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Gasp

Gasp

Gasp 9


  She traces this picture and Sawyer passes it around the room.

  “Are the people on the floor before or after the little jolt?” I ask.

  “Hmm. Before. That’s weird.”

  I write everything down.

  As Tori goes on to find the next frame, Ben studies the sketch. He looks up. “Am I allowed to ask questions or . . .”

  “Please,” I say. “Yes.”

  “Tori,” he says, “I’m just curious. Have you spent much time on the water? Sailing, fishing, swimming, anything like that?”

  “No, hardly at all. I mean, my mom and I went to this little cottage once on a lake that was more like a pond, and I’ve spent a few hours at the beach now and then, but I’m not really a beach fan.”

  He smiles warmly. “So you won’t be offended if I correct you?”

  She laughs. “Heck no.”

  Ben nods and holds up her sketch. “Technically, this isn’t what I’d call a ship. It’s a ferry. I wondered that at first when you mentioned all the rows of seating and the glassed-in observation deck.” He points to the vessel drawing. “See how stout and flat it is? Unless the computer stretched the image, I’d say this might even be a car ferry.”

  Sawyer looks at Ben. “Sawyer is impressed,” he says, and glances at me. “Did I do that right?”

  I grin. “Perfect.” I turn to Ben. “Great. So, Ben, have you been on the water much?”

  He scratches his head. “I have.”

  “What’s your experience?”

  “Well,” he says, almost sheepishly, “my family owns a marina. And I’m also a lifeguard.”

  Twenty-Eight

  I blink. “Seriously, Ben?”

  “Yep.”

  “I think I’m in love right now.”

  “Me too,” says everybody else in the room.

  Ben laughs it off.

  “No, I’m serious,” I say. “This whole impossible feat just got a little bit easier, thanks to you. I mean, as long as it’s not in an ocean somewhere.” I press my lips together, forgetting that I hadn’t mentioned that little caveat to Tori. If this happens in the ocean and we bail, we don’t save Tori from going insane.

  “My guess is it’s right here in Lake Michigan,” Ben says. “You can’t see across it, so Lake Michigan can very easily look like an ocean, especially in a storm. There were twenty-foot waves when the remains of Superstorm Sandy pushed through here—remember that one? And that’s not even the record.”

  “What’s the record?” I ask, suddenly curious.

  “Oh, heck, I don’t know. Twenty-three feet, I think.”

  “Ben, I had no idea you were such a geek,” Sawyer says with sincere admiration in his voice.

  “Back off, Sawyer,” Trey mutters as he types frantically on Ben’s computer.

  Tori moves on to the next scene, and the next, and the next, all of which offer no additional clues, though the progression of the drawings of the ferry listing and sinking lower and lower in the water is frightening.

  She goes to the next. “This one I’m really curious about,” she murmurs, adjusting the slide on the screen. “Right around here there are the rocks and a little glimpse of land, I think. If I can only . . . just . . .” She sticks her tongue out of the corner of her mouth as she tries to land on the scene just right.

  “There,” she says. She squints at the screen. “In this scene my point of view is from the other side of the ship—I mean, the ferry—as it begins to tip in the water. On the right there’s a splotch of orange and I can see people on it. I think that’s a lifeboat.”

  “Interesting,” I say.

  “And looking over here,” she says, pointing to the other side of the screen, “I see the top of a building.” She looks closer and shakes her head. “I can’t tell for sure, but I think that’s what it is.”

  “Hang on,” Sawyer says, and he rummages through his computer case. “I just remembered I snagged my mother’s reading glasses back when I was going through this, and I never gave them back. This is what helped me read the stuff on the board in the classroom at UC so I could figure out which room it was.”

  Tori takes the glasses and puts them on, magnifying the bit of a building. “I take it back,” she says after a moment. “It’s the tops of two buildings. And something red over here.”

  “Hmm,” I say. “Two buildings. The edge of a skyline, maybe? Could it be Chicago?”

  “I can’t tell.” Tori lifts her gaze. “I’m sorry.” She looks exhausted.

