I had to stop at that, because tears were blurring the screen. I paused and took a couple of shaking breaths. Then I scrubbed crossly at my eyes and finished.
Text me when you get to Moscow. Safe journey.
I refreshed my in-box, less hopefully this time, but nothing new downloaded. Instead, I sighed and drained my second gin. The clock by the bed read 6:30, which meant it was time for ball gown number one.
Rowan, after she’d informed me that the dress code for dining on board was “formal” (translation: insane), had recommended that I rent at least seven evening dresses, so that I wouldn’t have to wear the same dress twice; but since she wasn’t proposing to shell out the cost, I had rented three, which was three more than I’d have done if left to my own devices.
My favorite in the shop had been the most over-the-top one—a long silvery-white sheath studded with crystals that, the shop assistant had claimed without a glimmer of sarcasm, made me look like Liv Tyler in The Lord of the Rings. I’m not sure I kept my face sufficiently straight when she said that, because she kept shooting me suspicious looks as I tried on the others.
But I wasn’t feeling quite brave enough to kick off with crystal studs, given there might well be people there wearing jeans, for all I knew, so I picked out the most modest choice—a long, narrow slip in dark gray satin. There was a little spritz of sequined leaves across the right shoulder because you didn’t seem to be able to get away with none. Apparently the majority of ball gowns were designed by five-year-old girls armed with glitter guns, but at least this one didn’t look entirely like an explosion in a Barbie factory.
I wriggled into it and zipped it up the side, then I shook out the full array of ammo from my makeup bag. It was going to take more than a swipe of lip gloss to get me looking even halfway human tonight. I was just smudging concealer across the cut on my cheekbone when I realized my mascara wasn’t among the clutter.
I hunted through my handbag in the vain hope that it might be there, trying to remember where I’d last seen it. Then I realized. It had been in my handbag—pinched along with everything else. I don’t always wear it, but without dark lashes, my smoky-eye makeup looked strange and out of proportion—like I’d given up halfway through. I thought briefly and ridiculously about improvising with liquid eyeliner, but instead I tried one last, vain hunt in my bag—tipping everything out onto the bed, just in case I’d misremembered, or had a spare one stuck in the lining. In my heart, though, I knew it wasn’t there, and I was replacing everything back into the bag when I heard a noise from the cabin next door—the roar of the pressurized toilet flushing, recognizable even above the muted hum of the engine.
Taking my room key in my hand, I went out barefoot into the corridor.
The ash wood door to my right had a little plaque that read 10. PALMGREN, which made me think that the supply of eminent Scandinavian scientists must have worn a little thin by the time they finished fitting out this boat. I knocked, slightly hesitantly.
There was no answer. I waited. Maybe the occupant was in the shower.
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?” And then her face changed. “Shit. Who are you?”
“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. “Laura Blacklock. Lo. Sorry, I know this sounds really weird, but I wondered if I could borrow some mascara?”
There was a scatter of tubes and creams visible on the dressing table behind her, and she was wearing quite a bit of it herself, which made me fairly sure I was on safe ground.
“Oh.” She looked flustered. “Right. Hang on.”
She disappeared, closing the door behind her, and then came back with a tube of Maybelline and stuck it into my hand.
“Hey, thanks,” I said. “I’ll bring it right back.”
“Keep it,” she said. I protested, automatically, but she waved my words away. “Seriously, I don’t want it back.”
“I’ll wash the brush,” I offered, but she shook her head impatiently.
“I told you, I don’t want it.”
“Okay,” I said, slightly puzzled. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome.” She shut the door in my face.
I went back to my cabin wondering about the odd little encounter. I felt out of place enough on this trip, but she looked even more of a fish out of water. Someone’s daughter, maybe? I wondered if I’d see her at dinner.
I’d just finished applying the borrowed mascara when there was a knock at the door. Maybe she’d changed her mind.
“Hey,” I said, opening the door, holding it out. But it was a different girl outside, one wearing a stewardess’s uniform. Her eyebrows had been rather savagely overplucked, giving her an expression of permanent surprise.
“Hello,” she said, with a singsong Scandinavian inflection. “My name is Karla and I’m your suite attendant along with Josef. This is just a courtesy call to remind you of the presentation at—”
“I remember,” I said, rather more brusquely than I’d intended. “Seven p.m. in the Pippi Longstocking Room or whatever it’s called.”
“Ah, I see you know your Scandinavian writers!” She beamed.
“I’m not so hot on the scientists,” I admitted. “I’ll be right up.”
“Wonderful. Lord Bullmer is looking forward to welcoming you all on board.”
After she’d gone I rummaged in my case for the wrap that had come with the dress—a sort of gray silk shawl that made me feel like a long-lost Brontë sister—and draped it round my shoulders.
I locked the door behind me and dropped the key inside my bra, and then I made my way along the corridor, up to the Lindgren Lounge.
- CHAPTER 7 -
Everything was white. The pale wood floor. The white velvet sofas. The long raw-silk curtains. The flawless walls. It was spectacularly impractical for a public vessel—deliberately so, I had to assume.
Another Swarovski chandelier hung from the ceiling and I couldn’t help but pause in the doorway, more than a little dazed. It wasn’t just the light, the way it glinted and refracted from the crystals on the ceiling, it was something about the scale. The room was like a perfect replica of a drawing room in a five-star hotel, or a reception room on the QE2, but it was small. There could not have been more than twelve or fifteen people in the room, and yet they filled the space, and even the chandelier was scaled down to fit. It gave the strangest impression—a little like looking in through the doorway of a doll’s house, where everything is miniaturized and yet slightly off-kilter, the replica cushions a little too large and stiff for the tiny chairs, the wineglasses the same size as the fake champagne bottle.