It seemed impossible that everything mentioned in the brochure—library, sunroom, spa, sauna, cocktail lounge, and all the other things apparently indispensable to the Aurora’s pampered passengers—could fit into this miniature vessel. Its size, along with the perfection of its paintwork, gave it a curiously toylike quality, and as I stepped onto the narrow steel gangway I had a sudden disorienting image of the Aurora as a ship imprisoned in a bottle—tiny, perfect, isolated, and unreal—and of myself, shrinking down to match it with every step I took towards the boat. It was a strange feeling, as if I were looking down the wrong end of a telescope, and it gave me a dizzying sensation almost like vertigo.
I knocked again, three sharp knocks, and then, as an afterthought, a final loud whack in case they were hard of hearing.
The door flew open, as if the occupant had been standing on the other side.
“What?” she demanded, almost before the door had opened. “Is everything okay?”
“I’m your neighbor,” I said. She was young and pretty with long dark hair, and she was wearing a ratty Pink Floyd T-shirt with holes, which somehow made me like her quite a lot.
I felt an odd reluctance to go into details, not just because talking about it brought back unpleasant flashes of what had happened but also out of a kind of pride. I wanted to sit at this table as a professional, the smooth, capable journalist able to take on all comers. I didn’t relish the portrait of myself as a frightened victim, cowering in my own bedroom […] I should have just stayed in my room, head beneath the duvet, was the truth. Stupid Lo, sticking your neck out.
We were passing the crew’s cabins again, and as we passed the few open doors I glanced in, shocked afresh at the dinginess of the cramped quarters. I couldn’t imagine spending week after week, month after month, in the windowless confines […] [I]t was [not] the space itself that shocked but the contrast with the light, airy rooms above […] But it was the graphic illustration of the gap between the haves and have-nots that was upsetting, a modern upstairs-downstairs in action.
…[T]he kind of publicity that an unexplained death would generate could sink the whole enterprise. Something like this could scupper the Aurora before she was even launched, and if that happened, everyone on board could lose their jobs, from the captain down to Iwona, the cleaner.
I knew that.
But I had heard something. Something that had made me start from my sleep with my heart pounding two hundred beats per minute, and my palms wet with sweat, and the conviction that somewhere very close by, another woman was in grave trouble. I knew what it was like to be that girl—to realize, in an instant, how incredibly fragile your hold on life could be, how paper-thin the walls of security really were.
I looked at her through the haze of smoke. Office gossip was that she had made her way up the corporate ladder by treading on the backs of more young women than you could count, and then, once she was through the glass ceiling, pulling the ladder up behind her […] But somehow, I couldn’t quite square [Rowan’s] remarks with the woman standing in front of me. I knew at least one ex-colleague who said she owed Tina her career, and as I looked at her now, her heavily made-up eyes laughing at me, I thought about what it must have been like to be a female journalist in that generation, clawing your way up through the ranks of the old-boys’ network.
Cognitive behavioral therapy, counseling, psychotherapy—none of it really worked in the way that the pills did. Lissie says she finds the notion of chemically rebalancing your mood scary, she says it’s the idea of taking something that could alter how she really is. But I don’t see it that way; for me it’s like wearing makeup—not a disguise, but a way of making myself more how I really am, less raw. The best me I can be.
If someone had been walking along the deck outside and had glanced in the window, they would never have known that I had just told him something that could deal a sucker punch to his business, and revealed the presence of a possible psychopath on board a small ship. As my story unfolded I was expecting echoes of Nilsson’s distress, or the clannish denial of the stewardesses, but although I watched Bullmer’s face carefully, I saw neither of those, no hint of accusation or censure […] With Bullmer, I couldn’t tell what he was feeling. Was he furious, or panicked, and simply hiding it well? Or was he really as cool and calm as he seemed?
As I applied mascara borrowed from Chloe in the bathroom mirror, I found myself searching for the angry, idealistic girl who’d started her journalism course at uni fifteen years ago, thinking of the dreams I’d had of becoming an investigative reporter and changing the world. Instead, I had fallen into travel writing at Velocity […] And that was fine—I wasn’t ashamed of the writer I’d become; like most people, I’d taken work where I could find it and tried to do the best I could in that job. But how could I look that girl in the mirror in the eye, if I didn’t have the courage to get out there and investigate a story that was staring me in the face?