  I check my phone clock and see we’ve been here for two hours. I reach out and touch her hand. “Don’t be sorry. You’re doing great.”

  She smiles. “If you say so,” she says, taking a deep breath and letting it out. “Let me see what else is here.”

  She slides the vision forward ever so carefully. “Here’s the one that makes me sick.” She studies it for a moment. “The ship is half sunk, almost lying on its side, a big wave behind it. There are two lifeboats with people in the water clinging to them. And a third lifeboat that’s empty, floating away, while the remaining ferry passengers fall and slide over the railing and into the water below.”

  She stares at the screen, and then slowly picks up a fresh sheet of tracing paper and starts another outline.

  I look down at my notes, not sure what to say. It’s probably better just to be silent and let her do what she needs to do.

  When I look up again, Sawyer is leaning forward, eyes closed, a bead of sweat dripping down his temple. I open my mouth to ask if he’s all right, but then I close it again. Because I finally realize what it is that’s affecting him.

  I think back to a conversation he, Trey, and I had in the school hallway about our biggest fears after Trey had said his worst nightmare was a school shooting.

  “Suffocating,” I remember saying mine was.

  And then there was Sawyer. Who said drowning.

  Twenty-Nine

  Trey looks up from Ben’s computer. “There are two ferry services that cross Lake Michigan,” he reports. “One sails round-trip from Manitowoc, Wisconsin, to Ludington, Michigan, and the other goes between Milwaukee and Muskegon, Michigan.”

  Rowan, looking at her phone, chimes in triumphantly, “And the second one is white on top and blue on the bottom.”

  I turn to see her phone. “That’s the Milwaukee one?”

  “Yes.” She shows it to Tori. “Is that it?”

  “Wow,” Tori says. “Yes, that’s totally it. You guys are good.”

  I look at Trey. Milwaukee is a good hour-and-a-half drive from home. “So, Milwaukee. Is that within our, um, jurisdiction?”

  Tori turns sharply, a look of fear in her eyes. “What do you mean? Can’t you guys help me? Is there another team of you vision-solver people up there?”

  Trey gives me a dirty look. “As far as we know, there aren’t any other weirdos like us anywhere,” he says to Tori. “So of course we’ll go to Milwaukee.”

  And as much as I wanted to call this one off at one point, I’m glad Trey isn’t going to give me a hard time about going forward. Because deep down I am fully committed, and there’s no way I can let Tori deal with this on her own when the reason it’s happening to her is because of me.

  We pack up our things to leave and let Tori get some rest. Before I go, she asks, “Did I do all right?”

  I lean down to her in the chair and give her a hug around the shoulders. “You did great,” I say. “We’ve narrowed down one of the most important components—the where. Now all we need to figure out is when it happens.” I groan inwardly, because the when has been a constant difficulty in this process.

  “And how you’re going to save everybody.”

  “Right.” I haven’t even thought about that part yet—the impossible part. “So if you have any ideas, feel free to pass them along.” I manage a weak smile.

  “I will.”

  “And play around some more with the vision. If you have a DVR, you can pause, rewind, and fast-forward whenev
er you catch it on TV too, you know. Let me know if you find anything new.” I turn to join the others outside, but then hesitate. “Where’s your mother?”

  Tori grins sleepily. “I told her that if she hung around during this meeting, I was going to hitch a ride with you guys to UC to recover in my dorm room.”

  I laugh. “I don’t know how you handled it, being in the hospital with her there all the time. Did she ever leave?”

  “Not often,” Tori says. “I tried to get her to go to the cafeteria when I knew you were coming, but she decided she wasn’t hungry.” She rolls her eyes. “But,” she adds, with a kinder smile, “I’m pretty much all she has. My dad died when I was a baby, so . . .” She shrugs. “I cut her some slack on the smothering.”

  “I’m sorry,” I say.

  “It’s okay. I don’t remember him.”

  “Well, I’m glad today worked out.”

  “Me too. Because if my mother finds out what you said about getting hurt while you’re trying to save people, she’d stop everything.” She emits a hollow laugh. “I guess since you and Sawyer didn’t get shot, we figured you had some mystical protection or a guardian angel watching over you or something. It just doesn’t seem fair otherwise.”

