To start at the beginning, use this link: Link to chapter 1
Janice woke up in an unfamiliar bed, and it took her a few minutes to remember that she was in Katherine’s shared apartment. She went to check on her daughter and found her just wheeling herself out of the bedroom.
“How are you doing?” Janice asked.
“I’m still trying to process it all. I’m used to having a mermaid tail, but it was always a temporary thing. We took our tails off every few weeks and came here to do normal human things for a while. But now it sounds like I’ll never be a normal human again.”
“Well, I never wanted my daughter to be normal. I think you are exceptional, and having a mermaid tail doesn’t change who you are.”
“Thanks Mom. I appreciate the support. But on land, the tail can be a pain. Can you help me get into the bathtub? It’s hard to climb into it from my wheelchair.”
“Of course I’ll help you.”
Janice followed Katherine into the bathroom and helped lift her out of her chair until she was sitting on the side of the tub. From there, Katherine was able to rotate around and slip into the tub by herself. Luckily the apartment was equipped with a large Jacuzzi tub and there was room for Katherine’s tail.
“Did you have to help Allen get into the tub?” Janice asked.
“Yes. He could do it himself but it’s easier with someone to help.”
“The two of you seemed to manage pretty well even after his legs got fused together.”
“Yes, we figured out how to do most everything. Of course, the tail fluke adds some difficulty. Allen managed pretty well with his crutches, but you can’t use crutches with the tail fluke in the way.”
“Well, I can help for today anyway.”
Katherine bathed and then Janice helped her back into her wheelchair. They got dressed and went out for breakfast since there was not much food left in the apartment. Then they went to the grocery store to resupply the fridge and pantry. The shopping trip took much longer than usual because of all the people who wanted to ask Katherine about her tail. As they were leaving the store, Janice got a phone call.
“Hi Janice. This is Dave.”
“Hi Dave. Any news on Allen or the others?”
“Not yet. I expect to hear something later today. But I wanted you to know we raided the aquarium today. We’ve arrested Jonas Fulton and several of the security staff, but it looks like only a select few knew about the kidnapping.”
“That’s good to hear. What’s happening to the aquarium now?”
“It’s closed for the moment. I imagine it will take the remaining staff a few days to reorganize.”
“Are they going to let the dolphins out?”
“I hope so. But that will be up to the new leadership once they get organized.”
“I think Katherine will want to have a vote on that. She may want to go over there and see what she can do.”
“I think that’s a great idea. I wanted to ask you something.”
“Would you like to go out to dinner with me tonight?”
“I’d like that.”
“Good. I’ll be by to pick you up at 7:00.”
“I look forward to it. See you then.”
Janice helped Katherine into the car and then loaded her wheelchair into the trunk.
“What was the phone call about?” Katherine asked. “And why is there a big grin on your face?”
“Dave said they raided the aquarium and arrested Jonas and some of the security staff. It sounds like they aren’t sure who is in charge now.”
“Any news about Allen?”
“He expects to hear later on today.”
“And. . ?”
“Dave asked me to dinner tonight.”
“Oh? Is there something going on between you two?”
“Not yet. But there may be.”
“That would be so nice. I like Dave, and he is a handsome man.”
“It doesn’t bother you that he is black?”
“No. It may mean you both have a few more obstacles to overcome, but I don’t see it as an issue.”
“Good. I haven’t even thought of dating in many years, but maybe I’m ready now. Do you want to go over to the aquarium?”
“I thought you said it was closed.”
“It is, but they have a leadership problem right now. Maybe they could use your help.”
“I don’t know what I would do. There are lots of Audra’s employees who are more senior than me.”
“But none of them are mermaids. And from what I saw, they have not been doing a good job with the aquarium. I think in this moment of transition, you might be an influence for good.”
“I suppose I could go and see whether I can help. They might not even let me in the door.”
“I think it’s worth a try.”
“Okay. It’s not like I have anything else to do, other than sit and worry about Allen. And it would be nice to move back into the mermaid quarters if I could.”
They went back to the apartment, had lunch, and then Janice drove Katherine to the Aquarium. They went to the employee entrance but found the door locked. Katherine pushed the button on a buzzer by the door.
After a few minutes, the door opened and Ray McKenzie, the human resources manager looked out.
“Katherine! This is a surprise. Can I help you?”
“Actually, I was wondering if I could help you. I understand Mr. Fulton got arrested today.”
“He did. But why would you want to help? I thought you quit. And why are you still wearing your mermaid tail?”
“It’s a long story. But I didn’t quit. I was kidnapped. Didn’t Detective Johnson tell you?”
