CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE BY COMMITTEE (29)

You leave Bob alone on the open-air deck and as you come down the starboard ladder toward the bow you feel the boat’s engines rumble to life below and behind you. There is a great gushing noise of startled water spraying up into the suspended air and the boat begins to push forward into the Pacific. You picture Joan or Ernesto or Charles at the helm behind a large wooden wagon-wheel like on a cartoon pirate ship. How long do you have before you get back to Long Beach? How far out are you, how far have you drifted from the short straight line between the mainland and Catalina Island?

Down on the bow you find that the woman with her son is no longer outside and have presumably returned to the passenger cabin. Esme is standing at the prow with one hand on either railing and the muscles in her arms appear tensed as though she is straining with all her might to hold the boat together, to keep it from splitting down the middle like a piece of fruit. Gavin is here as well and is walking in short circles a few paces away from Esme and peeking at her occasionally. You get the impression that he is eager to speak to her but cannot find the motivation or justification to do so. He looks up at you and does not smile. He raises his eyebrows behind the thick frames of his eyeglasses and hints with a glance upward to the bridge. He seems suddenly about ten years older.

A handful of high schoolers are milling around here on the bow and you cannot remember if any of them are from the group of four boys who were previously on the open-air deck. Something about the rumbling drone of the engines brimming in your ears makes it harder to distinguish them from one another. There is a depressing sameness to the boys’ loping gaits, their slumped and narrow shoulders, their thin ribcages and black teeshirts with bad band names, the girls’ bright layered tanktops and low-slung backpacks, their medium-length casually-flipped hair. You realize that you are beginning to panic.

The boat dips away from you to port and begins to carve a long arcing turn through the water. You shift your weight onto your left foot and suddenly to your right side there is only the blue sky and clouds and a handful of disparate gulls. You cannot see Catalina at all.

You open the door into the passenger cabin and step inside the hush of the dark tinted windows and find the majority of the boat’s passengers sitting in here as though it is a typical day. There is a cacophony of whispers and mutterings about the boat heading back and you notice Rick Chavez looking at you from his seat near the back of the cabin.

Gavin has trailed in through the door behind you and his expression is still surprisingly severe.

‘Help me,’ you say, and crouch down next to Mrs. Shorter’s body. The boat sways beneath you and you can feel every wave.

You peel the still-damp towel back from her face like a bedsheet. Her eyes are open and mutely staring nowhere, her dark grey hair hanging limply across her forehead. Her mouth is open slightly and suggests some deep cavern of no meaning. You work the whole towel off of her and, acting on some impulse, fold it into thirds and place it to one side. Her knit white blouse is greyed somewhat, the denim shorts still the same. Gavin crouches down opposite you and his face is ashen behind the glasses.

‘Shit,’ he says between his teeth.

There is an ugly black bruise pressed into the side of Marjorie Shorter’s throat. You hold your right thumb up near to it and the bruise is a similar shape but its blotchy green amorphous edging makes it impossible to tell the size of the thumb that created it. You imagine the feeling of her brown leathered flesh and your hand pressing into it. You lean over and see the corresponding bruise tucked back behind her left jawbone where the murderer’s hand closed and pinched her throat against the thumb. Gavin holds his hand up, hovering somewhat shakily above Mrs. Shorter’s corpse. The hand could not have been any larger than his—and given his spindly fingers, probably smaller.

You crane your head over the body and peer closely at the deep bruising on her left side. This was someone’s right hand. You cannot see any indication of rings, but you aren’t sure that you would know what to look for anyway.

You scrabble onto your hands and knees and bend low and look at her hands which are still joined at her chest in a funereal pose. What are you looking for? Skin beneath the nails? Broken fingers, chipped nails, traces of hair? They look like ordinary old-woman’s hands. The skin is tanned to a disturbing degree and loose and striated with thick veins and tendons. A spattering of deep orange freckles on the wrists. Mrs. Shorter’s hands. Esme’s mother’s hands.

‘Gavin,’ you say. You are whispering and the thought of not whispering is an impossibility. ‘What am I looking for.’

‘Shit,’ he says. ‘Shit, shit.’

Marjorie’s legs are paler and criss-crossed with blue veins. Only one sandal has survived back onto the boat with her. You look at the immobile chasm of her mouth and think of her thin-lipped smile. She said something to you up on the open-air deck. This was ages ago. You did not hear her. You brushed her off. You cannot help thinking that you should have paid attention.

‘We’re moving,’ you say, uselessly.

Gavin nods. ‘Goin’ back,’ he says. ‘You are outta time.’

‘I spoke with Joan,’ you say, ‘the captain. Did you find that purse?’

He shakes his head in long sweeps. ‘Found a backpack though,’ he says.

‘A backpack,’ you say. It seems absurd to have this conversation across the body of Mrs. Shorter. You push the thought away. ‘There are a hundred high school kids on this boat,’ you say. ‘You found a backpack?’

‘In the bathroom,’ he says. ‘Looked in it, no purse. Looked everywhere. Just some condom wrapper. I mean, what the fuck, kid. Bunch of books, homework, old tests.’

‘In the bathroom,’ you repeat.

‘The fuckin’ W.C., whatever.’

You look down at Mrs. Shorter again. Her eyes. It is unnerving. ‘You looked at this kid’s homework?’

‘It’s none of your business,’ he smiles weakly. He glances at Mrs. Shorter’s hands and then around the passenger cabin. ‘You meet anyone named Drew, look like a guy flunking out of Spanish?’

WHAT DO YOU DO:
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