The Mermaid Experience – Chapter 39

To start at the beginning of the story, use this link:  Go to chapter 1

June 29

 

Janice woke up late in the hotel room that had become all too familiar in the past month.  She had been visiting Dave Johnson almost every day, trying to do anything she could to help in the search for her daughter.  She had reported Katherine’s disappearance to the news station, which was happy to cover the story of the mysterious disappearance of the beautiful mermaid for a day or two, before other events caught their attention.  Since then it had been a long slow process of searching without success.  She knew she should probably give up and go back to Indiana, but she couldn’t bring herself to believe that Katherine was gone.  So she had a bowl of cereal with milk she kept in the hotel room mini-fridge, then got dressed and headed over to Dave Johnson’s office.  Much of the time, Detective Johnson was out doing his police work and Janice would be forced to just wait in the lobby, but she figured she could wait there as well as anywhere else, and this way she made sure Katherine wasn’t forgotten.  She drove downtown to the HPD headquarters building and then made her way up to the offices of the gang task force.

“Good morning Mrs. Larsen.  How are you today?”  Said Marta as Janice entered the office.  Marta was the administrative assistant to the gang task force, and she and Janice had come to know each other pretty well over the past month.

“I’m fine, Marta.  How are you?”

“Good.  Detective Johnson wanted to talk to you as soon as you got here this morning.  He’s waiting in his office.”

“Oh!  Is there news?”

“He didn’t say, but I don’t think he’s found her yet—he’s just got a lead he wants to talk with you about.”

“OK thanks.”

Her heart still beating rapidly from that one small instant of hope, Janice walked through the office to Dave’s door and knocked lightly.

“Come in.”

“Marta said you wanted to see me?”

“Yes I did.  How would you feel about going with me to the Gulf Aquarium this morning?”

“Fine.  Is there someone there with information we need?”

“I just want to show you something.  Can you be a little patient with me?”

“I’ve been patient for a month.  I suppose I can wait a few more hours.”

“Let’s go then.”

The detective stood up and escorted Janice out of the building.  He even held out his arm for her to take as if he were taking her to a party.  Janice caught herself wondering about the possibility of actually doing something like that.  Dave was a good-looking man, and he had always been very polite and considerate.  He wasn’t wearing a ring. . . But Janice didn’t have time for those kinds of thoughts.  Right now she had to concentrate on getting Katherine back.  As they drove through the city towards the aquarium, she couldn’t help but ask the question.

“So, Detective Johnson.  Are you married?  Do you have children of your own?”

“No.  I’ve never found anyone I wanted to settle down with.  But I’m married to my job, in a way.  It doesn’t leave much time for socializing.  And please call me Dave, especially when we’re in the aquarium.”

Janice tamped down her interest.  She would put it in a box for now, along with her own job and life back in Indiana.  Katherine took precedence.  The detective made small talk as they continued the drive.  He was not in uniform, and when they got to the aquarium he took her to the front entrance and paid for two tickets to the aquarium and the dolphin show.  Janice was surprised to see that the ticket price was almost double what it had been before Katherine went missing.  Dave didn’t give her any hints about the purpose of their visit.

“Just keep your eyes open and think about what you see.  I’ll explain later.”

So Janice looked around as they walked through the galleries.  Much of it looked the same as the times she had visited before, but there were fewer visitors, and it seemed like a certain shabbiness and disorder was creeping into the facility.  Was that just her imagination?  Or was it just because this was her third visit and the newness had worn off?  The employees looked less cheerful and it seemed like they were just going through the motions.  Many of them were younger as well, perhaps high school students with summer jobs.  By the time they had worked their way through the galleries, it was almost time for the dolphin show.  They went outside and followed the sidewalk to the arena.  Janice was looking forward to the show.  Katherine had told her all about it but she hadn’t had a chance to see it yet.  They found a seat a few rows up from the bottom.

A young woman in a red gulf aquarium wetsuit introduced herself and the three dolphins in the show.  She proceeded to lead the dolphins through a series of tricks, feeding them fish each time they performed.  The leaps and splashes were quite entertaining, but Katherine had told her these were wild dolphins.  The presenter didn’t mention that at all.  When they were done, the young woman moved to the front of the pool and offered to let people get a picture with a dolphin for a small extra fee.  Dave and Janice headed out of the arena with the rest of the crowd, but Dave took Janice by the elbow and guided her to one side of the crowd.  Rather than following the sidewalk back to the aquarium building, Dave led her into the grass and they walked alongside the channel that connected the aquarium to the bay.  The walked about thirty yards or so and then Janice noticed that a gate had been constructed across the channel.  The top of the gate was flush with the ground so it was not very noticeable unless you approached closely.  And it appeared relatively new because the grass growing around the concrete footings on the side of the channel had been newly planted.  Apparently the dolphins weren’t wild anymore.