  I flash a grim smile. “No, it doesn’t.”

  There is nothing more to say. I wave and wind my way out of her house to the car, where the others wait. I look at Ben and Trey and Ro, and I wonder how the hell I got so lucky to have people actually sign up for this.

  Thirty

  On Sunday, everybody’s got major stuff to study for, so we decide to abandon the hive-mind approach and instead come up with ideas individually, thinking that we might even be more effective problem solvers without being steered in one group direction. We plan to meet up at Sawyer’s on Monday night since he and Kate have wireless Internet.

  Through it all, we hardly see my parents. They are seemingly making business work with the big truck o’ balls. They’ve got a calendar of events stuck to the refrigerator, showing the various food truck lunches and market/food truck tie-in events, which seem to be a thing now that we’re heading toward the summer months. People buy local homemade goodies, spices, and fresh produce, and then support the local food truck vendors too. And Mom and Dad have managed to book a couple of private party events in the community, which they probably wouldn’t have gotten if the restaurant hadn’t burned down. That last bit was Mom’s look-on-the-bright-side take, actually, not mine. They’re gone almost every day. And so far, since the fire, my father hasn’t spent a single day in bed.

  We don’t quite know what to make of it, but Mom looks like she’s ten years younger. So Monday morning, while I wait for Trey and Rowan for school, she happens to get up early, and I tell her that.

  She smiles her beautiful smile. “Well, thanks. It helps having Dad around more,” she admits, and then confides, “You know, he really likes the customer interaction through the service window. If I’d known that would give him some spunk, I’d have had him waiting tables years ago.”

  I laugh. “Spunk.”

  “What? That word’s no good anymore? I can’t keep up with your lingo.”

  “It’s totally a good word. It’s cute, Mom. I’m going to start using it.”

  “Stop teasing me.” She kisses my cheek when we hear Trey and Rowan stampeding through the living room. I grab my backpack as they drag me to the not-delivery car.

  “You guys are so spunky today!” I say, loud enough for Mom to hear.

  “I mean it,” she calls after me.

  I grin and wave.

  “You’re weird,” Rowan says.

  • • •

  After school we head over to Sawyer’s and arrive just as Kate is leaving for her shift at Angotti’s Trattoria. She’s probably the cutest person I’ve ever seen, with this funky short bleached-blond hair and cool piercings and gorgeous tattoos. She’s kind of like a rock star to me, I guess. She’s twenty-one and goes to college and has, like, a life, you know? Plus she took Sawyer in. So that makes her a hero, too.

  I met Kate before, though I don’t remember it. It was after I crashed the meatball truck into that snowplow in the Angotti’s parking lot. I remember the seconds before the crash, how she was standing outside having a cigarette and our eyes locked for just a second while I screamed through the closed window at her to run.

  After the crash happened, she called 911 and came running over and apparently stayed and talked to me and Trey while we waited for help to come. I don’t remember that, but Trey does.

  And I guess she came by the hospital to see me once, but my dad wouldn’t let her in because she’s an Angotti, so Trey and Rowan hung out with her in the waiting room.

  So now Trey and Rowan say hey to Kate like it’s no big deal to see her again. But I get all nervous. I guess . . . I guess since I’ll never talk to Sawyer’s parents, I want her to like me. To have someone in Sawyer’s family approve of me.

  “Hey,” I say. “Thanks for the bags of stuff after the fire. We all really appreciated it.”

  “No sweat,” she says, and she gives me a hug. “Nice to see you.”

  I think I’m in supercrush mode with this girl. Not really, but yeah.

  Sawyer introduces Ben to her, and then she’s out the door, yelling behind her, “Don’t eat the prosciutto or salami, I need them for a charcuterie plate!”

  And that does it. Because nobody should get between a girl and her pork. I’m in love.

  But there is a time for crushes, and that time is not now. And maybe not ever, if we don’t figure out how to survive this sinking ferry.

  Thirty-One

  I bring out the sketches from Tori, and we take turns discussing our findings so far.

