The next morning before leaving the hospital, Allen and Katherine called their respective bosses. Both Audra and John were very understanding. They had already heard from Dave about what happened, and there had even been a story on the news about the kidnapping, though the news only said that they had been rescued and didn’t mention the train ride or the crates. The faces of their captors were also all over the news, along with a long list of charges for each of them. Allen noticed that the man with the rings did not show up among the images of the people who had been arrested. Both bosses told them to take the rest of the day off and come to work in the morning. After dealing with the hospital checkout paperwork, Allen, Katherine, and the others headed towards the front of the hospital. Dave met them along the way.
“I’ve managed to keep the media away until now. But there are several reporters waiting outside the hospital. It’s up to you whether to talk to them, of course, but I suggest you arrange for a press conference tomorrow, after you have had a chance to rest some more.”
“I think that sounds like a good idea.” Said Allen. “If we have a press conference we can handle the questions all at once instead of having them hang around outside our houses to talk to us one at a time.”
“I agree, said Renna. What time should we tell them?”
“How about 6:00 in the evening, after we get off work?”
Everyone agreed. Then Dave spoke one more time. “I do have one request. Please don’t say anything about the transmitters, or that we expected you might be captured. We might want to use the transmitters again later, and we don’t want the criminals to hear about them.”
They all agreed to Dave’s request, then headed out the front door of the hospital. Waiting in front were several news vans, and a couple of reporters rushed toward them as soon as they got out the door of the hospital. One familiar face got there first.
“Hi, I’m Kari Davis from Fox 26 News in Houston. Are you the people who were kidnapped by the Kings gang?”
Fernando spoke up. “Yes we are.”
“What was it like? Can you tell us what happened?”
“We are still recovering from our ordeal, but we have all agreed to hold a press conference tomorrow at 6:00 PM.”
“Is it true you were packed into crates on a train?”
“We’ll tell the whole story tomorrow.”
Dave pushed in between the reporter and the group of former captives, and a couple of uniformed police officers joined him. Allen and Katherine piled into a large van with the others. One of the police officers who worked for Dave was their driver. They left quickly, leaving the reporter behind in the parking lot, where she stood in front of the TV cameras and re-hashed what little the news reporters had been able to find out. For the first hour or two of the trip, they all discussed the kidnapping and their various experiences, but after a while they got tired of reliving the traumatic event. Maria still seemed a little sad.
“What’s wrong Maria?” Asked Katherine. “Are you feeling depressed about the kidnapping?”
“No, it’s not the kidnapping. It’s my job. I called my boss and explained what happened, but he told me he already hired a replacement. I thought he was a kind man, but he just said he didn’t want anyone working for him who was involved in gangs and drugs.”
“That’s terrible! Didn’t Dave tell him what happened?”
“Yes, but he doesn’t seem to believe it. He thinks I must have been involved with the gang somehow or they wouldn’t have kidnapped me.”
“Well, then obviously he was a jerk you don’t want to work for anyway. We’ll help you out until you find a new job. I’m sure it won’t take long for a woman of your skill and experience.”
“Thanks for having confidence in me.”
They dozed on and off for the rest of the long drive, and they were all very happy to get back to their homes. The officer who drove the van told them that the police would be keeping an eye out for them for the next few weeks just in case the gang decided to try anything else. After a night in her own bed, Katherine was excited to get back to work again. She didn’t get much work done in the morning, however, as everyone had to hear the story of the kidnapping. When Audra heard about Maria losing her job, she spoke up.
“If I remember from the picnic, Maria was a pretty good swimmer. Do you think she’d be willing to come join the mermaid crew?”
“I don’t know exactly what her career plans are, but we could ask her.” Answered Katherine.
“I need to hire some more mermaids anyway. While you were gone, Lacy and I had to handle all the feeding ourselves, and I’m getting tired of doing the weekend feedings alone.”
“Who helped you and Lacy get into the pool?”
