When we left Liam Acres and Julia Finney on the SS Poseidon, it was nearly midnight and everyone aboard the ship was getting ready to celebrate. In Athens, Liam’s sister, Juliana, was attending a New Year’s Eve party with other employees and friends of the Greek Majestic Line. All was merriment as those last few moments of 1972 ticked away.
Julia had just left the Trident bar, and was walking toward the linen service area, off the dining room, to join Liam for a private celebration. Let’s return now to that night…
Julia began to walk across the dining room and saw Nonnie, Ted, and the rest of Sunray up on the stage. An MC was standing nearby, so it must be almost time.
“Good evening, Miss Finney,” the Poseidon’s silver-haired Captain greeted her. “Have a Happy New Year.” No matter how busy Captain Harrison was, he always made time for his crew.
“Thank you. The same to you, Sir, and to you too, Mr. Linarcos.”
The representative from the line smiled warmly at her. “Thank you, Miss Finney. Happy New Year to you.” Although Linarcos did not get along well with some members of the crew, including often the Captain, Julia had liked him from the start, and had spoken with him on several occasions.
“Any news yet, Sir?” she asked, knowing that Mrs. Linarcos was home in Greece awaiting the birth of their first child.
“Nothing yet, Miss Finney, but it should be anytime now,” Linarcos replied, beaming. He had told his Deborah about this caring young American woman, and hoped that they could meet someday. Deborah would like her.
As he and the Captain hurried out of the room, she called after Linarcos. “Please, give your wife my best wishes, Sir,” she said and Linarcos turned to nod his thanks. She wondered what was sending the two of them to the bridge so close to midnight, but wasn’t concerned. She assumed it was some kind of mundane ship’s business.
On her way to the linen service area she could see that Liam was fussing over the passengers at his tables. He really was a mother hen with them! Of course that’s what made him so popular, he truly cared about people, and made everyone feel special. She spotted Kevin standing by an adjacent table, doing the same, and grinned. All the stewards on the Poseidon were good, but Liam and Kevin seemed to give just a little bit more to their passengers. ‘What a pair those two are! No wonder the passengers love them so much!’ she thought.
She walked into the small storage room between the kitchens and the dining room. She looked around curiously, seeing that in addition to a bottle of champagne and two glasses, Liam had also stowed two party hats, a small plate of petits fours, and a single red rose. She smiled.
Liam came rushing in. “Come on, Luv, let’s stand in the doorway and watch. It’s almost time,” he said with anticipation, as he took her hand.
They moved over to the service doorway with several other crewmembers, as the MC said, “Ladies and gentlemen! May I have your attention, please? It is exactly fifty seconds to midnight! Will you please stand and fill your glasses?”
As the countdown began, Liam and Julia had their arms around each other’s waists, and counted loudly along with the passengers and crew. “Five…four…three…two…one—HAPPY NEW YEAR!”
They turned to each other, looked into each other’s eyes, said “I love you,” and threw their arms around each other for a deep, fervent kiss. Their shipmates surrounding them began to cheer and clap, and within a few moments the couple realized that this attention was for them.
They moved apart, a little embarrassed.
“Oh, Jules, Liam, don’t mind us. We’re just happy for you,” Frederic, a pastry chef, assured them. “We’re all family, after all.” The others nodded agreement, causing Julia and Liam to beam appreciatively.
Liam took Julia’s hand again and led her to the more private space he had arranged for them. As they stepped through the swinging door to the linen storage room he pulled her close again, and they fell against a stack of folded tablecloths, holding and kissing each other passionately. They could hear the passengers singing “Auld Lang Syne” and celebrating, but they were alone in their own world.
They didn’t even notice the ship’s bells and sirens going off until Frederic fell against the swinging door which suddenly seemed somehow to be above them, and called, “Liam, Jules, we’re rolling! Brace yourselves!” Frederic held tightly to the doorframe as the pair tumbled together across the small room. Everything around them was moving and it was difficult to see or comprehend what was going on. They were wound up in tablecloths and pinned against the far wall when they began to fall head-first toward the ceiling.
“Hold on to me, Julia!” Liam cried out and tried to shield her with his own body.
Luckily, they were in a room filled mostly with tablecloths and napkins, but the shelving units were beginning to come loose from their brackets as well. As they fell, he somehow got under her, and when Liam hit the ceiling, he felt a sharp pain in his left leg as he crushed the champagne glasses he had gotten for their private toast. He didn’t even have time to cry out before Julia landed on him, momentarily knocking the wind out of him.
