Matt called his parents to let them know he was OK after the train wreck. They didn’t even know that he had been on the train that wrecked. He also told them that he was staying in Mobile until Anna was found. He didn’t say it, but he hoped she was found before Jackson’s funeral.
He watched as Jackson’s casket was loaded into the ambulance to be driven back to New Orleans from the funeral home in Mobile. Jackson’s parents had been overly kind, as they tried to comfort him. They told him that it was not his fault. They told him there was nothing that he could have done. He knew differently. He knew the blonde woman had tried to get him to go back to rescue Jackson before it was too late. Now the guilt over his hesitation was almost more than he could bear.
How could I have been so stupid? How could I have been so scared? I was such an idiot. Now I’ve lost my best friend, he told himself over and over again. Jackson was dead, and it was all his fault. There was no denying it. Nothing would bring him back.
To make it up to Jackson, he resolved to find Anna. That same blonde woman that told him to go back for Jackson also said Anna was being taken care of. Yet Anna never showed up in the hospitals with the other people, nor did she show up on any list at all, except for the ‘unaccounted for’ list. Only a few people were still on that list according to the police, and two of those were the train engineers who probably were in the first engine.
The news reports on TV claimed that with all of the debris and devastation surrounding the wreck, it would be several days until the lead train engine could be pulled from its grave in the muddy bayou. According to the reports that he read in the newspapers, that engine was only twenty days old. From what he remembered seeing on that early foggy morning, he wouldn’t be surprised if that new engine was a complete loss.
Could Anna have gone for a walk in the train that night before the wreck, and ended up in the engine? he wondered. It was just too horrifying to imagine. Besides, why would the blonde woman have told him that Anna was being cared for if instead she was dead? Did the woman really know, or had she just been trying to reassure him?
Matt sustained only a few minor cuts and bruises on his body from the crash, but nothing serious. Other people that he saw in the hospital were in much worse shape. The latest tally in the newspaper listed a total of forty-five people killed. Three were missing, which he assumed to include the two engineers and Anna. He still didn’t see how the two hundred two other passengers and crew survived the crash, even though he was one of them.
He shuddered when he thought about how the train had entered the bridge on one side traveling around seventy miles per hour, and was totally stopped before reaching the other side of the small bayou waterway. There had been talk and speculation about the barge in the bayou somehow damaging the bridge. He didn’t know much about it, and assumed that it was idle speculation – an effort to lay the blame on someone or something other than calling it simply an accident. From what he remembered, the barge had rescued many people, and probably had called the Coast Guard for assistance.
But where was Anna? He called every hospital in Mobile. No one had her listed. Only one had an unknown person, but it was a man. He called every hospital that he could find in the surrounding Alabama and Mississippi counties. None of them had her listed, nor any unknown persons either.
After his hospital search proved fruitless, he started searching the morgues for Anna. It was a gruesome and heart-wrenching task. They wouldn’t tell him anything over the phone, so he hired a taxi to drive him to the three morgues where the train deceased had been transported. He looked at several bodies that were of questionable identification, but none of them proved to be Anna. That much he was thankful for, but it didn’t relieve his frustration at not finding her.
Not only was he looking for Anna, he was also looking for the blonde woman who had known Jackson and Anna. Because of the remote location of the wreck, the woman must have been on the train. Otherwise, how else would she have been there to talk to him? He did not remember her being injured, although she didn’t look quite right either. Therefore, he did not expect to find her dead or injured now. Instead, he hoped to encounter her visiting a friend at one of the hospitals, or see her in a hospital cafeteria. If he found the blonde, maybe she could give him more information about how to find Anna.
What did she say her name was – Andy or Andrea, or something like that? How did she know us? Maybe she was one of the train’s crew members with access to the passenger list? All the more reason to find her.
He looked through all of the police lists that he could find. There was no ‘Andy’ or ‘Andrea’ nor anything similar, for that matter. He assumed he had misheard or misremembered what she said her name was. The newspaper ended up publishing a list of passengers, and it was not on that list either. His, Jackson’s, and Anna’s names were there, along with a long list of others.
So far the Coast Guard had not been very cooperative with his requests for information. He understood that they were busy with the rescue, clean-up, and investigation of the accident. Eventually, they started telling him they could not help him as soon as he entered their front doors. Nevertheless, he was not one to let past failures keep him from attempting future success.
As he entered the Coast Guard headquarters in Mobile again on Friday morning, he saw a new assistant behind the desk. This time maybe I’ll get some answers, or gain access to information that I’ve not been able to get with the previous assistants, he desperately hoped.
“Excuse me, ma’am, but I was curious how the rescue efforts are going from the train wreck up the river,” Matt said.
“Who are you, a reporter?” the assistant asked.
“I was on the train, ma’am, and I have a friend that was also on the train that I can’t locate. Her name is Anna Thibodeaux. Do you have any record of her being rescued?”
“I’ll look,” the assistant told him absently. She scanned several paper lists, then consulted her computer terminal. “No, there’s no record in the system for any Anna Thibodeaux being rescued, or any other Thibodeaux, for that matter. But in all the excitement, it’s possible that she was not injured, and simply left the scene of the accident with one of the other rescue groups. She’s probably home, asleep in her own bed by now, wondering where you are.”
“I thought of that,” Matt told her. “I’ve called her home many times since the accident, and they haven’t heard from her either. Suppose she hit her head and has amnesia?”
“Don’t worry, young man. Her name is logged into the system as ‘missing’. I’m sure a rescue team will continue to search the area until all the missing are found or accounted for. In fact, a team is gearing up to go there again right now. From what I hear, they’re going to attempt to extricate the train engine today. They had to round up a pretty big crane, but one of the offshore crews had one available today.”
“Wow, could I go and watch? I promise not to get in the way,” Matt pleaded.
“That’s highly irregular, young man. How old are you?”
“I’m twenty-two, almost twenty-three,” Matt told her. “I’m a medical school student at Tulane.”
“Can you swim?”
“Like a fish.”
“Let me see your driver’s license.” The assistant looked over the Louisiana license carefully. She logged Matt’s information in her computer. She tapped her fingers on the desk for a few minutes. After what seemed like hours, but was actually only several long minutes, she handed the license back to Matt.
Then she handed Matt a lanyard to go around his neck that said “Trainee” on it in red letters, with his name on the other side. The assistant told him, “Wear this all the time. Never take it off. Stay totally out of the way, and obey every order that the captain or crew leader gives you. You can get the ensign at the end of the hall to issue you a life jacket. Wear it the entire time that you’re on the boat, even when it’s here at the dock. It could save your life.”
“Thank you, ma’am. You don’t know what this means to me.”
“Was she your girlfriend?”
“No, but she was my best friend’s girlfriend. He died in the wreck. I’ve got to find her for him.”
“Just remember to follow orders, and don’t become a victim yourself.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Matt assured her, heading down the hallway to the equipment room.
“Young man,” the assistant called to him. “Sometimes accident scenes can be gruesome, especially in the bayou like where that train wreck occurred. Just be prepared for anything.”
“Thanks, I’ll try to remember that,” Matt answered.