“Interesting, isn’t it?”  Said Dave.

“Something doesn’t feel right.”  Said Janice.

“Let’s talk about it over lunch.”  Said Dave.  “I know a little Mexican place in Galveston.  Are you hungry?”

“Sounds good.  Let’s do that.”

So was this just a convenience for Dave, or did he just invite me on a date?  Thought Janice.  Once again, she corralled her thoughts and followed Dave out of the aquarium building to his car.  They went to the restaurant and ordered their food, and finally Dave told her what the trip had been all about.

“So what did you think about the aquarium visit today?”  He asked.

“I was a little disappointed.  It seems like they are not taking care of it like they used to.  And I was shocked to see the gate on the channel for the dolphins.  That goes against their whole philosophy.”

“That’s what I thought as well.  With Audra Burns gone, her assistant Jonas Fulton is in charge, and he has made some changes that I don’t think Audra would be happy with.  I’ve been doing some digging, and I found out that the security company hired by the aquarium is owned by Crown Holdings.  We have long suspected that Crown Holdings is a front company used by the Kings gang, and you are well aware that the kings have a grudge against your daughter and her friends.”

“But I thought you put them in jail.”

“We put eight of them in jail, but they were all relatively low-level members of the gang.  The leader of the kings is a man named Carlos Ruiz, and we’ve been trying to catch him for years.  But he’s a smart cookie and he doesn’t usually do his own dirty work.  He works through intermediaries, and we’ve never been able to convince one of them to talk.”

“So you think the Kings gang has something to do with Katherine’s disappearance.”

“Definitely.  Did you know Anna Salazar?”

“She was with the group that got kidnapped, wasn’t she?”

“Yes, but she wasn’t a mermaid.  She and her husband went missing at the same time as all the mermaids.”

“So what do you think they did with them?”

“Well, you’ll be happy to know that I don’t think they’re dead.  The kings are into drug dealing and the sex trade, but they are unusual among gangs in avoiding murder.  There’s no guarantee, of course.  They may have made an exception in this case.  But I think not.”

“So they kidnapped them again.”

“Yes.  And remember the last time, we caught them on the way to the border.  I’m pretty sure they were taken out of the country.”

“Does that mean you can’t track them?  Do you have contacts with the Mexican authorities?”

“We do.  But I don’t think they’re in Mexico, even though the kings have an extensive presence in that country.”

“Where then?”

“Guatemala.  Carlos Ruiz has an estate in Guatemala, and I found some strange paperwork yesterday.”

“Strange?”

“Yes.  It seems that the aquarium shipped a tank of waste saltwater to a Crown holdings subsidiary in Guatemala on May 17th.”

“That is strange.  Katherine told me they took water directly from the bay and it circulated back there from the aquarium.  What kind of waste water would they have?”

“The kind with mermaids in it.”

“Can you contact the Guatemalan police and get their help?”

“Unfortunately, Carlos Ruiz has many friends in high places in Guatemala.  Many of the local officials there are on his payroll.  Contacting the Guatemalan authorities would only tip him off.  I’ve been trying to work with some of my sources to get more information, but we don’t have many people in place down there.”

“Isn’t there anything you can do?  What if I were to go down there?”

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.  Carlos is very dangerous and if he caught you poking around it would be bad.  I have been working to learn as much as I can about what is going on down there, and I’ve gotten another interesting piece of information.”

“What?”

“It seems a North Korean general and his staff visited Mr. Ruiz recently.  They stayed two days, and a few days after they left, the general had a large crate shipped via air to North Korea.  He claimed the crate had fragile pottery inside, and was most insistent that it be handled with care.  He paid several baggage handlers to make sure the crate was loaded directly onto the airplane without opening it or x-raying it.  Normally, we would assume there were drugs in the crate, but a drug-sniffing dog walked right by it without detecting anything.  I think it may have had a mermaid inside.”

Janice reached across the table and grabbed Dave’s hand.  “Do you think it might be Katherine?”

“There’s no way of knowing.  It could be any of them.”

“But that’s horrible!  If we find them in Guatemala it will doubtless be hard to get them out.  But North Korea must be ten times worse!”

“Normally that would be the case, but this time we might have a way to find out what was in that crate and if it was a mermaid, rescue her.”

“How?”

“I can’t say anything more.  But I’ll be leaving tonight to make arrangements.  I’ll be gone for about a week, and I need you to keep doing what you have been in the meantime.  Come to the station and hang out, as if I was in my office and you were waiting for me.  Will you do that?”

“Of course I will.”

“Good.  Don’t you like your lunch?  Are you going to finish it?”

Janice realized she was still clutching Dave’s hand.  She let go and picked up her fork.

“The food is really good.”  She said.  “But I don’t think I have much of an appetite.”

“Maybe we can have dinner when I get back, then?”

“I’d like that.”

Link to chapter 40

Link to Chapter 38

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