Everything was quiet for a few moments; in contrast to, and now terrifyingly emphasizing, the huge and horrible noises during the capsize—sounds of metal, glass, and flesh being torn apart, burnt, scalded…
Liam regained his breath and tried to move, but the pain in his leg almost made him pass out. He lay still for a moment and tried to think. He could feel a weight on top of him, and thought it must be Julia, but she was not moving or making any sound. He could feel the blood oozing out of his torn leg. He had to do something. He had to see to Julia. He had to stop the bleeding in his leg before it was too late.
He tried to stay calm, and moved his arm up and above him, feeling for any sort of injury. He called, “Julia! Julia? Can you hear me? Are you all right?” He felt her weight shift, which was a relief, although it also sent shockwaves of pain through his leg, and he tried not to cry out.
“Liam?” a groggy-sounding voice asked. “Liam, where are you? What’s happened?”
“Julia, I’m here. Right under you, right under the tablecloths. It’s all right, I’m here. Can you move off me, Luv? I’ve injured my leg. Be careful though, there’s glass on the floor.” He felt her move off him, then she began removing the tablecloths covering him. From the corner of his eye he could see her face in the dim light. She looked pale, and a cut on her forehead was still bleeding slightly. Blood had run down her cheek, and he saw a look of fear and concern covering her face as she saw the condition of his leg.
“Oh, Liam! Hold still! Let me help you. Oh, God…” She tore a tablecloth into uneven strips and before wrapping them around his leg she gently removed several pieces of glass from the gash.
As she coiled the bandage around he winced. “I guess I’m lucky this was champagne instead of Coca-Cola. The alcohol is probably good for the wound, although it hurts like hell.” He looked into her eyes, “Thanks, Luv. I was worried about the bleeding, but I don’t think it’s really too bad. What about you? You’re bleeding as well. Are you all right? Are you hurt anywhere else?”
She shook her head a little, partly in an effort to clear it. “I think I hit part of a shelf, or something. My head hurts some, but the bleeding seems to have stopped.” She looked around, and in a puzzled voice asked; “What happened? Nothing looks right. Are we on…the ceiling? Oh my God, we’ve…”
Liam, who was sitting up now, reached for her, and pulled her toward him. “Yes, Julia, I think we’ve turned over. I don’t know how or why, but that seems to be the case.” As she began to tremble, he held her more tightly. “Don’t be afraid,” he said in a soft, comforting voice. “I’m here, and I’ll look after you. We both need to be strong because I’m sure there are others injured more severely. We need to see to our chums, and then the passengers. Can you stand up? I think you’ll have to help me walk, and you may even have to help me stand.”
Julia looked at him, her voice more steady than before. “Oh Liam, don’t worry about me! I’ll look after you.” She crouched, then pulled his arm around her shoulder. “Here, Honey, can you brace yourself against the wall and stand up with me?”
They struggled to their feet, Liam wincing whenever he put any weight on his leg. Julia could see the pain on his face even in the dimly lit room. “Let’s rest a second. Lean against me on your left side.”
They could hear various sounds coming from the other side of the linen service door, so they knew there were others alive. As Julia moved to push the swinging door open, she felt resistance, and heard a low moan. “Oh, God! Someone’s hurt on the other side.”
She gently pushed the door again and it moved a little.
“Oh, God! Oh, God!” a frail voice gasped.
Julia froze. “That’s Frederic! Liam, sit back down so I can try to help him.” She eased him back to the floor, and getting on her knees, carefully moved the door just far enough to ease her arm around to the other side. She felt wet clothing and moved her friend as carefully as she could; inching the door open just enough for her to squeeze through the crack. “I’ll be right back,” she said, before she crawled through. “If you need me, just call, I’ll be right on the other side of the door. I love you.”
Liam watched her go, silently cursing his injury. He should be the one taking care of her in this catastrophe, not the other way around. He hated to think of what she had found on the other side of the door. He thought of trying to follow her, but when he began to kneel, the pain was almost unbearable. He sat back and waited, listening carefully.
As Julia eased herself through the door she was assaulted by the sensations of the corridor. Although she and Liam were both injured, the linen service area had been a relatively safe place to go through the capsize. The corridor leading from the kitchens to the dining room was full of violence and death. The ceiling-floor was covered with liquid, from the looks of it, a fair amount of it blood, and there were several bodies visible. She didn’t see any other signs of life nearby, but could hear movement further away, and also below.