“You were kidnapped! No, I didn’t hear. A bunch of police officers came and interviewed many of us, and they arrested Jonas and some of the security guards. But I never heard the charges.”
“Can you tell me what you plan to do about the aquarium?”
“We haven’t decided yet. Since Audra left, Jonas had kind of taken over the aquarium side of the business. Profits were soaring, so we kind of let him run things. But that means we don’t have anyone with a good insight into what has been going on there. I guess you could come in. Maybe you could fill us in on what happened.”
“I would like that. I’m sure Audra would want the aquarium to succeed. You know how important it is to her.”
“I wish she were here. Jonas told us she was on a long trip, but we haven’t been able to find any contact information or anything telling us where she is.”
“That’s because she was kidnapped as well. I would guess that Jonas planned to eventually take over Burns Pharmaceuticals as well as the aquarium.”
“So why isn’t she here? How did you get away?”
“We were separated and I was rescued. The police are still working on finding Audra and the others.”
“Others? Who else was kidnapped?”
“Why don’t I come in and tell the whole story?”
“Very well. And who is this with you?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. This is my mother, Janice Larsen. Mom, this is Ray McKenzie, the HR manager.”
“Nice to meet you Mrs. Larsen.”
“Nice to meet you as well.”
“Does your mom want to come in as well?”
“No, she was just driving me over here. She has some other plans for the evening. Mom, call me if you hear anything about Allen and the others, OK?”
“Of course. I’ll let you know the instant I hear anything.”
Ray led Katherine up to the second floor meeting room, where there was already a group of managers meeting around a conference table. Katherine already knew two of them – Amanda Robbins, the manager of the pharmaceutical plant, and Cliff Jordan, the director of finance. There were also two new faces – Jacob Bryson, the Aquarium manager, and Carmen Menendez, the corporate marketing director. After the introductions, Ray asked Katherine to explain what had happened. She was not entirely sure how much Dave wanted her to keep secret, so Katherine tried to keep her explanation a little bit general.
“A few months ago, Audra was with me and some friends when we managed to thwart a gang attack. It was in the news at the time, so I won’t go into all the details. But that gang apparently held a grudge, and they arranged for our security company to be replaced by one that they controlled. It appears that they also got to Jonas Fulton somehow. I don’t know if he was cooperating willingly or if the gang blackmailed him or what, but he ended up helping them. Then a couple of months ago, Audra, all of the mermaids, Fernando, and his wife were kidnapped. We were drugged and carried away to a distant location. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say where yet. But we were held there for a long time. I was separated from the group and the police managed to rescue me. They have a lead on the others, but haven’t managed to get to them yet. That’s the gist of what has happened. I understand Jonas has been making some changes?”
“Yes, but mostly on the aquarium side of the operation.” Said Cliff Jordan. “He felt it was not earning a big enough profit, so he lowered the salaries of the aquarium workers and cut back on maintenance.”
“I understand he built a gate to trap the dolphins as well.”
“Yes. He felt the wild dolphin show was too unpredictable.”
“You know that goes against everything Audra believes in. When she gets back she’s going to be very unhappy.”
“How will we have our dolphin show if we open the gate?” Asked Jacob Bryson.
“We had some very good shows before I was kidnapped. The dolphins came in willingly, or we ran the alternate show if they didn’t come. When we let them go, I don’t know how long it will take to convince any of them to come back, though.”
“Let them go?”
“Yes. We need to open the gates and let them go.”
“But I can’t do that!”
“You had better, or if I know Audra you’ll be looking for a job. What happened to the security guards?”
“After seeing all the arrests of security company personnel, we suspended their contract.” Said Ray.
“That’s good. The police might not have gotten all of the bad ones. I suggest you rehire our original security company. They seemed to do a good job before Jonas convinced Audra to change.”
“We’ll take that under consideration.”
“Have you decided how you will manage things now that you have lost Jonas?”
“We were a little unsure. The police didn’t give us many reasons for his arrest, and we didn’t know if there would be ramifications for the aquarium. We thought we would keep the aquarium closed for a few days until everything settled back down.”
“Jacob, would it be OK if I had a look at the aquarium and offered some suggestions? My mother visited not long ago and she was not impressed.”
“That would be due to the budget restraints imposed by Jonas.” Jacob answered. “I would be happy to show you around and listen to your suggestions, but what we do about them depends upon the budget. I requested more maintenance funds and more money to pay my staff, but Jonas kept denying it.”
“Cliff, if Jacob and I submit some requests for some maintenance funds, will you approve them? Perhaps we can use the time the aquarium is closed to do a little maintenance and updating.”
