“Four women and seven men boarded the ship last night, just before we left the port—ahead of schedule. And there are reports that all eleven of them are armed. The professors and students of The Thrush deservesomekind of explanation, Miss Pennington.” Piper Lee stared hard at the first mate, her hand steadily holding the microphone that was directed to the other woman.
“I’m afraid I cannot make any statement, save to say that there is no reason for alarm and that all classes and other everyday activities should proceed as usual. As I understand, the grade eight semiformal dance is scheduled for this evening.”
“You just repeating yourself then changed the subject,” said Piper Lee, her tone fierce.
A few minutes later Piper was walking angrily down a hallway, ignoring a sophomore who was bugging her for information till the kid finally got lost. How could she report on what was going on if nobody was telling her anything? She needed more information. She needed a lead.
A short time later she entered the hospital wing and proceeded to Kevin’s bed. But Kevin wasn’t there. She found a nurse.
“Where is Kevin?”
“Oh, they’ve moved him.”
“Where? His room is still just ashes.”
“I wasn’t told where he was moved.”
“Who moved him?”
“I am not authorized to say.”
“Who moved him?”Piper used her most demanding voice and stared unblinkingly at the young nurse.
“I am not authorized—“
“I’m his friend.” Piper said, feeling guiltily as though that might be an overstatement. “Please.”
“Four strangers. Captain’s orders. But I don’t know where they took him. And don’t tell anyone I even spoke to you,” the nurse turned and hurried off, clearly nervous.
Piper released an audible sigh. No leads and now no Kevin. What did they want with him? Piper felt sure that the strangers’ arrival had something to do with Joshua going missing, and the fire, and everything. Maybe they had taken Kevin for questioning. Where to go from here? Find Kevin? But he could be hidden almost anywhere. Worse, it was likely somewhere near the Captain, which right now meant no entry for reporters.
She was once more walking at a brisk pace through the halls, completely ignoring her surroundings. “I have to be missing something,” she muttered under her breath. “I’m sure Ophelia has something to do with all this. Wait, that girl: the one who stopped me from interviewing Ophelia. She seemed familiar with Ophelia. And I never really asked her what she knows. Maybe she’ll talk if I’m nice to her. But what was her name? Darn! I never asked her.”
This line of thinking brought her to the newspaper office. She asked around to see if anyone could identify the girl by the description that Piper gave. Nobody knew her. Then an idea struck her and she grabbed last year’s yearbook off a shelf and began flipping through it.
Kendal did up the clasps on the back of her dress methodically, her fingers taut with emotion. The other girls were in the bathroom already, smearing makeup expertly onto their face or pinning up their hair in elegant curls. She could hear them giggling and gossiping through the open door. She was supposed to be going to the dance with Benny. It had been all planned. He had invited her almost two weeks ago with a sweet little note under a pile of nachos. The note had even rhymed.
But now Benny was gone and her friends had convinced her to go anyways.We don’t want you moping around it your room by yourselfhad been the gist of their argument. She had agreed in order to get them off her back, but she was nervous. They didn’t know it, but she’d never been to a dance before. She hadn’t been nervous going with Benny. He was so much more awkward than she was, and she knew that they could laugh about it together. Now she was going with a group of girls, who, though they were nice girls, were nonetheless not nearly as forgiving as sweet awkward Benny.
Less than an hour later, Kendal entered the brightly lit dance room, her dark plum gown swishing about her ankles, and her blond hair pinned up in an elegant swoosh, thanks to the pampering of her friends. She didn’t like the feeling of the gold eye shadow on her lids. It was sort of distracting and made her want to blink a lot. The dance room was crowded, the warm butternut squash colored tiles could barely be seen beneath all the skirts and feet, and the dark wood-paneled walls could only be seen where they rose above the heads of the mass of eight-graders.
Kendal followed her friends to the tables where two large punch bowls sparkled in the light from the chandeliers and crackers, cheese and cookies laid out in abundance. She took a little punch, but was feeling too nervous to be hungry.
“Kendal, dear, no more long face for you,” said Sophie, taking Kendal’s free hand. Sophie was queen of the little group of girls and generally did a pretty good job of it. She got the role partly because of her confidence and charm and partly because she was the most popular of the group. Somehow she was on first name basis with at least two thirds of the eight grade class and a lot of other students, too. “I am going to find you a nice partner to dance the next set with.” She took the cup from Kendal’s hand and began to guide her over to where a group of guys were milling on the other side of the snack table.