Her immediate attention was concentrated on Frederic, and as she looked at him, she was almost sick. “Oh, Freddie!” was all she could say. He was lying mostly on his back, his pale face and blue eyes sharply contrasting with the red covering most of the rest of his body. His right arm was twisted at an odd angle, both legs appeared to be shattered, and there was blood still pulsing from his torn chest. She didn’t know much about emergency medicine, but it was obvious that there was nothing she could do. Mercifully, for both of them, Frederic was no longer conscious. All she could do was close his eyes, rest her hand on his cheek for a moment, and murmur, “I’m so sorry, Freddie,” before she gently moved him away from the door.
She returned to the storage room, shaken, but also determined. She looked at Liam propped up, and half sitting on a shelf. “There’s nothing I can do. He’s broken to pieces. I did move him away from the door so we can get out. Of course, it’s awful out there, and I don’t know where we’ll go. There are maybe others out there we can help. I…I didn’t even check on anyone else.”
“I think there are people still alive in the dining room also. Can you hear them? We need to try to get down to them, if we can,” he said, carefully getting to his feet. Julia went to him so he could put his arm around her for support, and they gingerly moved through the swinging door and toward the service doorway.
The scene that greeted them from the doorway was completely different from the one they had seen standing in that very doorway, half an hour or so before. Where they had seen tables full of revelers, toasting, kissing, and singing in the New Year, now they saw total devastation. They looked down on something that didn’t even look like a dining room anymore, but more like a battlefield. The doorway they were standing in was like a balcony, giving a full view of the carnage. The frosted-glass light panels threw up an eerie light, and there were even bodies smashed into a couple of them. They saw many bodies in fact, but also people who appeared unhurt, or mostly.
A group of men standing together holding a tablecloth stretched out like a net caught their attention. When the looked up, they saw a dark-haired girl clinging to the underside of a table still attached to the ceiling. A tall man, who had been sitting at the Captain’s table when Julia walked through the dining room earlier, called to the girl from below, saying, “Susan, you can do it. Jump, we’ll catch you.” As they watched, the girl, Susan Shelby, summoned up her courage and jumped from her perch, landing in the tablecloth, and was helped to her feet.
Suddenly there were screams and a loud crash as the huge Christmas tree came lose from its mounting, and fell, sending the frightened people below into a fresh panic.
Julia looked at Liam with concern. “Do you think you can do that, jump like that, with your hurt leg?” she asked, touching his arm.
“What choice do I have?” he answered, trying to smile. “I will try.” He raised his voice to be heard over the terrified passengers, and called, “Reverend Scott!” He waited a moment, and repeated it.
The tall man, Rev. Frank Scott, looked up into the darkness of the new ceiling, trying to make out who was there. “Who is it?” he asked.
“It’s me, Sir, Acres. Could you help us down…? I’ve injured my leg.”
“How many with you, Acres?”
“Just Miss Finney and I. The others…” he trailed off, not really knowing what to say, as he looked back into the corridor.
“Hang on, Acres, we’ll be right there.” As the group started to make its way to the doorway, with the tablecloth/net, James Martin stopped the minister. Julia and Liam couldn’t hear the conversation, but noticed that many of the passengers looked or pointed toward them. There also seemed to be some kind of argument between Scott, and a shorter, stocky man, whom Liam finally recognized as Detective Rogo. They’d had some pleasant conversations about New York City, since Liam had spent a great deal of time there in recent years, and Mr. Rogo and his wife were natives.
Finally Scott called up; “Where does that lead to, the place you’re standing on?”
“To the galley, Sir,” Acres answered.
“Is there a ladder, or something we could use to climb up?”
“No, Sir,” Liam answered in puzzlement. “This is the linen service area.”
“Tablecloths?” Martin asked.
“Yes, Sir,” Liam answered.
The group below discussed the possibility of tying tablecloths together as a kind of rope, but decided that wouldn’t be strong enough.
“Do they want to come up here? Why?” Julia whispered. “Surely, it is safer down…”
“I know why,” Liam answered, stealing a glance at her, while still giving attention to what was going on below. “They think that the only way we can ever get out is through the bottom of the ship—and I think they’re right. We need to climb.”
Rev. Scott looked around. “We need something like…that. The Christmas tree.” A group of men went to help move the large fallen tree. They moved it toward the service doorway, then lifted it up.
