And so I became a sailor. We made our trip to Cuba and came back sooner than I expected. It was almost March, and I wondered if Laurel would still be in Shreveport, if that indeed was where she was. I certainly hoped so.
Ramsey said we would be in Shreveport for a week, but he gave all but a small skeleton crew three days off, with a strict admonishment to be back at 8:00 AM sharp or face disciplinary action. Actually, he didn’t say 8:00 AM but a number of bells I had to ask someone what they meant. Even being on the ship for weeks didn’t mean I understood the bell system. There was always someone telling me when I had the watch or when I needed to scrape the hull of rust so it could be re-painted. There was always something that needed to be done on a ship, and always someone to work with or to watch you work or to eat meals with or sleep in the same hold with. I think you get the idea. I had been alone a lot of my life, and it was hard to get used to being with people I wasn’t related to.
I left the ship about 8:00 that evening with the intention of never returning. I’m sure I would face punishment if I were caught, but I didn’t intend to be caught. I did intend to find Laurel.
As I walked through the streets, looking at every woman who came by, it occurred to me that I would probably need a place to stay. This time, though, I wouldn’t be sleeping wherever I could. We had been paid before we went on leave, and I had enough to do me for a while. I gave up looking for Laurel for that evening, and walked along looking for a good place to stay. I stood in front of one hotel, trying to decide if it would be a good place to stay. Suddenly, I heard someone call my name. I didn’t know who that could be since I thought I didn’t know anyone. Because it was a man’s voice, I knew it wasn’t Laurel. I looked in the direction of the sound, and when the crowd parted, saw Andrew coming toward me!
He came up to me, and we embraced. I had a thousand questions for him. “What are you doing here? Why are you here? How did you get here? It’s so good to see you!”
He laughed and held up his hands. “One at a time, please.”
“Let’s sit over here,” I told him, and indicated a bench in front of the hotel. We sat down.
“I recovered from my wound and started walking. I thought you might be headed for Shreveport. That was the only place that made sense, and so I found you. Have you found Laurel?”
I shook my head. “I’m just back from Cuba.”
“Yes. Someone dragged me onto a ship headed there while I was unconscious. We’ve been gone for three weeks, but I’m back so I can keep looking for Laurel.”
“What kind of ship?”
“A blockade runner for the navy.”
“I see. I’ve been here a week, and I’ve been looking for Laurel, with no success.”
“This city is only so big. She has to be here somewhere.”
“I agree. Where are you staying?”
“I was going to take a room here.”
Andrew made a face. “You don’t want to stay anywhere near the river. I found somewhere that’s about ten block away. Let’s go there.”
“All right. Lead the way.”
As we walked toward the hotel, I found myself still looking for Laurel, and I knew I would not be able to go anywhere without looking for her and Caleb. We came to the hotel where Andrew had been staying. I could tell it was cleaner and nowhere near as shabby as the one I had been looking at. “Here we are,” Andrew said. “My room has two beds, so you can stay there.”
He looked at me with relief. “That’s good. I was just about to run out of money.”
“Well, I just got paid, so that works out well.”
We laughed and went into the hotel. I had brought my civilian clothes with me, and quickly changed into them. Andrew and I ate at the restaurant in the hotel, and after resting a short while, we again set out on our search. After four hours, we had seen all kinds of people and covered most of the city, but had not seen Laurel and Caleb. “She must be somewhere where she can’t come out very often,” I told Andrew. “Where would that be?”
“It’s hard to tell. There are so many businesses and other places she might be. Those are going to take longer to investigate.”
“Well, I’ve had enough for one evening. Let’s go back to the hotel, sleep on it, and try again tomorrow. Something might occur to us as to her location after some rest.”
We went back to the hotel, and after talking for a while, we fell asleep. Not surprisingly, I dreamed of Laurel, and in my dream, she was buried in a hole in an alleyway. I could hear her, but try as I might, I could not find her. I awoke, frustrated and upset. It was a while before I could get to sleep again, but I thought, tomorrow is another opportunity. We might find her and Caleb then.