CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE BY COMMITTEE (8)

You step a bit closer to the two teenagers who are leaning against the bulwark up on the open-air deck. The Diamond Ranch High School class ring is in your hand. There is a certain feeling that you are beginning to get, a feeling of something large and dark and occluding, something in front of you that you cannot yet see.

A seagull perched on the far bulwark of the open-air dock spreads its wings slowly and then folds them again, like a man stretching.

‘Hey,’ you say to the girl, who is looking up at you. The boy turns his head towards you as well. ‘You guys are in high school, right?’

The girl nods. ‘Earth sciences,’ she says.

You aren’t quite sure what she means by that, but you ignore it for now. ‘What high school do you go to?’

The boy perks up a little and shifts his weight. The cemented deck that he’s sitting on looks uncomfortable and grimy. ‘Sierra Vista,’ he says, with a trace of pride.

‘Sierra Vista,’ you say. ‘Have you heard of Diamond Ranch High School?’

‘No,’ the boy says flatly. The girl looks as though she is considering it for a moment and then she shakes her head as well.

Oh. You hold the class ring out in your hand and show it to them. The girl reaches out and grabs it from the flat of your palm.

‘Is this a football?’ she says. ‘This is, like, crazy old.’

‘It’s a guy’s ring,’ the boy says, helpfully.

‘This doesn’t mean anything to you,’ you say.

They both shake their heads. The girl hands the ring back to you apologetically. ‘You should ask Mr. Chavez,’ she says. ‘Do you know Mr. Chavez?’

‘No one knows Mr. Chavez,’ the boy says to her. ‘We’re on some boat.’

‘Who is Mr. Chavez?’ you ask. You glance up at the Pacific and the tail end of a breeze tricks its way under your shirt and feels good and cool on your skin.

The girl stands up, pushing up against the boy’s knee, which is still laid out against the deck. She is tall and pretty and her hair is pulled back in a tight brown ponytail. ‘Okay so we’re on a class trip? There are like all these water buffalos on Catalina and we’re supposed to study them and write a paper about what they eat or whatever.’

‘They’re bison,’ the boy says. He stands up too although the look on his face indicates that he has no idea why.

She rolls her eyes slightly. ‘Okay whatever, but so there’s bison on Catalina and we’re supposed to write a paper so we’re taking a class trip for Earth sciences. Mr. Chavez is our teacher so you should talk to him. He’s really sweet.’

‘Mr. Chavez,’ you repeat.

‘He’s, like, tall, and Mexican and he looks like Jesus,’ she says.

‘He’s wearing a tie,’ the boy adds.

You can’t imagine what Mr. Chavez will be able to tell you about anything outside of high school-level Earth sciences, but you file the information away anyway. There aren’t that many people on the Islander Express and you’re bound to run into him sooner or later, especially if Joan continues to hold the boat as ransom for your guilty plea. The idea of a teacher being here on this boat, responsible for all of these teenagers, makes you wonder what everyone else must think about the captain’s refusal to get moving. Maybe no one is thinking about it just yet—they could be still coming down off the shock of Mrs. Shorter’s death. Maybe they think it’s normal. You start to wonder about what paperwork a school instructor would have to file if three dozen high school kids end up spending the night in the cold on the Pacific Ocean.

‘Okay,’ you say, ‘what about Mrs. Shorter?’

‘Who,’ the boy says with as little intonation as possible.

‘I don’t know who that is,’ the girl says. ‘Is she from Diamond State or whatever?’

‘She’s the woman,’ you say, ‘the one who just died.’

‘Oh,’ the boy says.

‘Did either of you know her or talk to her? Did you see anything?’

‘No, officer,’ the boy says. He holds his hands out in front of him, palms up, fingers spread, empty. ‘Lock me up.’

You ignore him and look at the girl. She shakes her head. ‘We came up here to get away from all of that,’ she says.

You should have a notepad. Joan is insisting that you confess to murdering Mrs. Shorter. You aren’t sure why she’s so convinced that anyone did, and the fact that she’s latched onto the idea that it was you specifically is, hopefully, just a matter of circumstantial convenience. But if you could demonstrate that it was an accident—somehow, maybe someone was up here on the open-air deck when she fell out—or if you could demonstrate that she was killed by someone else—

The boat is a closed system. Excluding fantastical contrivances like scuba-diving assassins or UFOs, the killer, if one exists, must be on this boat.

You look around. Gavin is still MIA. The vast majority of the passengers are down at the bow or in the passenger cabin below. The sun is still slowly creeping upward in the sky, gradually shortening shadows and twinkling off the peaks of waves in a million glittering instances. You squeeze the ring in your hand.

‘What are your names,’ you ask the two teenagers in front of you. ‘In case I need it later.’

‘Drew,’ the boy says.

‘Pauline,’ says the girl.

‘Drew, Pauline,’ you say. ‘Thanks.’

WHAT DO YOU DO:
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