THE WOMAN IN CABIN TEN –
I don’t typically have much material that ends up on the cutting room floor – usually my editorial notes are much more about expanding storylines and underlining characters and themes. However The Woman in Cabin 10 is an exception, because it originally had short section from the perspective of Lo’s boyfriend Judah. I took it out, because it wasn’t working for several reasons, but writing it was still useful, because it gave me a chance to explore how Lo’s disappearance would feel to her friends at home.
Below is an extract from this section. If you haven’t read the book, be warned, it does have a few mild spoilers. It doesn’t reveal anything crucial, but it does give you some hints about what happens to the main character, so if that kind of thing bothers you, then you may want to stop here. If you’ve read the book or don’t mind a bit of a heads up, here’s Judah’s take on events…
[BEWARE MILD SPOILERS FROM HERE ON!]
I was woken, I’m not sure what time, by my cell phone frantically buzzing in my back pocket. By the heat of it against my butt, I guessed it had been going for some time.
I grabbed it, glanced at the phone – blocked number – and picked up.
“Yes? Lo? Is that you?”
“Lo?” barked an Aussie voice down the phone. “Of course it’s not fucking Lo. It’s Kevin, you lazy arsehole. Get yourself in the office, pronto, Lewis, before I fire you and give this story to someone else.”
And then he hung up.
I looked at my watch. It was 9.35am. There were half a dozen missed calls on my phone, but all from a blocked number, and I strongly suspected they were all Kevin. I listened, blearily, to the answerphone messages while the shower heated up and sure enough, they were. Three hang-ups, two sweary messages telling me to “get my fucking arse in gear,” and one text from my mobile provider reminding me that I need to get the call bar lifted to run up any further credit. Shit.
I stood under the shower with the water pounding on my aching head and tried to work out what to do. It was Thursday – wasn’t it? No wait – it was Friday – Friday 26th. Lo was due back today – although how and when, I had no idea. The boat had been taking them back to – Hull, was it? Or was she flying back? I tried to remember what she’d told me, but I couldn’t.
Lissie might know. Even if she didn’t, she could probably find whoever at Lo’s work had made the booking.
Out of the shower, I towelled myself down roughly, wrapped the towel around me like a sarong, and then went through to the kitchen to call Lo’s work number, thanking Christ that the credit bar didn’t seem to stop me from using up my free minutes. Her out of office message played, and I waited impatiently for the end, and then pressed one to be put through to the switchboard, and asked for Lissie.
“Hello, features, Lissie speaking.” Her voice was irritatingly perky.
“Lissie.” My voice was croaky, and I realised I hadn’t spoken or drunk anything this morning. “Lissie, It’s me, Judah.”
“Judah!” She sounded surprised. “Lo’s not in today, didn’t you know?”
“Yes, I knew that.” I coughed. Water was dripping into my eyes from my wet hair and I wiped them irritably. “She’s not back from her cruise until today, right?”
“Listen, I’m kinda worried about her. I haven’t heard anything from her since Sunday, have you?”
“No…” Some of the perkiness had gone out of Lissie’s voice and she sounded suddenly worried, mixed with her natural optimism. “But maybe she had trouble with her new phone. She had to get it replaced, remember? She’s back today anyway. Want me to ask her to call you when she gets in?”
“Actually, I thought I might go and meet her. But I don’t know where she gets in. Can you find out?”
“Yeah, sure, Camilla will know. She helped set up the booking. Hang on.” The line went dead as she put me on hold for a few minutes, and then she came back on. “Got it here. Apparently they were disembarking at Bergen and flying back, to save time. She gets into Heathrow at 12.50 today. Want the flight number?”
“Yeah, great, hang on while I find a pen.” I rummaged on the counter. “Ok, got it,” I said, and wrote down carefully the digits she read out.
“I’m sure you’re over-worrying,” she said, as I said goodbye. “She’s probably having a great time but just cocked up her roaming permissions or something.”
