, I thought. Both I and the other man were no more than a few feet from Bailey, so we attacked. Just like that!

But Instead of the blood-curdling cry of our fox departing our seaborne cruise, we were treated to the rather annoying whistle of security, and the tromping feet of the guards that rushed the room to arrest us.

Life is full of disappointments, but being dragged past the ghastly man you just tried to kill, while he chuckles at you, is a new low.

‘There are rules’, reminded the guards as they escorted us to ‘The Judge’ – he in the stepped wig, who promptly fined me for carrying a dangerous weapon…

On a murder cruise…

Then to the brig, my dear.

The Judge

68. Bored of ‘course pâté’.

My supplies are running low.

I must confess I have been eating dog food from the first class stores (not as bad as you think – just imagine course pate) as my previous trips to the nearby vending machine have cleaned out the clunky, buckety thing.

I have considered returning to the restaurant, but the attacks over the past few days have taken their toll on my patience – God knows what I’d do.

I barely slept through the night. There is no soothing sound of the ocean. There are only the rude wails of the passenger manifest growing ever smaller.  And although I am confident I can find sustenance in other cabins, my nerves are shot. Visible shakes? Even in the relative safety of your own cabin?

Lucy, darling. What’s wrong?  Keep going like this, and you’ll be easy prey to the first, imbecilic moron who blunders along with a polo mallet!

I know you would want me to play it safe, Maud.

You were always the sensible one.

67. Elusive sleep.

I may never sleep again, dear diary.

In bed, I have taken to hugging ‘Bat’ – cheek to cool wood – in order to find a little, cold comfort. I need to sleep, but increasingly, this is no defence against the creaks and groans of the settling of the night – and who’d foolishly plug their earholes on this old tub?

Bat did, however, prove to be more than adequate against the second of those young librarians I encountered (one of those who tackled the big game hunter). Our literary friend now rests on my cabin floor – head bone quite stoved in.

But now my door lock is broken, and my barricade has been revealed to be little more than a symbolic decoration.

The git!

Well, my friend, there’s nothing symbolic about Bat.Bat

65. Watch out little piggies.

Does writing this stupid diary—

Uch, I mean, am I fooling myself?  I tell myself that should I survive the Cotopaxi, and its ‘jolly hockey sticks’ of a contest, that my story needs to be told – that people need to know what happened here.  But should I get such ‘flim-flam’ out of my head?

I guess we like to think we have control over ourselves – God knows, I have my doubts now – but when your mind is constantly bombarding you with conflicting thoughts, you need to be able to focus – to snap out of it.

I have come to the belief, that survival is not about physical strength, or even intelligence, but a person’s ability to overcome their own, inner self, for good, or for ill – to start listening to that little devil on the one shoulder, before the little angel on the other gets them killed.

I fear that even if I survive this round of the ‘big game’, or the next, or the next, that my own battle will continue. For some time? Forever? Will memories of the Cotopaxi haunt me like words incised into burning brass?

I made an interesting find in the crew quarters:  a radio-operated explosive device, disguised as a wallet of all things.  I find myself preoccupied with how to use it and, somewhat alarmingly, I suppose, quite happy to press the wires and clay of its guts around as I figure it out, with no bother of its exploding.

I’m quite past such drab little fears.

The idea that I could lay a trap for another passenger with this little, leather butterfly, while they – suspecting a windfall – should bend down to greedily snatch it, is such a comical thought.

What fun, Lucy…  

It also gives me another thought: using it to sink the ship – a sizable hole in the lower hull would certainly do that, of course – but I’d want to do it at just the right time. Besides, one tiny wallet is unlikely to do the job, and I do want to keep writing. Do we want some talentless hack to just blame all this on another iceberg?

No, I shall work out the darling, little thing, for what I am sure is its intended purpose. Its radio detonator looks simple enough, but we’ve all had problems tuning a radio…