CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE BY COMMITTEE (16)

You peer at the crewman with the clipboard where he is leaning casually against the bulkhead at the front of the passenger cabin. The clipboard is jammed up under one arm and he has both hands in his pockets and is looking hard at Gavin, who is alternating between looking back at the crewman and casting a catch-all gaze around the interior of the room. Something about the man’s white uniform gets you to picture Joan, the captain, and you imagine the scene that the woman with the boy described—Joan and Mrs. Shorter shouting at one another in full view of several of the passengers on the boat. Where were you when this happened? When did this occur? What were they fighting about? You picture them in the passenger cabin, on the bow, up on the open-air deck. You try to recall your movements about the boat between boarding and Mrs. Shorter’s death—mostly absent wandering,  half-hearted eavesdropping on the conversations of strangers, worrying in the forefront of your own mind about your upcoming time with your old friends Eric and Lavinia.

You turn back around and look at the woman with the child on her lap. You realize that you don’t know her name. It seems, somehow, rude to ask at this point. ‘I’m sorry,’ you begin, ‘a moment ago you said something about the captain and Mrs. Shorter fighting?’

The woman glares up at you and then looks back down at the boy who is climbing around on her lap. There is a kind of faint semi-sweet baby powder smell lingering in the air. ‘And Mrs. Shorter is who?’ she says, looking down.

‘The old woman,’ you say. ‘Her name was Marjorie Shorter.’

‘This was a friend of yours too then,’ she says. ‘I don’t want any of your trouble.’

You shake your head. ‘No, ma’am, please,’ you say. ‘You said that you saw them shouting. The captain.’

‘Well.’

‘I didn’t see that,’ you say.

‘It is not my business. Please.’ She nods toward her son.

You stand up straighter. ‘Okay,’ you say. ‘I just don’t want you to have the wrong idea.’

‘I have the wrong idea already,’ she says.

You don’t know what that means. You look back at Gavin at the front of the passenger cabin and sigh. There has to be a better way of talking to people. Motive, opportunity, means. As near as you can figure, the only person that you’re sure is without opportunity is Rick Chavez, the Earth sciences teacher, who was on the bow speaking to his students about the porpoises. You look at his name crossed off on your notepad. It might be a good idea to get someone to corroborate that, actually. A bit of a smile hints at the corner of your mouth. Corroborate.

‘Listen,’ you say to the woman sitting in front of you, ‘I’m trying to figure this all out. Could you just tell me what you know?’

‘What I know,’ she says. ‘I do not wish to help you.’

‘Okay,’ you say. ‘Okay.’

The boy on her lap is fussing. She makes a staccato sh-sh-sh sound into the corner of his ear. ‘I wanna go outside,’ he whispers loudly to her.

The woman stands and gives you a look and you step back to let her go by. The boy rests his chin on her shoulder and watches you as she walks toward the doors out to the bow. You watch them go. Gavin turns his head to look at the woman as she goes by and then he looks up at you and grins broadly. He points firmly at his feet with both index fingers to indicate that he isn’t moving. The woman exits the passenger cabin and is out on the bow in the sunlight beyond the dark tinted glass.

You walk in the same direction. You pass Rick Chavez, who is now hunched over and reading a book, his elbows propped against his knees. The book has big colored illustrations and looks like a textbook. You don’t say anything as you pass him. You are trying to think of what to say to Gavin when he inevitably starts speaking to you again.

‘Hey.’

You look down to your right and see that on one side of the aisle of seats Pauline, the high school student whom you met earlier on the open-air deck, is looking up at you. She is smiling.

‘Hi,’ you say. ‘Where’s Drew?’

‘He’s around. How’s your detectiving going?’

You gesture to your notepad. ‘I don’t think I’m any good at this,’ you say. ‘What’s wrong with Drew, by the way?’

‘His parents.’ She rolls her eyes slightly. ‘It’s a long story.’

You smile thinly and say, ‘Oh.’ You remember being in high school.

‘Did you talk to them yet?’ Pauline says.

‘Who?’

‘Those two, the, like, victim’s family or whatever.’

You look out the fore windows to the bow. Mrs. Shorter’s daughter and her boyfriend and leaning against the railing along the bulwark with their backs to you, looking out at the ocean, or perhaps at the huddled mass of Long Beach on the horizon. Through the smoky grey glass the sunny sky is a rich and romantic blue. There is a single seagull that you can see; its wings are spread wide, immobile, hanging on some breeze, its position static in the air. It looks almost like a photograph.

You shake your head. ‘I’m working up to it,’ you say.

Gavin is only a few feet away and is watching you expectantly. He mouths something at you that you can’t discern.

What leads do you have? What information? Motive, opportunity, means. You look around the passenger cabin. You think about sketching a rough schematic of the boat’s layout on your notepad. Should you draw the murder scene? Write up a list of suspects? Start haranguing strangers for answers? You don’t know. You don’t know.

You wave to Pauline and approach Gavin. ‘I think I need your help,’ you say.

He smiles broadly.

WHAT DO YOU DO:
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