“Jonas. I don’t think you’ve met him, but he is actually a partner in the Gulf Aquarium business. I’m sure you’ll get a get to know him soon, since we’re going to change the schedule somewhat. Instead of doing all the feeding at once, I want to have several feeding times throughout the day. You and the other mermaids can take turns, and we’ll make up a schedule for the weekends as well.”
“Why do you want to spread the feedings out like that?”
“Well, once the aquarium opens, I expect the feedings to be a major attraction. If we spread several of them out through the day, more customers will get the opportunity to watch.”
“That makes sense. But does this mean I’m going to lose my weekends?”
“I’m going to leave the scheduling up to you, Renna, and Lacy. Let’s go with four feedings a day. The three of you can work out a schedule that you are all happy with, and I don’t expect any of you to work more hours than you do already. So you can schedule one person to have two days off in the middle of the week and work the weekends, or you can work half days four days a week. Whatever you three work out between you. Make the schedule up with just the three of you for now, but once we get a new mermaid hired, she can start helping when her tail arrives.”
“That sounds reasonable.” Said Katherine. Lacy was nearby, so she heard what Audra had said. She thought the plan sounded good as well. They both went to talk to Renna and plan out their schedule. They decided that they would take turns having two days in a row off. Katherine would have Friday and Saturday off, Renna would have Sunday and Monday off, and Lacy would have Wednesday and Thursday off. The two who were working on those days would take turns doing the four feedings. On Tuesday, all three would participate, with Lacy volunteering to go twice. If Maria got hired, the schedule would only last a few weeks before it would have to be re-done for four people, so Lacy didn’t mind a couple of extra times. Since it was about lunchtime before they got their plan completed, they decided to start the next day, on Wednesday. Katherine would do the 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM feedings, and Renna would do the noon and 4:00 PM feedings. Lacy would get to stay home and relax. They all went to find Audra in her office and make sure she approved of the plan.
“This looks like a good schedule.” Audra said. “Can you send me your spreadsheet in an e-mail?”
“Sure Audra.” Katherine said. “Will it be a problem that I’m not here with the design team every morning?”
“We might have to change an occasional meeting time, but I think we can work around it.”
“I was wondering, it takes an awful long time to put the tail on and off. Maybe there is a way I could just keep it on between my two times doing the feedings?”
“I guess we can get a wheelchair that you can ride around in between feedings. As long as you’re just working at the computer that should be OK.” She turned to Renna and Lacy. What about you two? Do you want to keep your tails on between feeding times as well?”
“I think that’s a great idea.” Lacy said. Renna agreed as well.
“Renna, why don’t you go to a medical store this afternoon and pick up a couple of wheelchairs?”
After lunch, Katherine and Lacy went to change into their tails.
“Where’s Renna?” Asked Fernando.
They explained the change in schedule to Fernando.
“Audra had mentioned that she might be wanting to make some changes. It sounds like I will be busy. Did Audra say anything about who would help you get into your tails on the weekend?”
“Jonas has been helping Audra on the weekends. I suppose he will continue helping.”
“You are making me jealous. Another man is going to be carrying all my beautiful mermaids around?”
“We’ll make up for it by giving you another mermaid to carry.”
“Hmm, that sounds like a pretty good deal. I’ll take it.”
Fernando helped Katherine and Lacy into the pool. They swam and practiced for a time, and after an hour or so Renna joined them. She brought two wheelchairs with her and parked them by the door to the locker room before putting on her tail and joining them. Then the three mermaids swam through the tube to the aquarium and fed the carnivores. When they were done, they hurried to change and drive to the conference room in a Galveston hotel where the press conference had been set up. They arrived about 15 minutes early and gathered with the other former captives.
“Do we want to pick a spokesman?” Asked Lacy.
“I think that’s a good idea.” Said Fernando. “Someone who can give the basic story and then of course the rest of us can chip in and add what we want.”
“So do we have a volunteer to be the spokesman?” Asked Allen.