  Trey starts. “The good news is that the sinking ferry isn’t going to happen this week.”

  I look over from the well-stocked refrigerator, skeptical. “Because?”

  “Because the ferry service hasn’t started for the season yet. It starts a week from today, and there are only two ferry departure times per day. Six in the morning and twelve thirty. Since Tori sees a dim spot of light low in the sky, and the sun rises in Milwaukee ten to twenty minutes before six over the next few weeks, I deduce that this disaster happens on the early morning ferry. No idea what day, but I think this narrows down the time of day pretty nicely.” Trey looks up from his notes.

  “What about the Muskegon departures?” I ask, checking the fridge for snacks.

  “Too late in the day to line up with the sun’s position.”

  “Wow,” I say. “Have we ever known the time of something this early on? This is huge. Good work, Trey.”

  Trey leans back in his chair, looking smug. “I know,” he says.

  I slice some chorizo and two apples and assemble a little Kate-inspired charcuterie plate of my own, adding cheese, crackers, and some walnuts I find in a cupboard, and bring it to the table for everybody to share. “What else do we have?”

  My little rookie Rowan raises her hand, which is kind of adorable. “I checked the ten-day forecast and there are small chances of thunderstorms next Monday through Wednesday. That’s all I can get so far. I’ll keep an eye on it, though.”

  Ben adds, “I’ve done some more Lake Michigan and ferry research. There’s definitely an issue with riptides in the lake, especially in relationship to breakwalls, which is what I’m guessing the ferry hits and what eventually causes it to sink. The riptides might pull down individuals in the water. Added to that, water temps are still in the forties this time of year, and anybody who doesn’t make it into a lifeboat is in serious trouble.”

  He continues. “As for the ferry, I think it would have to hit that breakwall with quite a bit of force to damage it enough to eventually sink it. With the waves that high and visibility low, I could see it happening, but my guess is that Tori’s vision isn’t showing something. No little bump or glitch, as she said, would be enough to have that kind of effect.”

  “She said there wer
e people on the floor of the ferry before the bump,” Rowan says. “Maybe it hits more than once, and hard enough that people would be injured.”

  “That’s what I was thinking,” Ben says. “Speaking of lifeboats, the ferry has plenty of them, with more than enough room for a full-capacity voyage. But something must go wrong for one to be floating away empty. Could be the ferry’s tilting—that would make it hard to exit from one side.”

  I glance at Sawyer, who is quiet at the stove, sautéing onions and garlic and chopping up several Roma tomatoes.

  “Okay,” I say. “I just have to tell you that it’s such a relief not to have to do all of this myself. Thanks to all of you for putting so much work into this. We’re making a lot of progress here.”

  “Sure,” Ben says.

  “You’re welcome,” says Rowan.

  Sawyer turns around, agitation clear on his face. “Yeah, it’s all really helpful, but what I’d like to know is how the hell we stop a ferry from hitting a breakwall and sinking during high seas.” He rips his fingers through his hair, which he does when he’s frustrated—I know that well enough by now.

  “We’re working on that,” I say coolly. “In fact, that’s what I’d like to talk about next.”

  He doesn’t reply, so I go on. “Ben, do you have access to a boat that you’d feel comfortable driving—or sailing, I mean—in weather like that?”

  Ben knits his brows. “I have access to boats, yes. But I’m not qualified to sail safely in those conditions.”

  “Okay, that’s what I figured. No problem, it was just a thought. Next, I don’t think we try to stop the ferry from hitting the breakwall. That’s impossible. We can try to stop the ferry from sailing, but that kind of action never seems to work for us, right? Making strange claims of future disasters will only get us in trouble. I mean, I couldn’t stop the snowplow driver from driving. We couldn’t stop the shooters from attacking. So I’m assuming rather than wasting time trying to get the captain to stop the voyage, our job is to keep people from dying in the confusion that follows the impact.” I pause and look at the solemn faces looking back at me. “Right? That’s been our job all along. We do our best to stop people from dying.” I glance at Sawyer, who is half turned, listening.