“I’m sure you’re right,” I said. But even as I said the words, I didn’t believe them.
I caught the train out to Heathrow so that I could work on the journey, trawling back through the emails that had built up while I was away, and all the while refreshing my phone’s facebook app to see if there was something, anything from Lo. My phone rang three or four times – blocked number – but I was pretty sure it was Kevin and I let it go to answer phone. For some reason our work switchboard doesn’t show up on cell phones. Each time I checked the message as soon as he’d hung up, and sure enough, he was there, swearing down the line. He’d progressed from arsehole to cunt by the time I got to Heathrow.
I got to the right terminal at 12.30, and the board told me that Lo’s flight was already in, but I knew that she must have checked luggage – I’d seen the bag she’d been carrying when she left, there was no way she’d get to carry that on, even on BA, so I was pretty sure I’d beaten her. Still, I went to stand at the exit barrier, clicking my chewed up nails nervously against the rail while people streamed past. It was hard to work out any particular pattern, but a big gaggle of Spanish speakers made me think that the flight from Madrid had cleared customs, and then a few tall blondes came past carrying hand luggage. They looked kind of Scandinavian.
More and more people came past, and I caught sight of a couple of suitcases labelled OSL and BGO, and my heart leapt into my throat, beating hard and fast.
Come on Lo. Come on. Where was she?
A girl with long dark hair checking her phone at the back of the crowd had me starting from my place at the rail, but then she looked up, and I saw it wasn’t Lo – her face was nothing like, it was the curtain of long dark hair and a certain uncertain way of standing, like a bird about to take flight, that had tricked me.
I fell back a pace, trying to keep my expression neutral, but I knew that I must be starting to look worried. The woman to my right rolled her eyes and gave a resigned smile.
“Delayed flight? I’ve been here since 11. I know how you feel.”
I forced myself to smile back, but I didn’t bother to correct her. Instead I checked my phone. 1.15. No messages. No emails. Her flight had been on the ground for nearly 45 minutes, and nothing. There was a hard lump in the back of my throat and I swallowed against it.
Where are you Lo?
I stayed at the barrier until the flood slowed to a trickle, and the trickle gave out all together. Even the woman with the delayed flight had found her friend and had gone off arm in arm to a Costa together. I felt like panicking – I knew I was being dumb, irrational, but something inside me was yelling, this is wrong. You know it is. Something’s wrong!
Either she wasn’t on the plane, or I’d missed her in the crowd. There was just one last thing I could try, before I gave up and went home to wait, and that was make a public announcement in case she’d gone past me in the crowd, maybe even while I was fixating on the woman who looked nothing like her.
I headed for the customer services desk and waited impatiently in line, all the time picturing Lo heading out towards the taxi rank, hailing a cab, heading home… then I shook myself. If that was really the case, I should be glad. She’d be home, safe, in half an hour, and I’d catch up with her at the apartment and we’d laugh at our near miss in the airport.
“Hello?” said the man behind the counter. “Hello, sir, do you have a query?”
“What? Oh, God, yes, I do.” I tried to pull myself together. “Look, my name is Lewis, Judah Lewis, I’m here to meet a friend, she was supposed to come in on the flight from Bergen, and I think I missed her. Would it be possible to make an announcement? Her name’s Laura Blacklock – Lo for short.”
The man didn’t acquiesce or say anything to show he’d accede to my request, he simply pulled a black microphone across the desk towards him, cleared his throat, and spoke into it. A hollow vibrating “ding dong!” sounded across the echoing foyer, and his voice, strangely magnified, boomed out above the ambient noise.
“Would Miss Laura Blacklock, Lo Blacklock, please come to the customer information desk where her friend Lois is here to meet her. Miss Laura Blacklock to the customer information desk. Thank you.”
He pushed the microphone away from him, and turned to the person behind my shoulder.
