CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE BY COMMITTEE (25)

Up here on the open-air deck of the Islander Express there ought to be a sense of travel, adventure, the constant-streaming ocean air, international-bound airplanes tracing widening white lines through the far-overhead sky, the sun carving a subtle arc across the dome of the earth. The boat instead sits on the surface of the sea, its only movement that of the waves which alternate highs and lows in every direction. Below you, in the airplane-seated passenger cabin, lies an old woman’s dead body. Somewhere around you on this boat is the murderer, someone who broke the woman’s neck and threw her overboard into the opalescent Pacific.

Your back is to the bulk of the boat. Behind you Drew and Pauline, presumably, are still engaged in tense conversation—about what you do not know—at the top of port-side ladder which joins the aft open-air deck at the top of the boat with the bow a deck below, where Esme Shorter and her boyfriend Royce are probably at this moment discussing you, and whether they believe you to be guilty of Esme’s mother’s death, and if not whether you are competent to discover the true culprit. And here before you is Esme’s father, presumably, Bob, the ex-Navy man in a crew cut and a bright coral Hawaiian shirt. You look at the ring on his finger on his right hand, the dark pewter shape of the atom. You look at Bob’s grey eyes, the reddish tinge to the skin around his jaw. He is, you think, perhaps your prime suspect.

‘Bob,’ you say. There is an acrid taste on the back of your tongue. ‘I have a question.’

He looks at you again, one arm stretched out to the side and the open palm resting along the top edge of the bulwark that he’s leaning against. ‘Shoot,’ he says. He is still angry.

‘Where were you when everyone was looking at the shark?’ you say. ‘Down on the bow.’

Bob continues to peer at you as though he hasn’t heard your question. His mouth is set in a thin line. ‘Shark?’ he says, finally.

‘Yeah, everyone went to the bow to look at it.’ You try to keep your face as neutral as his. You think of poker. ‘You must have seen everyone on the boat going to one place.’

He nods slowly, not taking his eyes off of you. ‘A shark,’ he says. ‘That what it was.’

You do not reply. You try to decide whether you should act aggressively. What would be natural in this situation?

‘I think,’ he says, slowly, ‘I was on my way to the head.’

‘The bathroom,’ you say.

‘The head,’ he repeats. ‘Unfortunately, it was, uh, ocupado.’ He grins with a single corner of his mouth.

‘What do you mean,’ you say.

He lifts his hand off of the bulwark and makes a vague horizontal circular gesture. ‘Kids, you know,’ he says. ‘Can’t leave ’em alone for two minutes.’

‘So you were in the passenger cabin,’ you say.

His eyebrows shoot up momentarily. ‘I see,’ he says. ‘I see. You want me to provide a corroborating witness? You want me to, I don’t know, fuckin’ show you my phone records and sign an affidavit?’

‘When you spoke to Marjorie,’ you say, ‘did she seem upset?’

‘Go to hell,’ Bob says.

‘I’m trying to establish a chain of events,’ you say. ‘I’m trying to help.’

‘She didn’t want to see me,’ he says. ‘That’s what she told me. She said that to me. To my face. She stood right there where you are and said that. Was she upset?’ He looks away suddenly and you think that you see a bit of misting in his eyes and his features writhe for an instant before they harden into a scowl which he twists back at you. ‘Was she upset,’ he says.

‘Did she say she’d talked to the captain,’ you say quietly.

‘It didn’t come up,’ he says.

‘Okay,’ you say. You raise your hands a bit. You feel that you are doing this a lot. ‘Okay.’

‘You want to know if I killed Marjorie Lambert,’ Bob says. His voice drops to a hush. The shrill call of a seagull punctuates his question. ‘I haven’t seen her in thirty years. She shows up here, I had no idea. No idea. Her daughter is with her. The daughter’s boyfriend, a scrawny shit if I ever saw one. She tells me he’s taking care of her, she doesn’t need anyone’s help. She doesn’t want to see me, is what she says. I offer to help her, she isn’t happy. I can see that. I can see that. She walks away from me. I haven’t seen her in thirty years. What’s changed for me? Let me ask you that. Why would I kill her?’ His voice rises and now there are definitely tears in his eyes. ‘Me?’ he says. He pauses and closes his eyes and opens them. ‘I’m going golfing,’ he says.

There is the sound of a door opening behind you and Bob’s eyes go over your shoulder and you turn and see Charles, the crewman in his white uniform. He is looking at you with slight hesitation.

‘Captain needs to see you,’ he says.

‘I’m working on it,’ you say. ‘Tell her to hold on.’

He shakes his head. ‘ Chinatown is over,’ he says. ‘We’re going back.'

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