Gavin holds the penlight out to you. It is small and white and has a pocket clip like a ballpoint pen’s. You ignore it and turn and leave the Captain’s Lounge. Gavin says something from behind you as you are pulling the door shut behind you and you do not bother to listen for what it is.

Out on the open-air deck, Drew and Pauline are gone. Instead there’s a group of four teenage boys standing over by the bulwark at the very back of the boat where the two American flags are. One of the boys is miming falling overboard, flailing his arms wildly and saying ‘Oh shit!’ over and over, a loony grin on his face. The other three boys are cracking up at this and one of them pretends to grab the first boy’s legs and flip him over the side.

‘No, granny, no!’ one of the other two boys yells.

You close the door to the Lounge alcove behind you and go down the ladder to the bow. You are still holding the stationery notepad in one hand and you hope that Joan or anyone on the crew doesn’t notice that you have it. You feel a vague sense of guilt for taking something from the Captain’s Lounge, especially given that you are already, apparently, suspicious.

Down on the bow that same man in his sixties or seventies is still staring at you. He’s wearing a bright coral Hawaiian shirt and has one hand on the railing along the bulwark. His hands are huge and rectangular. The usual assortment of passengers—mostly high school kids, a few adults of varying ages. No children. The little boy from earlier on the open-air deck must be inside. There aren’t that many places to go on this boat.

You scan the faces and a few people notice you and you realize that you are drawing attention. Are you branded as a murderer, now? Are you known on sight by all these strangers? You halfway expect a mob to form, the dozens of angry passengers surrounding you, grabbing at you, hauling you away somewhere to sit and await the authorities.

No one here looks like the teacher that Drew and Pauline described. You aren’t entirely sure why you’re looking for him. If nothing else, you suppose, it’s someplace to start—if you’re going to acquit yourself in Joan’s eyes or anyone else’s, if you’re going to get this boat moving again, you’re going to have to talk to a lot of people. You wish that you’d spent more time watching detective movies. You don’t even know how many people are on this boat.

Chavez isn’t on the bow, you’re pretty sure. He isn’t up on the open-air deck. That leaves the passenger cabin, where Mrs. Shorter’s body is, where Joan and her crew are, where Mrs. Shorter’s daughter is. You breathe.

You head into the passenger cabin and look around. The old woman’s body has been draped with a beach towel, a bright and cheerful one with an image of a polar bear in sunglasses. Mrs. Shorter’s daughter and her boyfriend are sitting in the open boarding door, their backs to the cabin, their legs dangling out into the air over the Pacific. The sound of lapping water whispers in. Joan is speaking to the two crewmen, their three white uniforms looking more suitable for a hospital than a boat, in the fore corner away from Mrs. Shorter’s body. Joan eyes you without interrupting her speech. You can’t make out what she’s saying.

The woman with the small child is sitting with him on her lap in one of the rows of seats toward the back of the cabin—there are a few scattered individuals sitting in the big cushioned seats like airplane passengers. You spy one man with dark hair and a thin goatee, big half-closed eyes and a faraway look. You walk down the aisle and sit next to him.

‘Are you Mr. Chavez,’ you say to him.

He turns to you and holds out one hand. ‘Rick,’ he says.

You take his hand and shake it and look hopelessly at your notepad. ‘You wouldn’t have a pen I can borrow,’ you say.

Rick is wearing a fitted white shirt with a button-down collar, a striped blue tie, and dark jeans that you imagine would be very hot out on the open-air deck. He pulls a shoulder bag out from under the seat in front of him and lifts one flap open and hands you a cheap Bic. ‘Keep it,’ he says. ‘How can I help you?’

‘You’re the teacher, right?’ you say. ‘I was talking to a couple of your students.’

‘The mighty Catalina bison,’ he says with feigned drama. He leans close. ‘They’re serious fucking up that island, pardon me.’

You nod. You pull the cap off your pen and make slow circles with the back end in the air over your notepad. ‘Did you know the—ah —the deceased?’ you ask him.

‘Who? No,’ he shakes his head. ‘I’m just here for the field trip.’

‘Your students, Drew and Pauline,’ you say.


You don’t have a real question. You have no idea how to do this.

‘I don’t know about my students’ personal lives, you understand,’ he says. ‘I know those two sit in the back whispering to each other all day. Did they say something to you?’

‘No,’ you say. ‘I mean—no. They’re fine. With me, I mean.’

‘The popular understanding is that the bison were introduced to Santa Catalina to film The Vanishing American, but that isn’t true.’ He shifts and turns his whole body toward you. ‘Actually do you know that I was charged by bison once?’

‘On Catalina?’

He laughs a bit. ‘In South Dakota. I was there with my family in the Bad Lands. I got too close to the herd, I guess. This big thing came running at me, all four feet in the air, black as night. I thought I was dead. I ran as fast as I could, didn’t look back, all the way up a hill, tearing up the scrubgrass to climb up, and when I looked back the damn thing hadn’t moved. Just wanted to scare me.’

‘Huh,’ you say.

‘But you wanted to talk about my students,’ he says. ‘I’m sorry.’

‘I didn’t,’ you say. ‘Or—I guess, where were you when it happened? When the woman fell out of the boat?’

‘Sherlock,’ Rick says. ‘Hmm. Well, where do you think I was?’

You have no idea. ‘I have no idea,’ you say.

‘I was trying to talk to a bunch of high schoolers about porpoises,’ he says. ‘Did you see them? Where were you?’

‘I was looking at the porpoises too,’ you say.

‘Okay then.’ He eases back. ‘So what did you want to talk about?’

Shared publiclyView activity