CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE BY COMMITTEE (24)

You walk away from Esme and Royce and feel your head swimming. You think about the parking lot where the Islander Express boards, back at Long Beach. You can see it—Long Beach, that is—off across the ocean. The boat has now rotated a great deal in the current and the waves and the breeze is now coming straight across the flat open surface of the bow and you can see Long Beach on one side of you, wide, brown, speckled with office buildings and calamitous civilization, and Catalina on the other side, narrower, hunched, isolated by the water, looking impossible and unreachable. It seems incredible to consider people there, drinking mai tais and shoving one another into the ever-rolling waves, clamorous over early-morning sand dollars and late-afternoon tide pool anemones, the hotels and golf carts, the touristy restaurants with faux-rustic walls, Polynesian waitresses in insulting grass skirts making tips from traders who buy novelty coffee mugs with cartoon letters enclosing faded photos of wind surfers and water skiers. How did they all get there? So far away? You’ve only managed half the distance.

You climb up the port-side ladder back up to the open-air deck and find Drew and Pauline speaking to each other right in front of the door to the Captain’s Lounge. Pauline gives you a half-embarrassed goofy wave and Drew immediately draws his face down into a morose far-away faint frown and then cracks up.

‘Oh, my parents, my parents,’ he says.

Joan and Charles, the crewman, are no longer here on the open-air deck. They are presumably in the Captain’s Lounge or through the door marked Do Not Enter: Boat Crew Only. The four teenage boys who were up here earlier are also gone, and you wonder if you missed their coming down to the bow and into the passenger cabin while your back was to the majority of the boat. The only people here on the deck currently, aside from yourself, are Drew and Pauline, before you, and Bob, who is standing by himself at the aft bulwark. He is turned away and leaned out over the drop down to the waves, doing something with his hands that you cannot see from your position at the top of the ladder.

‘Pauline,’ you say. ‘Drew.’

You realize that there is some kind of tension between the two of them that did not exist—that you noticed—the last time you spoke to the two of them. Pauline’s eyes look strained and although she is smiling at you the expression is wan and unconvincing. Drew, despite having copped to his earlier lies, seems genuinely glad to see you, if only to interrupt whichever conversation is occurring between the two of them.

‘Working the case?’ Drew says. He pulls your Islander Express notepad out of his back pocket. It is now folded in half, the thick cardboard backing distorted and wrinkled, the pages dog-eared together and several pulling away from the glue holding them to the pad. He unfolds it with both hands and you can see that he’s written a long list of names down the right-hand side of the first sheet. One of the names in the list catches your eye: Tom Cruise.

‘You’ve been a big help, Drew,’ you say. You walk away from them, leaving the notepad with Drew, and approach Bob.

The hulking rectangular shape of him in the absurd coral-colored Hawaiian shirt is still folded over the bulwark and as you get nearer you can see that he is holding onto the one torn-loose American flag that hangs limply from one grommet on its white pole. His big square fingers are trying to get the bottom corner where the second grommet has torn loose to reattach but it seems unclear whether he has any methodology in mind aside from blind optimism and hope.

‘How’s it going,’ you say to him. You put both your hands on the bulwark and lean forward a little to get your head into his peripheral vision.

He straightens up, dropping the flag back to hang like a dead rag. ‘Well,’ he says.

‘I thought of some more questions for you,’ you say. ‘About Marjorie.’

His grey eyes are cool and hard. ‘You’re still on that,’ he says.

You nod. ‘Did you know they were going to be on this boat today?’

‘I told you already,’ he growls, ‘of course not. “They”?’

‘Marjorie Shorter,’ you say. ‘And Esme.’ You watch his face.

‘I didn’t know,’ he says again.

‘Did you know that she’s your daughter?’ you say.

He looks at you for a moment and then barks a laugh. He does this somehow without smiling. He looks at you for a while longer, studying your eyes. You feel pinned to the floor. ‘I guess that could be true,’ he says, quietly. ‘Although the odds are probably against it, knowing Marjorie.’

‘I don’t know what you mean,’ you say.

He holds up two fingers pressed together and then spreads them in a deliberate fashion into a wide V. ‘She was one of those girls,’ he says. He sounds far away. ‘You couldn’t nail her down if you tried.’

‘And you did try,’ you say.

He waves the question away like swatting a mosquito.

‘Is that what you were talking about?’ you ask. ‘Earlier? I know you spoke to her.’ An idea occurs to you. ‘You gave her your ring,’ you say.

Bob closes his eyes and tilts his head up. The ocean breeze stirs the short haircut. ‘I’m not much of a romantic,’ he says into the wind.

‘You thought—what? You saw her again after thirty years and wanted her to stay with you?’ you say. You do not say it unkindly.

He opens his eyes again and looks at you levelly. ‘Let’s not kid ourselves,’ he says. ‘She’s living off of that scrawny chicken-neck kid. He can barely support himself as it is. I thought she could be better off.’

‘With you,’ you say.

He turns his head and spits slowly off the bulwark and into the ocean below. It makes no sound.

‘She said no,’ you say.

‘She’s not the type to get nailed down,’ he says to himself. He holds his right hand in his left and screws the high school class ring once around his ring finger. He looks up at you. He scowls.

WHAT DO YOU DO:
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