On Tuesday, Katherine’s mermaid tail arrived. It was a beautiful blue color, with black markings and a yellow triangle on the tail, like a blue tang. She changed into one of her new two-piece swimsuits and then followed Renna and Lacy out of the locker room, this time carrying a heavy tail like they did. The two women and Fernando helped Katherine wiggle her way into the tail, then Fernando lifted Katherine up and put her into the sling. She rode down to the water and slipped out, then tried swimming with her new tail. The practice with the monofin had given her the skills she needed, and she found it relatively easy to accustom herself to the tail. It provided a bit of extra resistance as she moved through the water, but she found herself thoroughly enjoying the feeling of being a mermaid.
Soon Katherine was joined by her two companions, and they quickly returned to their normal practice routine. After a couple weeks of practice, Katherine could keep up with Lacy and Renna now, and she could hold her breath for nearly three minutes. When Fernando called out that it was feeding time, they all swam through the tube to the aquarium entrance.
“So why don’t you refill the seaweed while Lacy and I do the hand-feeding?” Suggested Renna.
“OK, that sounds like a good plan.”
This time all three of them slipped over the barrier into the aquarium. Several sharks had been added recently, so there were plenty of fish to feed. Katherine knew where to go to refill the clips with seaweed since she had been watching the other women do the job for two weeks now. It was thrilling to swim through the aquarium with the colorful fish swimming around her. As often happened, the workers on the outside of the aquarium got distracted by the mermaids and many of them gathered at the walls to watch the feeding. Several of them waved, and Katherine noticed that some were pointing at her and talking. They must have noticed the new mermaid. Katherine waved back at them on her way up to take a breath. Even with all three of them working, it took a couple of hours to complete the job. When they were done, Katherine let the other two get out of the pool first. Even though she was tired, she wanted the mermaid experience to last a little longer.
On the next few days, Katherine took her turn feeding the carnivorous fish. The moray eels were the easiest, as they tended to stay in the same locations. The sharks were a bit harder, however. They could be swimming anywhere in the very large aquarium, though they did tend to each have a habitual route. They had to place themselves in the path of a shark and then wiggle the food in front of them. As time passed, the sharks learned that the mermaids were sources of food, so they would seek them out when they came into the aquarium. Fernando had an important job as well, as he kept track of which fish had been fed and which had not. He had a checklist with a picture of each animal that was to be fed on it, and he marked it off as the mermaids fed each one. With time, they learned to recognize each individual fish, even when there were multiple individuals of a single species.
On Wednesday morning, Allen was at work, designing a manipulator arm for the Hippocamp, when John approached him, accompanied by a tall black man in a suit.
“Hey, Allen. This guy wants to talk to you.” Said John.
“How may I help you?”
The man pulled a police badge out of his pocket. “Hello Allen. My name is Dave Johnson and I’m a detective with the Greater Houston Gangs Task Force. I want to talk to you about your encounter with some Kings gang members over the weekend.”
“Of course, Officer. What do you need to know?”
“Is there someplace private we can talk?”
“As you can see, this is a pretty open workplace. I suppose we could go outside into a car.”
“That’s a good idea. Come out and we’ll sit in my car, if that’s OK with your boss?”
John nodded his head. “I have no problem with my employees helping out the police. Go ahead.”
The officer led Allen outside to a gray Toyota 4Runner and motioned Allen inside. Once the door was closed, he started to speak again.
“First I need to tell you that your friend Maria has disappeared. We suspect she’s been kidnapped by the Kings gang.”
“Oh, no! Do you think she’ll be all right?”
“For now. The Kings specialize in human trafficking, so I think they will want to keep her alive. We suspect this kidnapping is in retaliation for what happened on Saturday. You made the gang look bad, so they have to hit back somehow.”
“So you think they might try and do something to the rest of us?”
“Yes, we do. And we think the rest of you might be able to help us.”
“Help you? How?”
“Well, first I want you to understand that this is purely voluntary. If you choose not to help out, nobody will think any less of you, and we will put you under full-time police protection.”
“Okay. . . what if I volunteer?”
“We would like you and your friends to wear transmitters. We suspect the Kings may try to kidnap some or all of you as well, and we can use the transmitters to follow you to wherever Maria is. We also hope they will take you to their hideout or headquarters, so that we can capture some of the gang leaders.”
“Sounds kind of dangerous.”
“It could be. As you know, gangs can be very violent. You might get beaten up, or even possibly killed. That’s why we’re willing to pass on the help and just put you under protection. But if you do decide to help us and you get kidnapped, we’ll have you under surveillance 100 percent of the time, and if it looks like they are going to get overly violent, we’ll move in.”
“Okay, I think I would be willing to help out. Are you going to talk to the others as well?”
“Actually, I came to your work because the gang might be watching your apartments. What I would like to do is give you the transmitters and ask you to explain things to your fiancée. Then she can take them and pass them on at her work. The Kings won’t see anything unusual about a group of friends talking to one another, where I might draw attention if I went to all of your homes.”
