CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE BY COMMITTEE (12)

‘How did you know Mrs. Shorter?’ you say. You struggle to suppress the smile creeping across your lips. With one hand you are holding your notepad and cheap Bic pen and your other hand hangs by your side and you rub your finger and thumb together, imagining the feel of the engraved metal ring in your pocket.

‘Mrs. Shorter?’ says the man in front of you. He scowls suspiciously. Then: ‘Oh, Marjorie.’ He softens. ‘Forgot about her name. Marjorie.’ He looks away briefly. ‘I know what you did to her,’ he says.

‘Marjorie,’ you repeat.

‘Who are you?’ the man says to you. ‘Why did you do it? How do you know me?’

You pause. You watch the seagulls circling and diving down to skim the surface of the sea. ‘I need to talk to you,’ you say, measuring your words.

‘I don’t have anything to say to you,’ he says.

The other passengers here on the bow are paying attention to the two of you. A loose semicircle is beginning to form around you. You feel a need to get away. ‘Come up here,’ you say to the man and start up the ladder to the open-air deck. After a moment he follows you.

The group of four high school boys is still up here although they’ve moved away from the bulwark and are standing near the door to the Captain’s Lounge. From what you can tell, Gavin is still in there as well. You haven’t seen him anywhere else, and you’ve been everywhere else that you can think of on this stupid boat. Two of the boys are leaning against the bulkhead and from what you can tell they seem to be talking about music.

You walk to the bulwark near the two American flags where you found the Diamond Ranch High School class ring and turn around to watch the big man with the rectangular hands and the military haircut follow you. He is still wearing a scowl and as he approaches you he watches the four teenage boys and then returns his attention to you.

‘What,’ he says.

Motive, opportunity, means. The third one is means. Up here on the open-air deck you suddenly feel very vulnerable. You are glad, despite yourself, for the presence of the four high school boys.

‘Mrs. Shorter,’ you say, ‘Marjorie. You knew her.’

‘I’m not interested in whatever this is,’ the man says. ‘I should throw you off this boat, see how you like it.’

You fight the urge to look behind you at the drop down to the ocean. ‘I didn’t do anything,’ you say. ‘How did you know her?’

The man shakes his head. ‘I can’t figure out what you want,’ he says. ‘What do you want me to say? I don’t get it. You say you know me but then you ask me. What? What is it?’

Something clicks in your head. ‘Diamond Ranch,’ you say. You watch his eyes. They are squinted and grey. ‘You went to high school with her.’

‘What do you want,’ he says again. ‘You want me to break down? I haven’t seen her for thirty years before today.’

‘You didn’t know she would be here? On this boat?’

He barks a laugh. ‘Now just how would I know something like that? I’m on my way to golfing on the shittiest course in California. You want to see my clubs? You think I followed her?’ He narrows his eyes into even tinier slits. ‘You going to pawn this off on me?’

You look down at your notepad, the Diamond Ranch High School scrawled below the logo, the Chavez, Rick that’s crossed out. You wonder how it’ll look if you try to write down what this man has just told you now. How will he interpret that.

‘Look,’ you say, ‘I’m sorry. I’m just trying to figure out what’s going on.’ You pull the cap off of the Bic with a tiny click.

‘You don’t know a goddam thing,’ the man says.

You nod.

There is a tremendous sound, a deep rumbling, suddenly, below you, and the seagulls perched at the antenna array at the top of the boat all take flight simultaneously. You look down the bulwark and see the white churning of the ocean below. The engines are on. The boat is moving.

You look at the man. He is still glaring at you, as though nothing has changed. The frame of his shoulders blocks out the four teenage boys by the Captain’s Lounge and the Lounge door. Could Joan have come back up here without your seeing her? Is there another way into the bridge from the passenger cabin downstairs? You are a terrible detective. You should know this.

The man says something to you and you do not hear what it is over the roaring of the engines. The boat is still pointed roughly at Long Beach, although by now the currents of the ocean have turned you slightly due south. You look behind you to watch the dark clump of Catalina Island diminish on the horizon. You look back at the man.

‘Where are we going?’ you shout.

‘Not golfing,’ he says.

WHAT DO YOU DO:
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