“I think you would be a good one.” Said Renna.
The rest quickly joined in, agreeing with Renna, more out of a desire not to be chosen themselves than because of any great feeling that Allen was a superior speaker. Feeling a little like he had been railroaded into the position, Allen accepted. They waited in an adjoining room until the appointed time, then walked out together and sat down behind a table in the conference room. Allen positioned himself in the center, behind one of the three microphones. The rest of the room was full of reporters, seated in rows of chairs. TV cameras from all of the local stations were positioned throughout the room. Kari Davis, the reporter who had tried to question them at the hospital, had been chosen to introduce the former captives. She stood behind a podium to one side of the table, and once 6:00 arrived, she started by giving a brief summary of what had happened, then asking the captives to give their names. Allen spoke first and introduced the others. Then he took the microphone and explained that he had been chosen to tell the story of what happened and then they would all take questions.
Allen explained about the picnic and how the gang members had attacked and been driven off. He didn’t mention that he used aikido on the first gang member, instead just saying that they had fought and that the thug had been injured. He then said that they had gone about their business as usual until Maria had been kidnapped, then the rest of them had been kidnapped two days later. He explained about the motorcycle riders and being put into the trunk and taken to the basement room. Without going into detail, he simply said they had been tied up in the room for another day and then drugged and put into the crates on the train. Then he described being rescued from the train by the police.
Once Allen finished his description, all of the reporters started shouting at once, trying to be the first to get a question answered. Allen pointed to a man in the second row.
“Rob Davis, Local 2 News.” Said the man. “Didn’t the police warn you that Miss Cruz had been kidnapped?”
Allen looked at the others, who seemed happy to leave the explanation to him. “The police did warn us that Maria had been kidnapped. They told us to be careful, and that they would be increasing patrols near our houses. I believe it was their increased watchfulness that allowed them to find out where we were being held and ultimately rescue us.”
The next question came from a channel 11 reporter. “Miss Cruz, Why do you think you were kidnapped first?”
“They told me it was because I was the one who had pulled a gun on one of their gang members.”
“Do you have a concealed carry permit?”
“Yes I do.”
Allen pointed to Kari Davis, who he figured should get a chance as she had been trying for some time.
“Miss Larsen, is it true they made you wear diapers?”
“Yes, they did.”
“Do you know why?”
“I think they had two reasons. One- they wanted to humiliate us and demonstrate our helplessness. And two- that way they didn’t have to untie us to let us go to the bathroom.”
“Did they rape any of the women?” Asked another reporter.
Allen looked at Anna, trying to spread out the answers between them. “No. They did nothing sexual beyond a few crude comments.” She said.
The next question was directed at Renna. “Miss Kosmatka, what was it like being tied up and not knowing what they were going to do to you?”
“It was horrible. We were totally at their mercy. We didn’t know if they were going to kill us, rape us, beat us up, or what. It’s difficult to talk about.” Renna choked up at that point, shaking her head, which made Maria tear up as well. One reporter sensed the tension and tried an easier question.
“Mr. Salazar, I heard that you have a job as a mermaid wrangler. Just what is that?”
Fernando smiled. “Renna and Katherine work together as mermaids for the Gulf Aquarium. When they are in their mermaid costumes, it is difficult for them to get around, so I help them get into and out of the water, and whatever else they might need. We are also responsible for taking care of the fish and the 10,000,000 gallon aquarium tank – the largest aquarium tank in the world.”
“Wow! That sounds interesting. Can you tell us more?”
“Our connection through the aquarium is how all of us met. And the aquarium will be opening in just two short weeks. If you come after May first, you can see Katherine and Renna as mermaids, feeding the fish in the aquarium.”
After that, there were a few more questions about the aquarium, and then several more questions about the kidnapping- most of them the ‘how did it feel’ kind. When things started to seem repetitive, Allen thanked the reporters for their time, expressed his gratitude to the police for rescuing them, and closed the press conference.