“That makes sense. What do I do?”
“First, here is your transmitter.” Dave reached into a bag in his back seat and pulled out a fitbit. “It looks and functions exactly like a fitbit, but it has a higher powered transmitter in it. Keep it on at all times, even in bed, as we don’t know when a kidnapping attempt might happen.”
Allen put the device on his wrist. This wasn’t a bad deal. He’d kind of wondered about fitness trackers, but didn’t want to spend the money on one. So this would let him try one for free.
“Do you have fitbits for everyone else back there?”
“No, we have a variety of items. Each one is labeled with the name of the person it should go to. That way if something happens we will know which person each signal is coming from. Your girlfriend’s transmitter is hidden in a bra, and we have a big gold crucifix for Fernando. The other women have various items of underwear. Tell them we’re sorry if it isn’t very stylish- we had to choose items that were bulky enough to hide the transmitters in.”
“Okay, I’ll pass them on.”
“Good. The deal is the same with them as it is with you. They don’t have to volunteer, we will be happy to put them under protection if they want. There are some business cards in the bag with the transmitters. Give one to each person. They can call the number on the card if they want protection. According to the cards, I’m a swim fin salesman. They shouldn’t carry the cards with them, however, in case the gang gets hold of several of them and starts to wonder. Also, make sure everyone knows that if they are accosted by gang members, they shouldn’t resist. Going peacefully should help reduce the chance of violence. If they do start to get violent, then you can resist. In that case, we’ll get to you as soon as possible. So, is that all clear?”
“I think so.”
“Tell your boss I just had some more questions about Saturday. We don’t want any more people than necessary knowing what’s going on.”
“That makes sense.”
“Thank you. I heard how you took down that thug with Aikido. Good work. If nothing happens in the next week or so, I’ll get back in touch.”
Allen shook hands with Dave, then took the bag with the transmitters and stashed it in his own car. When he went back in to work, John asked him: “What was that all about?”
“Remember that fight I told you about on Saturday? The guys we ended up fighting are from a gang, and he had some more detailed questions for me.”
“Sounds like an exciting weekend.”
“It was a little more exciting than I wanted. Hopefully things will settle down now.”
Allen returned to his work and finished the day. After work, he drove over to Katherine’s apartment and carried the bag of transmitters into her place. Dave had placed everything in a grocery bag so it would look nondescript. He knocked on Katherine’s door.
“What’s in the bag?” She asked.
“Let’s go inside and I’ll show you.”
Once inside, Allen explained to her about the visit from Dave and the transmitters in the bag. Katherine immediately said that she would help out, so they opened the bag to get a look at the contents. On the top was a white long-line bra with a little paper tag hanging from a string looped around one of the straps. The tag had Katherine’s name on it. She held it up in front of her body to check the size.
“He was right about this not being very fashionable, but according to the tag it’s the right size. Wait here a minute and I’ll go put it on.”
Katherine went into her bedroom and closed the door. When she came out, she was wearing just the bra on top, along with the work skirt she had already been wearing.
“What do you think?” She asked.
“It may not be the height of fashion, but I think it looks hot.” Replied Allen. “Kind of a Mad Men 60’s look.”
“It’s a bit firmer than what I’m used to, but I think I can wear it for a few days. Can you figure out where the transmitter is?”
Allen looked closely for a minute or two.
“No, I don’t have a clue. And you are making me regret our decision to wait until we are married. Can you put a shirt on?”
Having achieved her desired result, Katherine went back into the bedroom and put on a shirt. Rather than putting her blouse from work back on, she pulled on a pink t-shirt and tucked it into her skirt. The snugly fitting t-shirt hid the bra but still emphasized her curves. She also picked up the bag she normally used to take her swimsuits to work and brought it back out into the living room. Then she and Allen transferred the items with their hidden transmitters from the grocery bag into Katherine’s bag. Fernando had a large gold cross on a necklace, as Dave had mentioned. For his wife Anna, there was a panty girdle that looked like it would have matched Katherine’s bra except in a smaller size. Each of the other women also had a girdle or bra in their own size.
“I wonder what male police technician decided on the underwear?” Said Katherine.
“Well, Dave did say they needed to choose something thick enough to hide the transmitters in. Maybe they raided a lingerie store and had all this stuff sitting around in their evidence room.”
“And I suppose underwear makes sense. Kidnappers might take away things like jewelry or watches. But why did the two guys get away with a fitbit and a crucifix necklace?”
“I guess guys don’t have any underwear options suitable for a transmitter.”
Once the items had been stowed, Katherine fixed dinner and the couple sat on the couch and snuggled for a bit before Allen went home. They both agreed that they would leave their engagement rings off for the next few days, so that if they were indeed kidnapped at least their rings wouldn’t get stolen.