CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE BY COMMITTEE (27)

You look at Joan where she sits on the counter in the Captain’s Lounge. She is still wearing that broad smile on her face. You realize that here, in the interior of the Lounge, this is the first time you have seen her without her sunglasses on. There are tiny sun-smoothed crinkles around her eyes. Her eyes are blue.

‘Now,’ she says.

You fold your hands together, your elbows on your naked knees. ‘Joan, with respect, that isn’t true,’ you say. You make an effort not to glance at Charles, who is leaning backward against the door that is the only way out of here.

Joan’s hands are resting on the countertop edge on either side of her. She swings her feet slightly. ‘What’s not true,’ she says. Her grin has not faltered.

You exhale. You wonder, for the first time, possibly, about Gavin, about where he is right now. You last saw him heading into the passenger cabin that is below your feet right now—you aren’t sure what his aim was, or even whether he took seriously your order to search for Mrs. Shorter’s purse. Would he be asking people about it? Looking under the seats, in the recessed light fixtures? Is he looking in the boat’s bathroom, in whatever cabinets or doors or compartments it may have? You have an image of Gavin on his hands and knees, peeling back the damp carpeting beneath Mrs. Shorter’s towel-draped corpse, knocking methodically against the flooring of the cabin to uncover hidden nooks or passageways. His long gangly arms with the elbows crooked. You imagine him striding into the Captain’s Lounge with the purse tucked neatly under one arm, his right hand in a mock salute, Joan’s expression of shock and outrage, the click of handcuffs and the roiling whirl of sirens.

You would love to be able to prove her wrong rather than simply assert it. To taste that victory. You open your mouth.

On the other hand, what does Joan know about the missing purse? How did she come about the confidence that she could claim that it wasn’t on the boat? It could be a coincidence, you suppose. Now you do look at Charles, and he is looking right back at you. You cannot read his face.

‘Your argument with Mrs. Shorter,’ you say. ‘It wasn’t about a purse.’

Joan looks at you curiously. She presses one hand against her cheek. ‘I wonder what makes you say that,’ she says.

‘She was scared,’ you say. ‘She said that there was someone that she didn’t want to see. And you told her that you would help.’

‘That’s true,’ she says with arched eyebrows. ‘I did say that I wanted to help her. I don’t know that that makes me a liar, though.’

‘It was Bob, wasn’t it,’ you say. ‘She didn’t want to see Bob. She hadn’t seen him for thirty years, and that was on purpose. She saw him here on this boat, on your boat, and she wanted to stay away from him. She asked you to turn back so that she could keep away from him. She was scared. She was scared and she was crying.’ As you speak it is as if you can see it happening in front of you on the open-air deck, the woman and her son in the plaid shorts nearby, several other passengers looking on, Marjorie Shorter with tears down her face, begging the captain, her eyes darting over to the ladder from the bow, fearful of the moment when Bob might climb up to talk to her. It is very clear.

‘Is that right,’ Joan says.

‘Are you covering for him?’ you say. ‘You don’t even know him.’

Is that true?

Joan pulls her hand down from her face and shifts her weight back onto her tailbone and claps both her hands together once. ‘Oh, this is delightful,’ she says. ‘A conspiracy. Is this what you’ve been doing this whole time? Darting around on my boat, thinking up this scheme? Are you going to tell this to the Coast Guard? Can I be there?’

Charles is looking particularly uncomfortable now. His hands are clasped behind his back as he leans against the aft door out to the alcove. He is looking from you to Joan and back again. His eyes meet yours and he seems to be pleading: Leave me out of this.

‘It’s true, though,’ you say. ‘She said that she didn’t want to see him. She said that to you.’

Joan is still smiling. She nods slowly. ‘Yes, but it’s none of my business,’ she says. ‘And I doubt it’s any of yours.’

You think of Joan and Bob standing on the open-air deck, exchanging stories of islands and histories. Their full-throated laughter, his geometrical gestures. ‘Someone killed Marjorie Shorter on your boat,’ you say evenly. ‘That makes it your business. And you’re trying to pin it on me: That makes it my business too.’

‘So Bob—that man out there—threw her off my boat, and I’m lying to help him. Why would I do that?’ The smile disappears into hints at the corners of her mouth and she leans forward now and puts both her hands together in front of her lips and she peers at you with curiosity. ‘Why would any of us do these things?’ she says.

Behind her, outside the window, the sky soars mutely above the clouds.

WHAT DO YOU DO:
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