The next hour was a blur. After collecting Ann and her luggage from a tiny apartment, they arrived at the New York docks well after night fall. Cora climbed out of the taxi, trying to follow a mile-a-minute Carl through the throng. Her uncle was in his element, still reeling off his plans to a rather awed Ann faster than any of them could think.
The docks were not unfamiliar territory to Cora. Boats and ships draw curious children to them like moths to a lamp and during her childhood, she, Alex and the rest of their gang had spent countless afternoons playing war or pirates or explorers amongst the hustle and bustle, being yelled at and scolded by the sailors whenever they had gotten in the way (which had been frequently) and every day venturing nearer and nearer to the dockside, daring any challenger to their courage not to fall into the water.
She had never been here after dark though; the encroaching evenings of the past would have been their signal to flee home, crowing victoriously and the bundle through their respective front doors, dirty and exhausted from the day. Now that she thought about it, she hadn't been here since she was fifteen years old.
Suddenly she became aware of where Carl was leading them. Past the grand smart ships she had expected and along the wharf to...Cora wrinkled her nose in disdain. That hunk of rust, barely held together by the various stains on the hull...that couldn't be the movie ship! She cast a look at Ann, who didn't return it, still gazing about with wide-eyed fear.
Quickening her pace, Cora followed her uncle to where he was stood talking to a tall rough looking sailor. The pair were having some discussion, Carl becoming steadily more agitated whilst the sailor remained annoyingly passive. His English was good, but the slight accent on his words betrayed he was German, the slightest trace of a 'v' on the w's. This made Cora hesitate slightly. Her father had fought in the Great War and to the day he died had held strong opinions about the German people. Warily she tried to ignore this memory and joined Carl.
"Can we talk about this later?" He was muttering obstinately to the German. "Can't you see we're in the company of a VIP guest?"
"Who's that?" Cora asked, as the sailor turned his attention to Ann.
Carl turned away and herded her towards the edge of the dock. "The captain, nobody. Listen, I want you to get on board okay?"
"Why are you so twitchy?" Cora sneered.
"Just do it will you?"
"What about Cinderella over there." Cora nodded towards Ann who was talking to the captain with a confused look on her face.
Carl glanced over in alarm. "I'll deal with this. Just get on board." He gave her a none too gentle shove towards the gangway and turned away. He beckoned to Preston who scurried over and cut into Ann's conversation.
With a disgruntled sigh, Cora shook her head and obliged, walking reluctantly up the gangway. Before she reached the desk, she glanced back to see Carl pull a cheque book from his jacket.
The ship, The Venture, as she was quickly informed, was no grander inside than out. The corridors were narrow and dark, and an odd smell of drains seemed to linger everywhere you went. Cora was pointed to her cramped cabin by Preston, who no sooner dashed off again, in a constant harassed state. It was clearly almost time to leave and the whole ship was abuzz with activity. She tried to continue reading, but after only a few lines and the incessant noise all around, it was clear this was a futile effort and she abandoned the tiny room to explore.
Some habits children never grow out of.
The maze of hallways seemed suffocating and Cora suddenly longed to see the sky. She walked more briskly and was just wondering whether she should give up and head back the longer way she had come in when she rounded a corner and collided with a young sailor. He had been jogging down the hallway, clearly in a hurry and the two caught each other's shoulders, knocking Cora back.
The boy scowled at her, but said nothing, his eyes alarmingly intense from under his sailor's cap.
"Watch where you're going!" Cora snapped, feeling increasingly uncomfortable.
He still didn't reply.
"What?" She shrugged sarcastically. "Cat got your tongue? What is it?" The continued non-response and itchy embarrassment eventually got the better of her and she growled in annoyance. "Fine. Fine. Have it your way." She shoved past him again and after a few steps sensed that he had also continued on his way. She shook her head to herself. Strange. Too strange.
"Cora? Cora Denham, is that you?"
Still seething, she turned to see a plump older gentleman walking along the corridor. "Herb!" She called in greeting, her spirits lifting rapidly. "Don't tell me Carl's dragged you into another of his crazy schemes."
Herb, a camera man and long time associate of her uncle, chuckled. Cora had met Herb on her previous trip with Carl and knew he had a daughter of his own around her age. "What can I say," he said. "Working with your uncle...it's never dull!" He glanced over her shoulder in the direction the boy had gone. "Running into trouble already?"
She laughed coldly. "Trouble? Me? Herbert, don't you know me at all?"
"I almost didn't recognise you." He admitted. "Last time I saw you, you were barely this high. And now look at you, grown into quite the young lady."
Cora rolled her eyes. "Please, don't. I-" She was cut off by thundering footsteps racing down the next hallway. Confused, she and Herb looked around to see a dark haired man go racing past, his coat haphazardly slung over his shoulder. Seconds later, he must have turned, as he went haring back the other way.
Cora glanced back at an equally bemused herb. "Was...was that Jack Driscoll?"
And then they were away. With Herb's help, Cora finally made her way to the deck to watch New York slip by, a mass of light and action. The distant wail of police sirens seemed to fade as they distanced themselves from the once familiar docks.
Leaning on the railing, she breathed in the smell of the air and the ocean. The feeling of freedom was stifled slightly by the feeling of being trapped on this tub, being rapidly pulled away from everything she knew, everything that was safe. Neither belonging in one place, or the other.
More and more frequently however, she had not felt safe in her mother's presence. Lansbury, the housekeeper had been her ally, once, bandaging scraped knees and hiding the worst of the evidence of her tomboyish life. But now the ability to do that was slipping away, like the ship from the port.
And there was nothing Cora could do about it.
"I keep telling you, Jack," The familiar voice of her uncle pulled Cora's attention to the end of the ship. Carl was standing victoriously besides a slumped, defeated figure of the writer Jack Driscoll. "There's no money in theatre! You're much better off sticking with film."
Curiously, she took a step towards them, straining her ears to hear Jack's mumbled response
"...I love the theatre."
Carl smirked, shaking his head. "No you don't. If you really loved it? You woulda jumped."