“Thanks, but I—” Kendal tried to protest, but Sophie just turned to her and said
“Hush, hush, you’ll be fine.”
“No, I’m pretty sure I won’t,” Kendal retorted under her breath. A sort of panic was beginning to rise inside her and she tried to calm it.
By the time Sophie had abandoned Kendal to a scrawny smiling guy in a penguin suit and bow tie, Kendal was in control of her emotions, but felt very fragile, as if the slightest provocation could send her to tears.
“I’m afraid I’m not much of a dancer,” she told the guy as a new song started up. She didn’t mention that she’d never even tried to dance before except alone in her bedroom.
“Doesn’t matter,” said the guy. Sophie had told her his name, but she had been too distracted to remember it and it had just gone in one ear and out the other. “Dancing is easy.” He was already moving to the beat and Kendal thought he looked rather goofy, with his pointy elbows flailing around, barely missing people.
She tried to mimic one of the girls nearby, but just felt stiff and stupid. But the guy gave her an encouraging grin. She saw Sophie a short ways away, dancing confidently with a tall handsome guy whose movements were smooth and cool. She felt a rush of gratitude towards Sophie. Her friend had managed to pick her a very disarming guy to dance with.
Nonetheless, when the three songs in the set were over, she quickly retreated, claiming she needed something to drink. She was ladling herself a glass of punch when a short guy approached her.
“Will you dance the next few with me?” he asked. He was staring at her with his intense brown eyes and it made her feel very uncomfortable.
“Oh, uh, I’m afraid I’m all worn out from the first set. I need to take a break.”
“It’s only the beginning of the evening,” he said. “You can’t be that tired. My name is Paul.”
She laughed a little, “I’m Kendal,” she shook hands with him, feeling as though she ought to be polite.
“This song is one of my favorites,” he said, “Come on, just one dance.”
“I’m, uh,” she began, trying to come up with an excuse that wouldn’t be too rude. His gaze made her so nervous that she couldn’t think straight.
“Kendal,” said a new voice, breaking into the moment, “may I have a word with you?”
Kendal turned, feeling very relieved at the interruption, to find herself looking up at Piper. “Of course,” said Kendal, moving as quickly away from the short guy, Paul, as she could. Piper followed her.
“I thought they only let eight graders and their dates in,” she said to the older girl, once the two were up against a wall and out of the way. They still had to speak loudly to hear each other over the noise. She was thankful that Piper had rescued her from Paul, but her defenses were still high.
“They also let reporters in.” Piper paused a second, looking distractedly into the crowd, the faced Kendal again. “I need to know what you know about Ophelia. There’s something wrong going on aboard this ship, and Ophelia is in the thick of it.”
“Well, I’m not tellinga reporteranything.”
“No, no, this is off book. Listen, those strangers---the ones who boarded yesterday. They have one of my friends. I need to know what is going on.”
“I don’t know very much,” began Kendal. She couldn’t decide if she could trust this girl. Just the other day Piper had told Kendal that she wanted to understand Ophelia for selfish reasons. Why this sudden change of motives? Was she lying? Kendal also had some vague memories of reading news articles by Piper that made her uncomfortable… articles that dug up dirt on people’s personal lives. And the few things that Benny had told her about Ophelia felt very confidential. Not something you went spouting to someone you didn’t trust.
By this point she had paused long enough for Piper to interject a “please?”
“Well, she’s an artist, of sorts,” said Kendal.
But at that moment, Kendal’s conversation was once more interrupted by someone new. “Miss Lavery?” said a woman’s voice.
Kendal turned at the sound of her last name. A stranger in a navy blue dress suit stood a few feet from them. A second stranger, this one a man in a suit with brown hair and nondescript features stood at the woman’s elbow.
“What do you want?” asked Kendal, her voice a bit higher than she would have liked.
“We’d just like to ask you a few questions.”
“Who are you?”
“My name is Janette Green and I’m with the SBI,” the woman produced a little silver badge with a card bearing her name and picture beneath it. She did it in an inconspicuous way so that Kendal was pretty sure that only she, Piper, and the man with Green had seen it. “It will only take a moment. If you could step out into the hall with us?”