You climb up over Drew and past Gavin’s long bent knees and go up the ladder to the open-air deck. You feel the aluminum diamond plating of the steps through the thin cheap rubber of your flip-flops. With everyone in the passenger cabin now, the Islander Express feels stark and empty, lonely, noble in its barren race across the ocean. But now your proximity to Long Beach eliminates that sense of the open sea: the horizon narrows around the reference point of civilization and commerce and you are once again a certain distance offshore, within the area of something.

Bob is still standing by the aft bulwark and has one elbow crooked to lean against it and with the other hand he is holding what must certainly be a different cigarette. The twin American flags jut out into space behind him. You watch the big square fingers hold the cigarette gently and then place it between Bob’s lips and reach into his shirt pocket and produce another of the hand-rolled lightly-greyed cigarettes and proffer it for Esme, who is standing directly in front of him. She takes the cigarette and fits it between her index and middle finger, unlit.

‘You’re back,’ Bob says, and it takes a beat for you to realize that he’s speaking to you. He is shouting to be heard above the roar of the boat’s engines below him.

You step forward off of the top of the ladder and approach him and Esme. She glances at you with a look of mild relief.

‘Hello,’ you say. There is a silent clicking in your head of large pieces of things trying to slot together.

Bob pulls the cigarette out from hips lips and shoots a stream of white smoke up out of the corner of his mouth. ‘What’d I do this time?’ he says.

You shake your head. ‘Esme,’ you say, ‘I guess I have one more question for you.’

She is rolling the cigarette in her hand between her thumb and forefinger. ‘Can’t you just leave it alone,’ she says quietly.

‘You lied to me,’ you say, ‘before. About where you were. You weren’t reading.’

‘I was reading,’ she says. She looks straight ahead.

‘You told me that you were with Royce the whole time,’ you say. ‘Were you?’

She does not respond. Bob shifts the weight that he has on the one elbow and takes a drag on his cigarette. ‘Why don’t you back away, kid,’ he says to you.

‘Esme,’ you say, ‘your mother—’

She turns to you and looks at you directly. ‘You don’t know my mother,’ she says.

Bob reaches out one tentative hand and rests it on Esme’s shoulder and he leaves the bulwark and stands a little behind her and looks at you and you see their faces by one another for the first time and it is striking. A snatch of breeze makes its way past the lee of the bridge and the Captain’s Lounge and stirs Esme’s hair and she bats it away with her hand.

‘Your mother,’ Bob says.

You can hardly see Catalina Island now, its brown shape settling down into a kind of purple vagueness on the horizon. ‘Esme,’ you say.

‘I was upset, okay?’ she says to you. ‘It’s my goddam birthday on this goddam boat and I hate Royce and I hate you and I hate everyone else here. So I was feeling shitty and I saw that weird-ass kid go into the bathroom and I followed him because I was upset. Royce was zoned out or some shit, I don’t know. I fucking hate him. And Jesus Christ when I came out he was right there and the boat turned around and he said—he said—’ She stops. She puts one hand to the side of her face and her mouth twists into a crude rictus. ‘Mom,’ she says, finally, simply. ‘Mom.’

The engines of the Islander Express cut suddenly and the roar diminishes and there are ocean sounds, the loud long washing noises of water overtaking itself and spreading out thinly against the surface of the Pacific. You are almost to the harbor.

‘Where was Royce,’ you say.

Esme shakes her head. ‘Reading,’ she says.

You look at Bob, at the cigarette and the military haircut, the coral Hawaiian shirt and the off-color tan on his forearms. His hand on Esme’s shoulder tightens slightly and his face hardens. ‘Where,’ he says.


A.    Lead Bob down to the passenger cabin where Royce is.
B.    Go into the bridge to find Joan and tell her what you know.
C.    Tell Bob and Esme to stay here and go down to the passenger cabin alone.
D.    Go into the bridge and ask Joan a few questions.
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