CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE BY COMMITTEE (6)

All around you is the Pacific Ocean and the sky and a few thick white fists of cloud and you are on a boat that is still and silent save for the motion of the waves and the lapping of water against the hull. You are standing in the bow with the majority of the boat’s passengers as well as the captain, and the bow is pointed toward Long Beach. Behind you, although it is your destination, lies Catalina Island. In the passenger cabin is a dead woman. Below you, presumably, are teeming schools of fish, whales, sharks, squid, the splintered shells of shipwrecks, the gibbering millions of a coral reef.

You are standing in a small circle with Joan, the captain, and Gavin, the annoyance. Joan is gazing at you levelly.

‘I just want you to know,’ you say with a measured pace, ‘I didn’t have anything to do with it.’

Gavin is shaking his head minutely but rapidly. You see Joan’s eyes flick to him briefly behind the dark lenses of her sunglasses and then she looks you up and down.

‘Oh no?’ she says.

You aren’t sure she knows what you’re talking about. It feels so weird to say these things directly, though. ‘This guy here’ – you indicate Gavin—‘said that everyone thinks it was me. Which it wasn’t. It’s absurd.’

‘Well,’ Joan says. You wait but she does not continue.

‘Shit,’ Gavin says. The sun glints off of his glasses again. ‘If it wasn’t you then who was it?’

You feel the outline of the high school class ring in your pocket. You are aware of all of the boat’s passengers standing close around the three of you. Very few people are speaking to one another. A seagull sitting on the antenna array atop the boat screams and takes flight with what seem to be exaggeratedly slow flaps of its wings.

‘Listen,’ Joan says to you, ‘the Coast Guard likes to know about these things. Now as far as I’m concerned this was just a terrible accident—just terrible. And that’s what I’d like to tell them.’

‘You haven’t called them yet?’ you ask.

Joan shakes her head. ‘I don’t want this boat to be a crime scene,’ she says. ‘If you did this—and I’m not saying you did, Lord knows I’m no judge and jury—but if you did this I’d rather just hand you on over. Or know that it’s an accident.’

This isn’t making sense. A woman is dead. You glance in through the darkened glass of the passenger cabin and see Mrs. Shorter’s daughter looking right back at you. Her expression is set. It is not a kind one. Her boyfriend sits beside her and is holding one of her hands in both of his and he is watching her face. From this angle you cannot see Mrs. Shorter’s body.

‘I don’t understand,’ you say. ‘Call the Coast Guard or the police or whoever and let them do their job.’

Gavin starts to laugh. He looks at Joan and then at you and laughs again. He closes his eyes. ‘We’re just sitting here,’ he says.

Eric and Lavinia are on Catalina right now, waiting for you. They are drinking out of coconut shells, or from plastic martini glasses. They are wearing new sunglasses and old clothes. They are talking about you, about the expense of coming to California, about their new life together and your disinterest in it. They are tan and carefree. Their hair is freshly cut, and Eric sports two days’ growth of beard. They will return to their lodge, to the pastel paintings on the walls, the quasi-impressionistic seascapes which depict undistinguished palm trees canting out over a pristine bay, an adobe lighthouse sitting back atop a cliff. They will be sorry you did not show, but not too sorry. You will sit here on this boat on this ocean for the rest of your life.

‘Captain,’ Gavin says, ‘my client has a right to the evidence.’

You roll your eyes.

‘What are you talking, evidence,’ Joan says. She looks at you again. ‘I need you to own up to it.’

‘To what?’ you say. ‘Murder?’

The boat rocks back and forth on the water. The salt air feels very dry against your skin and without the breeze generated by the boat’s engines driving you through the sea the sun is overwarm and baking down. Several of the high school kids sitting or standing on the bow are looking at you. An older man in his sixties or seventies has one hand on the railing of the bulwark and is staring straight at you. Three middle-aged women in straw hats pointedly look out at the horizon but are quiet enough that it seems obvious that they are listening.

Joan stabs the air in front of her with one finger. ‘I want an answer,’ she says to you. ‘I’m not calling and I’m not moving this boat until I get it.’

Gavin walks away abruptly and goes up the ladder to the open-air deck. You watch him go and despite how much he bothers you you cannot help but feel abandoned, now. You look at the captain. You can picture her with a sand-colored sun visor and a glass of sangria. She should be someone’s great aunt.

The ocean all around you. The lump of Long Beach behind you. You are facing backward from the bow, the body of the boat before you, the sight of Mrs. Shorter’s daughter and the passenger cabin there, the windows above that of the bridge, the white top of the boat above that. It is a small boat. You feel the ocean swell beneath you and hear water and gulls.

WHAT DO YOU DO:
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