I moved out of the way and stood, tapping my foot and trying not to rip up my nail. I’d chewed it to bits, and I gave up trying to neaten up the butchery, and just sucked at the painful mess I’d made of my cuticle. Lo would tell me off when she got here. She was always telling me that chewing the skin around my nails was a disgusting habit that would lead to fungal nail infection. I didn’t doubt that she was right. The minutes ticked past, and I was starting to think I’d have to give up and go home – when there was a tap on my shoulder.
I whirled around, my heart thumping in my chest, my face split into a huge pre-emptive grin – but it wasn’t Lo. It was a man. A strange bearded man I’d never seen before, with a worried look on his red, sweaty face. He was panting like he’d been running.
“Lewis?” he said, breathlessly. “Judah Lewis?”
I blinked. The shock of it not being Lo had done something funny to my throat, and I had to swallow twice before I answered.
“Y-yup. Yeah, that’s me. Who are you?”
“I’m Ben Howard,” he said, with a touch of nervousness in his voice. “We’ve never met, but perhaps Lo’s mentioned my name?”
Ben Howard. Ben fucking Howard.
I found my fists had clenched against my side. I swallowed again, painfully this time.
“D’you – do you know who I am?” he said, and there was a worried look on his face that made me think that some of my feelings might have bled through into my expression.
“Yeah,” I said, shortly. What I thought, but didn’t say, was you’re the guy who fucked her up. The guy I’ve spent two years trying to prove I’m not. “Yeah, I know who you are. The question is, what are you doing here?”
“I heard the announcement over the tannoy. I’d got all the way out to the taxi rank but I ran back.” He wiped his forehead and then looked at the drops of sweat on his fingers as if in surprise that he body could have produced this miraculous dew-like liquid. It was one of the grossest things I’d ever seen. I wanted to punch him – or puke. “You’re looking for Lo, right?”
No shit, Sherlock. I just nodded.
“Me too. I’m worried about her. I was on board the ship – the Aurora. I’m a travel journalist too, maybe you knew that. She – oh bloody hell, it’s a long story. Can we go somewhere, have a drink? I could do with a beer.”
As he said it, the truth sank in. Lo was not on that plane. She was not coming home. Suddenly I needed a drink too. And something stronger than beer.
“Yeah, sure,” I said, trying to swallow my anger. “I think there’s a bar somewhere.”
As we walked in silence towards it, I wondered if 1pm on a weekday was too early for bourbon, and then thought that this was one of the only good things about being in an airport – they’re one of the few places you can have a drink at any time without anyone caring. We walked into the dimly lit cavern, Ben Howard dumped his rucksack on the floor, and I went to the bar to get us both a beer. I thought I’d better hold the whiskey until I’d heard Howard’s story.
As I turned to carry the dripping glasses across to his table, I caught sight of him unaware, sitting, with his head in his hands, looking so completely miserable I did a double take. What the hell was going on?
He looked up as I got closer to the table, and rearranged his face into something less abject. He reached for the glass I held out and silently took two long, gulping drafts, taking the beer down to below the half pint mark.
“Sorry,” he said as I sat. “I needed that. So you’re the new guy.”
“Not so new,” I said, unsmiling. “Look, Ben, can we quit beating around the bush here. I just stood up my editor to get here and find out what the hell’s going on with Lo, because I’m out of my mind worrying about her, and you’re not making it much better. What’s happened? Why isn’t she on that plane?”
Howard shut his eyes, and his expression for one moment was a brief flashback to that abject misery I’d seen from across the bar. He put his face in his hands, as if he couldn’t bear to look at me as he said whatever he’d come to say.
“Christ,” he said into his palms. “Christ – how the hell can I-”
“Fucking spit it out!” I said, hearing my voice rise, but too worried to keep it under control. “Whatever it is, just say it!”
Howard looked up, and his pink, bearded face – a face that nature had meant to be cheerful, cracking jokes, winding up buddies and teasing kids – his face was grey and old, and I was frightened.
“She’s gone,” he said, his voice cracking on the last word. “Lo. She’s disappeared.”
And then he started to cry.