“Do you think you could go find some tablecloths to tie the tree down with?” Liam asked Julia, as the tree inched toward them. “I’ll hold it once they get it up here.”
She quickly fetched an armful of tablecloths and began rolling them and tying them together. She heard something bump against the edge of the doorway, and looked up to see Liam holding the tip of the decorative tree. She handed one end of the tablecloth rope and after he tied it around the tree, and pulled on it to make sure it was secure, she tied the other end around a nearby light fixture not far above the new floor.
“Are you all right there, Acres?” Scott called from below.
“Yes, Sir,” he replied.
They watched from above as Scott bent over a young blond boy, motioning for him to climb the tree. “He’s just a baby!” Julia exclaimed. “Why is he coming up first?”
“It’s psychology, Luv,” Liam replied. ‘If this little boy can come up here with no problems, and not be afraid, the adults won’t think it’s so difficult. I wonder how many others he’s going to convince to come up here.”
She looked at him thoughtfully. “I don’t know. I guess it makes sense to climb higher, since we’re floating upside down, but how many do you think will be able to manage such a climb?” She touched his arm. “What about you, Honey? Can you manage a climb? I’ll help you all I can, but if you don’t think you can do it, I’ll stay here with you and wait for…”
“I’ll go on as far as I can, Luv,” he said, and turned her face toward his. “If I can’t go on though, you’ll keep going, do you understand? I won’t let you sacrifice yourself for me.”
She put her hand on his cheek. “I’m not going to argue with you about this, but I will not leave you. We’ll get through this together!”
He pulled her close for a moment, then they heard the rustle of branches, and looked to see a smiling round face below tousled blond hair. “Hi!” the boy said. “I’m Robin Shelby. I hope I’m not bothering you.”
“Of course not, Master Shelby, let me help you,” Liam answered, as he pulled the boy to his feet beside them.
“It’s a cinch!” the boy called down to Scott and the others. “Come on!” His sister, Susan, began to climb the tree.
Julia and Liam helped the girl, and then an older couple out of the tree. A woman who was wearing her husband’s dress shirt with her high heels was next, and then her husband, the man who had been arguing with Scott.
Once this man, Mr. Rogo, got to his feet, he looked at Liam, gasping with exertion. “Hey, buddy, you rest a while,” he offered. “I’ll help the rest.”
“Thank you, Mr. Rogo, Sir,” Liam answered gratefully. “I think I’ll just do that,” Julia took his arm and led him to sit down.
The older woman looked at him with concern. “Are you okay, Mr. Acres? Is there anything we can do for you?
“No thank you Ma’am. Miss Finney here is helping me. Is there anything we can do for you?”
“Oh, Miss Finney!” Belle Rosen said, recognition in her eyes. “I think I’ve seen you when I was at the beauty shop. Are you all right?”
“Yes, Mrs. Rosen, I’m fine. I had a bit of a bump on the head, and I’m banged up, but we all are. Are you sure there’s not something I can do for you?”
“Oh no, dear, I’m just fine. You tend to Mr. Acres.”
Suddenly Julia heard an exclamation. “Jules! Is it you?” She turned as a blonde girl rushed into her arms and began to sob.
She was stunned at first, but began to comfort her friend. “Nonnie, Nonnie, what is it? Are you all right? What about Ted and the others…?” As Julia spoke, she realized what the singer’s sobs must mean. She looked at Liam helplessly and hugged the girl tighter. “Oh, Nonnie, I’m so sorry!”
Nonnie continued to sob on Julia’s shoulder for a few moments, softly murmuring “Teddy…Teddy…” James Martin, the passenger Julia had spoken with in the bar just before midnight, hovered nearby. Nonnie looked up, stood back, and her professional experience took over. “Jules, do you know Mr. Martin? James, this is Julia Finney, a friend of mine.
“Yes, we’ve met,” he answered. “How are you, Miss Finney?”
“I’m fine, Mr. Martin. Liam’s hurt, but I’m okay.” Her gaze moved to Liam, sitting next to her, and she put her hand on his shoulder. “Are you feeling better? Is the rest helping you?”
He tried to sound reassuring as he answered; “I’m fine, Luv, don’t fret.”
She could see in his eyes though that he was in a great deal of pain.
All righty, our adventure is well under way! What’s in store for our brave survivors as they climb up to the bottom of the ship? Come back next Saturday to find out!