CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE BY COMMITTEE (11)

Here on this boat in the Pacific, the seagulls circling above, immobile between Long Beach and Santa Catalina Island, you are sitting next to a high school Earth sciences teacher. In this same passenger cabin is the dead body of an old woman who has been—possibly—murdered. The situation is absurd. Worse, you have been accused of the murder yourself.

You say none of this to Rick, the teacher. You do not tell him that you are suspected of breaking an old woman’s neck and throwing her into the ocean. You do not tell him that the captain of the boat is refusing to fire up the engines until you confess, or that you are determined to discover the actual killer in order to clear your name and get the boat moving again. You do not tell him that somewhere in Two Harbors on Catalina Island your two friends are wondering where you are, and what happened to you, and whether you are the biggest flake they’ve ever known as they sip watered-down drinks from plastic coconut shells.

Instead you look at Rick and say, ‘It sounds like your career is burdened with glorious porpoise.’

Rick looks at you with a half-cocked grin on his face, uncertain.

‘Because you said you were teaching the kids about the porpoises,’ you say.

‘Heh,’ he says. He nods.

‘Speaking of school,’ you say, ‘Do you know Diamond Ranch High School?’

‘Is this why you came to find me?’ he asks. He glances at your clothing, the cheap casual stuff you threw on this morning in order to present a certain aura of cheap casualness, the flip-flops, the shorts. ‘Are you a recruiter or something?’ He sits up straighter. You can’t really tell if he’s joking. ‘Listen, I don’t know what they told you, but I’m not much of a teacher.’

‘Okay,’ you say, uncertain. ‘Yes or no? Diamond Ranch High School?’

‘Never heard of it,’ he says. He smiles. ‘Where is it?’

You feel the shape of the ring in your pocket. ‘Never mind,’ you say. You notice a wedding ring on his left hand. There is no evidence of other rings on any of this other fingers.

Rick shrugs. ‘I didn’t want the job anyway,’ he says. You stand to leave and Rick holds up one finger. ‘Let me know if you see those two kids,’ he says, ‘Pauline and that boy who’s mooning over her. On second thought, if you see them, let them know I’m looking for them.’

You agree and leave Rick where he’s sitting in the row of blue stuffed seats arranged like a wide airplane in the passenger cabin.

You need to find the owner of the Diamond Ranch ring. It’s the only thing you have to go on. You can’t help thinking that if you were a real detective—if you had any idea of what you were doing—you’d have gathered two handfuls of clues by now. You try to think of what sort of thing this would be. You can’t dust for fingerprints. What are the three things needed to prove a crime? Motive, opportunity, something else? You look at your notepad, the small memo-size paper with the two-color Islander Express logo on it. You haven’t written down a single thing.

Diamond Ranch High School, you write. Then: Chavez, Rick, and you cross that out with one line.

You look at the paper. This seems hopeless.

You are still standing in the passenger cabin, here in the aisle between the rows of seats. You aren’t ready to talk to Mrs. Shorter’s daughter and her boyfriend yet. Joan and her crew are still in the corner, speaking together. You don’t have anything to say to them, presently. The woman with the young boy is sitting nearby—the one who saw you up on the open-air deck just before you went down to look at the porpoises. There are a bunch of other people for whom you have, as yet, no association whatsoever.

The carpet is a garish geometric pattern of grey and red and blue. You can see how it is worn into a less-vibrant dishwater color in the aisle where hundreds of people walk every day. Details. You need to listen to the details around you. Someone on this boat is a murderer and they are letting you take the blame. You need to remember that, to keep it personal. Someone is lying about you, but they can be caught. People get caught all the time. How does that happen? Details. The ceiling is low and uniformly off-white, with large-bulb spotlights every few feet. Half of the lights are off. There is a panel of light switches over on the back wall of the cabin by the door to the bathrooms.

You try to focus on people’s fingers. You are looking for tan lines from missing high school class rings. You are already drawing suspicious looks from half of the passengers on this boat—what harm could it do?

You head back outside onto the V-shaped bow. No one has moved since you passed through here earlier, as far as you can tell. The sun glints off the railing and you squint and use it as an excuse to look down at hands.

‘Hey,’ someone says to you. The voice is very close.

You look up into the face of the older man with the rectangular hands in the bright coral Hawaiian shirt. He is frowning.

‘I know what you did,’ he says. He points one square-tipped finger level at your nose. ‘I know what you did.’

You clear your throat. People are staring. You look at the man. His hair is cut short, a military cut, and there are deep lines in his tanned face. He is huge. There is a whisper of white stubble along the left line of his jaw. You try to step back a little but you are only just barely outside on the bow and the smooth tinted glass of the cabin door is behind you. Then man is breathing heavily. You focus on the hand held in your face. The nail of the index finger is ragged and looks bitten. There is a bright white stripe on the ring finger where no ring is.

‘Diamond Ranch,’ you say quietly. ‘Nineteen fifty-seven.’

‘What?’ then man says. ‘What’s that?’

‘Diamond Ranch High School,’ you repeat.

He lowers his hand. ‘Who are you,’ he says.

WHAT DO YOU DO:
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