CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE BY COMMITTEE (34)

‘Where is he,’ Bob says again. He drops the stub of cigarette on the deck and steps forward onto the butt in a single practiced motion.

You hold up one hand. ‘Stay here for a minute,’ you say. ‘I’m going to talk to him myself.’

The boat slows inexorably and you feel the pressure of collapsing time held against the back of your skull. You do not wait for a response from Bob or Esme and you turn and clamber back down the ladder toward the bow. Gavin is still sitting on the steps—Drew is nowhere to be found, and you assume he’s gone back into the passenger cabin to try to smooth things over with Pauline, or is perhaps out on the bow somewhere that you can’t see, avoiding the issue—and as you approach him from above you see him thumbing through a fat wad of money, counting the bills, losing his place, shuffling back a few, starting over.

You pause. He turns and looks up at you and the money is gone, disappeared into his loose pants pocket maybe, and he gives you that lunatic grin of his. ‘Dude needs a lawyer,’ he says to you. ‘And not just a boat lawyer, like a real one.’

‘Who does?’ You are still thinking about the money. You decide not to mention it.

‘That fucking kid,’ Gavin says. ‘Drew. Maybe a tutor, too, I don’t know. Where you going now? We’re almost back.’

‘Royce,’ you say.

‘The boyfriend?’

You nod.

Gavin shrugs broadly. ‘Better watch it,’ he says. ‘He’s got that mean left hook.’

You slide down past Gavin’s knee and onto the bow deck and look back at him briefly and he waves at you and gives a curt salute. On the bow the buildings of downtown Long Beach are looming closer, the ocean-facing sides of them almost uniformly oatmeal-colored and industrial, blandly ugly, all piping and rust and uncommitted spraypainting. You wonder how far it is to the dock. The boat is motoring along at a relaxed but intentional pace, producing no wake, the water sluicing off calmly into thick green eddies of silt. The sun is overhead.

Drew is leaning against the bulwark railing at the prow and watching the ocean immediately below him, the swollen chunks of ancient piers broken off roughly into castoff vertical logs, the drifting and forgotten orange plastic shopping bags, the torn-loose seaweed that wraps itself around minute oilslicks and bits of white garbage. You leave him where he is and go into the passenger cabin.

Rick Chavez looks up at you as you enter. The rest of the passengers are sitting in the long blue rows of seats, mostly looking out the starboard windows at Long Beach, at escape. Ernesto is all the way at the back of the cabin by the door to the bathroom and is scribbling something on his clipboard. Mrs. Shorter’s body by the boarding door is beginning to seem like a permanent feature. Royce is standing to port with one shoulder pressed against the glass window looking across the seats and heads at the city passing by outside. You approach him.

‘Royce,’ you say.

He looks at you and clears his throat.

‘I need to ask you something.’

‘What,’ he says.

You try to keep your voice low and neutral, to remove hints of accusation. ‘What were you doing when Esme’s mother went over?’

‘I talked to you about this already,’ he says. ‘I was sitting right over there. I was reading.’

‘With Esme,’ you say.

‘With Esme.’

‘And what about… what she did,’ you say. ‘When was that?’

He sighs. ‘You’re saying it’s my fault.’

‘It was the same time,’ you say. ‘When you were reading. She got up and went to the bathroom. She was obviously gone for some time. Did you get up? Do anything?’

His eyes narrow and he does not speak.

‘Can you tell me what you were reading?’ you say.

The sound and feel of the boat’s engines cut off entirely now and you feel for an instant that you are falling, that momentum has taken hold entirely, and the boat drifts forward in a weird silence and you see some of the passengers stand and gather their belongings and move with hesitancy because of the dead body that is still laid in front of the exit and an uneasy, impatient energy fills the cabin. Outside the starboard windows is a thistle field of sails, the ropes and masts, the boatslips, and you see Ernesto running out toward the bow and you look that way and Charles is down there too and they are preparing ropes of their own.

You scan the docks that you can see from here and there is no sign of any Coast Guard, no policemen, no uniforms except for the stark white of Ernesto and Charles, and then you realize that there is no ambulance, no EMTs or anyone standing wait for the Islander Express. You look at Royce.

There is a dead body here on this boat. There has been a murder. Didn’t Joan radio ahead? You think of the antenna array at the top of the bridge, the bristle of white, the seagulls. What was it she’d said? She wasn’t calling the Coast Guard or the police. She didn’t want her boat turning into a crime scene, she’d said.

‘Royce,’ you say again. ‘What were you reading?’

‘Fuck you,’ he says. ‘I wasn’t reading, I was drawing. That’s what I said before. Drawing.’ He mimes twirling a pencil in the air, sketching whirls or curlicues with his left hand.

The door from the bow slams open and Charles hustles in and looks at Mrs. Shorter’s body on the floor and uses one foot to roll her indelicately to one side. The beach towel draped over her rolls with her and you can see the denim shorts, the backs of her calves purpling with pooled blood.

‘Jesus,’ Royce says.

Charles does something to the boarding door and Ernesto comes into the passenger cabin as well and behind him is Joan. She is wearing a jaunty captain’s hat for the first time and her sunglasses are back on and she looks around the cabin and finds you and comes over. In one hand she is holding a shoulder bag that sags with weight. The bag looks familiar to you. She gives a look to Royce and then turns back to you.

‘Charles,’ she says over her shoulder, facing you, ‘get that old Navy asshole down here and get the police.’

You feel confusion reconfigure your face.

Joan smiles. ‘You said he’s our man, right?’

DO YOU:

A.    Tell Joan that Bob is the murderer.
B.    Tell Joan that Royce is the murderer.
C.    Something else:
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