CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE BY COMMITTEE (19)

Drew leans forward with his elbows against the bulwark and looks down through his forearms at the dark blue water lapping against the stern of the boat. The ocean is vast and impossible to peer through. Anything could be down there. You catch Drew sneaking a glance at you out of the corner of his eye. You don’t say anything.

‘Hey,’ Drew says. ‘Do you know where Pauline went to?’

‘She’s down below,’ you say. ‘I have a question.’

Drew shifts his weight onto one elbow and arches his back slightly and looks at you expectantly.

‘Can you help me out? I need someone sharp on my side.’

He uses his left thumb to crack the knuckles of each finger on his left hand, individually. ‘With your detective deal?’ he says.

‘I guess, yeah.’

‘Well what do you got?’

You show Drew your notepad with the Islander Express logo at the top. You make a quick count in your head—there are only eleven words written down, and none of it seems useful. He smiles with one side of his mouth and takes the notepad from your hand, unclips and uncaps the cheap Bic pen and poises it over the pad to write.

‘The old woman, what’s her name?’ he says.

‘Marjorie,’ you say. ‘Shorter.’

He writes that down in the center of the page. ‘What do you know about her?’

Your mouth hangs open. ‘She went to Diamond Ranch High School with that guy, Bob, the one in the Hawaiian shirt. She has a daughter.’ You trail off.

‘That’s it?’ He draws a crude circle around the name and looks up at you.

‘I’m getting to it,’ you say. ‘I haven’t talked to her daughter yet.’

‘Seriously? Have you never seen a cop show?’

‘Thanks for the help, Drew,’ you say. ‘So I don’t suppose you’ve heard anything useful in your time of loitering around up here among the grownups?’

‘How old are you anyway?’ Drew asks.

You look up at the sky, at the few dappled clouds that sit undisturbed far up above. You listen to the rhythms of Bob’s voice booming out behind you, the rising and falling. Mrs. Shorter was standing just about where you are right now the last time you saw her alive. What was she doing up here alone on the open-air deck? Why, when everyone else went down to the bow, did she linger?

An airplane traces a thin white contrail overhead. It makes no sound. You need to get serious about this. Let Bob and Joan live and laugh: you need answers. You look down at the deck under your feet. There’s a veneer of detritus that runs along the thin corner joining the deck to the bulwark—bits of old leaves, crumbs from vending machine snacks, dried and crushed berries from pepper trees which have gotten onto this boat through some unknown method. You try to put yourself into Mrs. Shorter’s shoes. She’d fought with Joan, the captain, about something—you don’t know what, or where, or even specifically when, although it seems there would have been a fairly narrow window of time between the boat’s departure and her death. She spoke to you up here, right here, and did not seem upset. In fact she seemed genial, pleasant, a kindly older woman making passing conversation with a stranger. Everyone went down to the bow to look at porpoises cavorting in the waves and she remained up here, alone, and in a very short period of time was dead.

And Bob’s ring was here. It could be a coincidence—it’s a small boat—but it was right here, at the scene of the crime, in fact, the class ring belonging to a man who knew her before this boat trip. What does that mean?

‘Drew,’ you say, still looking down at the deck, ‘I need allies. Cooperation. A team to facilitate teamwork. Pauline’s on board. I guess I have Gavin, that guy who tried to steal the boat a minute ago, or whatever he was doing.’

‘Is that what that was?’ Drew says.

‘I don’t even know.’

‘What do you need me to do,’ he sighs. He looks warily at the group of his four classmates who are standing now further away from Bob and Joan and have gravitated toward the port side of the open-air deck.

‘I don’t know right now,’ you say. ‘Keep your ears open, I guess. If you have any bright ideas.’

‘Where’s Pauline?’ he asks again.

‘She’s talking to your school chums.’

‘And what are you doing?’ he says.

‘I’m working on it,’ you say. ‘I’ll talk to you later.’

You approach the crewman who is standing awkwardly near Bob and Joan and give him a confused look that you hope appears genuine. ‘Excuse me,’ you say, ‘I think there’s a problem with the lights in the cabin downstairs.’

He looks at you and glances at the captain, who is describing to Bob something about navigational differences between the Pacific and the Atlantic. ‘Can you show me?’ he says.

You start away immediately and the crewman trots after you to the port ladder down to the bow. You ignore the four teenage boys who give you a sidelong look and you hear one of them snicker at your cheap flip-flops. Halfway down the ladder you turn around and stop the man short.

‘Sorry,’ you say. ‘You looked uncomfortable up there.’

He scowls briefly. ‘Welcome to my life,’ he says.

‘She do this a lot?’ you ask. ‘Joan?’

‘What, talk to passengers?’

You step backwards down the rest of the ladder and stand flat on the deck of the bow. ‘Act like no one else is there.’

‘Oh.’ He comes down the ladder and stands a couple of steps above you. ‘You mean you saw her fighting with the old woman.’

‘I heard about it,’ you say. ‘What was that about?’

He chuckles. ‘There isn’t a light out. You’re playing Chinatown.’

‘Sure,’ you say. You don’t look around to see if anyone is behind you. You aren’t interested. ‘Did you hear them?’

The crewman shrugs. ‘You could check with Ernesto,’ he says. ‘All I know is, the old woman wanted the captain to turn the boat around, go back to harbor. I don’t know why. Big yelling match. She sounded scared, but I wasn’t really close by. Like I said.’ He looks up suddenly and you follow his eyeline and see a seagull shuffling its wings above you on the top of the bridge. ‘I hate those damn things,’ he says.

WHAT DO YOU DO:
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