I was so busy thinking about Ben that as I rounded the corner near the upper-deck toilet, I almost tripped over Anne Bullmer. She was leaning back against the wall as if steeling herself for something, although whether to return to the party, or make her way back to her cabin, I wasn’t sure. She looked extremely tired, her face gray, the shadows around her eyes darker than ever […]
“I’m fine, I’m just very tired. Sometimes…” She swallowed, and her voice cracked for a moment, something in the cut-glass English accent slipping. “Sometimes it all just seems too much—d’you know what I mean? Such a performance.”
It wasn’t just the blood she wiped away. When she came out, I froze. With that one simple act, I realized who she was.
In wiping away the blood she had wiped both her eyebrows clean off, leaving a smooth, skull-like forehead that was instantly, unbearably recognizable.
The woman in Cabin 10 was Anne Bullmer.
While Richard was back in Lars’s cabin, establishing his alibi with an uninterrupted poker game, the woman in Cabin 10 had bundled the real Anne overboard and hoped that the body would never be found.
And they would have got away with it, if I—frightened and traumatized from the burglary—hadn’t heard the splash and jumped to a conclusion that was so wrong, it was almost completely right.
So who was she? […] I had no idea. But I knew one thing—she was my best hope of getting out of here alive.
“Shut up!” She put her hands over her ears, shaking her head. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. Neither of us wanted to be in this situation!”
“Really? You think it’s coincidence he fell in love with someone who bears a startling resemblance to Anne? He planned this from the beginning. You’re just a means to an end […] All the money, without the controlling wife—I think he had that carrot waved in front of his nose by Anne’s illness […] And when the doctors gave her the all clear, he didn’t want to let go of it—is that right?”
I didn’t think she was a killer, not by choice, anyway. And something had happened these last few days that had made her realize that. I thought of the long, nightmarish wait for her to come, the way the hours had ticked past so slowly for me, my hunger growing and growing inexorably. But now, for the first time, I thought that perhaps the hours had been as slow and torturous for her, too, and perhaps she, too, had come face-to-face with something she was not ready for. She must have imagined me down here, growing weaker and weaker, clawing at the door. Until at last her resolve broke and she ran down with a stolen plate of lukewarm food.
I thought about it after she left—the stupidity of thanking a woman who was keeping you captive, buying your compliance by withholding food and drugs. Was I developing Stockholm syndrome?
Maybe. Although if I was, she had a considerably more advanced case than I did. Maybe that was closer to the truth—we weren’t captor and captive, but two animals in different compartments of the same cage. Hers was just slightly larger.
Somehow I would get off this boat, if not for me, then for Anne, and Carrie. No—Fuck it.
I was getting off this boat for me—because I had done nothing to deserve this apart from being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and I was damned if Bullmer was going to add me to the list of women he had screwed over.
The lights were not to the east but to the north. What I could see was not dawn but the eerie green and gold streaks of the northern lights.
The realization made me laugh—a bitter, mirthless choke that sounded shockingly loud in the still night air. What was it Richard had said? Everyone should see the northern lights before they died. Well, now I had. But it just didn’t seem that important anymore.
With each step, I remembered Carrie’s frantic exhortations to get running and get out—her hysterical assertions about the reach of Richard’s influence.
It didn’t seem so hysterical now.
If only I had believed her—I should never have shown Anne’s ID at the hotel, or trusted Erik with even the few details I’d given him. But I just hadn’t quite believed that anyone, however wealthy, could have the kind of reach Carrie believed. Now I realized I was wrong. […]
What was I going to do? […] My best hope was finding a police station, but how? Where? And did I dare tell them the truth when I got there?
I thought of Carrie’s terror, of the bruises on her body, of her belief that she would never escape Richard. She had been right. Judah said nothing, and I could not see his expression in the dark, but I felt his silent disagreement.
“What,” I demanded, “you don’t believe me? You don’t think people can be sucked into doing something out of fear, or inability to see any other way out?”
“No, it’s not that,” Judah said slowly. “I believe that […] But you can’t tell me that you’d do that to another person, no matter how tough things seemed—lock them up like that, imprison them—no matter how scared you were.”
“I don’t know,” I said. I thought of Carrie, of how brave she had been, and how fragile. I thought of the masks she wore to hide the terror and loneliness inside.
“I think I lost sight of what I wanted. I don’t want to end up like Tina and Alexander, traveling from country to country and only seeing five-star hotels and Michelin restaurants. Yes, Rowan’s been to half the luxury resorts in the Caribbean, but in return she spends her life reporting the stories that people like Bullmer want her to tell, and I don’t want that, not anymore. I want to write about the things people don’t want you to know. And if I’m going to start pulling my way up from the bottom again, well, I can freelance from anywhere.”