CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE BY COMMITTEE (17)

Gavin ambles over to you with a huge grin on his face. You are already regretting this. Behind him on the floor of the passenger cabin by the boarding door, Mrs. Shorter’s body is motionless, draped in a beach towel, its thick material forming a crude bas-relief imitation of her features. You wonder if there isn’t somewhere better for her body to be moved to. Is there only the one room on the bridge? A parade of terrible ideas marches through your imagination—storing the body in the bathroom, throwing Mrs. Shorter back overboard, laying her out on the open-air deck and recommending no one go up there.

‘Gavin,’ you say.

He straightens his spine and clicks his heels together, still with the goofy smile plastered on. He looks like a cartoon version of himself. ‘You ever read those Nancy Drew books?’ he says. He tosses a look back over his shoulder at the crewman with the clipboard. ‘Supposed to be for girls, like the girls’ version of the Hardy Boys, but whatever. I used to read those things all the time at the library. You read them?’

You sigh heavily. ‘Gavin,’ you say. ‘You’re doing a great job. Stay here for a second.’

‘What?’

‘Hang on.’

You thought that you had an idea but now you can’t decide whether it would be better to send Gavin after the crew or to ply him for information here and now. You’ll come back to it.

That’s odd, though, isn’t it? You wouldn’t have pegged Gavin as a library haunt. You think of making a note of it but don’t want anything written down in case you end up needing his help with your notes later. You haven’t figured him out yet. You tell yourself that this situation here on this boat is making you a quick study of human behavior and a wielder of keen observation, but more realistically you aren’t sure that’s been demonstrated yet.

You leave Gavin where he’s standing—still in his faux-military pose—and return back over your last handful of steps to where Pauline is still sitting.

‘I have a question,’ you say.

She looks up at you, bright-eyed.

‘Or maybe it’s more like a favor. Or a job.’

‘Is this for the case?’ she says. Something about the way she says the word case sounds like a child swearing for the first time.

You nod. ‘The case,’ you say. ‘I need information. I don’t even know how many people are here. I don’t know anything.’

‘That’s a good defense,’ Gavin says from right behind you.

You half-turn and see him there and make a point of not saying anything to him. He wasn’t that far away to begin with, but now he’s leaning in conspiratorially. A single spotlight bulb is reflected twice in the lenses of his thick-rimmed eyeglasses. You turn back to Pauline.

‘I need you to talk to your classmates and find out anything you can,’ you say. ‘Who was where, what anyone heard anyone say, anything out of the ordinary or memorable, especially if it has to do with Mrs. Shorter.’

‘Whom you don’t know,’ Gavin says.

‘Whom I don’t know,’ you repeat.

Pauline makes a bit of a face. ‘If I do that will you talk to my boyfriend Drew for me?’

‘You want me to talk to Drew for you?’

‘It’s about his parents. I just think that, like, someone older? If you would maybe have more, like, perspective, or a greater framework or something?’

‘I can talk to Drew,’ Gavin says. He’s moved again to stand beside you and is looking down at Pauline. ‘I don’t have a job yet.’ He looks at you.

‘Who are you?’ Pauline says.

You introduce the two of them to one another. Mrs. Shorter’s body behind you impresses a certain gravity on the back of your psyche. It is an unusual setting for an introduction. Gavin sticks his right arm straight out in a handshake which Pauline stands and reciprocates with a bemused look on her face.

‘I need you to stay here,’ you say to Gavin. A thought occurs to you. ‘Keep an eye on Mrs. Shorter.’

‘You think she’s going somewhere?’ he says.

‘You never know,’ you say. You aren’t sure what you mean by that but try to make it sound freighted with import. ‘I’m going back up to the deck.’

As you walk away, Pauline pulls a black-covered spiral-bound notebook out of her purse and furrows her brow. You feel a small sense of accomplishment. Gavin returns to his position near the crewman with the clipboard and the two exchange glances. You step out onto the bow and breeze past the woman with the young boy in the plaid shorts and look briefly at Mrs. Shorter’s daughter and her boyfriend, still leaning against the bulwark railing, and grit your teeth. You head up the ladder to the open-air deck.

The very air seems over-bright in the naked sunlight. The world consists of a white glare. You squint your eyes and step off the top of the ladder and see Bob, Joan, and the other crewman roaring with laughter. Behind them, on the deck’s periphery, the four teenage boys from before are turned toward those three and chuckling as though to appear that they’re part of whatever conversation they’re missing out on. A few more passengers have wandered up here and are speaking quietly in pairs or standing alone. A man with a shaved head is walking briskly around the perimeter and looks to be attempting to exercise. You see Drew standing at the back against the bulwark, turned away, throwing coins from his pocket as far out into the sea as he can.

You look at Bob. Out of the corner of his eye, he returns the gaze.

WHAT DO YOU DO:
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