“That would actually be a good marketing move.” Carmen said. “We can advertise that we are closing for renovations and upgrades, and then have a grand re-opening later. It could help mitigate the damage caused by Jonas’s arrest.”
“Make your recommendations for improvements and give me an estimate of the costs.” Cliff said. “I will use those numbers to make some projections of profitability and we can bring the results to this executive committee for a decision.”
The meeting went on for a few more minutes. With Katherine telling them that she thought Audra would return soon, they decided to make decisions as an executive committee until she came back. There was a palpable sense of relief in the room now that they realized the police raid was due to the criminal actions of a few people. The committee members began looking at each other as a team again, where before there had been distrust and suspicion.
After the meeting ended, Jacob led Katherine out of the meeting room and through the back entrance into the aquarium galleries.
“Would you mind if I looked closely at your tail?” He asked. “I had heard about the tails made of individual scales before, but Jonas didn’t want to use them. He was even reluctant to buy new silicone tails for our mermaids. We had to hire people mostly based on whether they could fit into one of the old tails we already had.”
“I don’t mind. Have a look if you like.”
Jacob knelt down in front of the wheelchair and looked closely at Katherine’s tail. With her permission, he felt one of the scales and even lifted it up to see the substrate underneath.
“I thought the silicone tails looked good, but this is much more realistic and lifelike.” He said.
“Even more lifelike than I want it to be.” Answered Katherine.
They walked through the aquarium galleries. The fish seemed to be doing well, but the carpets were getting dirty and worn, and some of the signage had been defaced or vandalized.
“Jonas wouldn’t give you money to have these signs replaced?” Katherine asked.
“No, he said you could still read them, and they would just get damaged again.”
“Did I offend you when I said the aquarium had some issues?”
“No. I am well aware of the problems, but my hands were tied. I’m grateful you came and pointed it out to the others.”
“Can I see the mermaid quarters?”
“Of course. But you might be a bit disappointed. Jonas closed down the cafeteria pool and the recreation pool. We’ll have to stop by the electrical panel so I can turn the lights back on.”
“So none of your current mermaids stay in the mermaid quarters?”
“No. We hired a bunch of young college students. They work four-hour shifts and use the greenhouse pool or the practice pool when they go on breaks.”
“How are they working out?”
“We have had to fire one or two, but the ones we currently have are hard workers and seem to have a real desire to help educate the public and care for the fish.”
“What kind of arrangements have you made for while the aquarium is closed?”
“I sent them home and told them to stay in touch. I was planning to make up a reduced schedule to make sure the fish were cared for, but of course, we won’t need people for the events.”
“Would you like me to help you? I can work on any training they need and help make up the schedule.”
“That would be great. We’ll have to run it by Ray, of course. I’m not sure what your official employment status is right now.”
“Neither am I. I hope Ray will be willing to reinstate me as an employee since my leaving wasn’t voluntary.”
“I for one will tell him I’m in favor of it.”
Jacob took Katherine through some back corridors into the dry area of the mermaid quarters building. He opened an electrical panel and flipped several breakers, then led her back out and up the elevator to the locker room and practice pool. Katherine went into the locker room and saw that there were stickers on the lockers with the names of the new mermaids. She opened several lockers until she found the one with her old tail in it. She theorized that she must be about the same size as the girl who was wearing her old tail, and maybe there would be a swimsuit top that would fit her. She was right. There were several tops in the locker, most of them very skimpy and not Katherine’s style. But she found one dark blue top that had some coverage, so she put that one on. She went back out to the side of the pool, where Jacob was waiting.
“Sorry for the wait. I should have thought to bring my own swimsuit.”
“That’s not a problem. Are you ready to get in?”
“Would you like to come with me?”
“It would be interesting. I’ve never actually been inside the mermaid areas of the building. But I don’t have a swimsuit either.”
“You could check the men’s locker room. One of Allen’s or Fernando’s old suits might fit you.”
“Who will lift us back out of the pool? If I get in, there won’t be anyone to operate the crane.”
“You can get out at the mermaid swim pool and then walk through and run the crane for me.”
“That should work. Why not? I’ll be back in a minute.”
Jacob disappeared into the men’s locker room and came out a few minutes later wearing one of Fernando’s swimsuits.
“It doesn’t fit perfectly, but it was stretchy enough for me to get into it.” Jacob said.
“Are you a good swimmer?” Katherine asked.
“Reasonably good. My family likes to go to the beach.”
“Let’s go then.”
Jacob helped Katherine from her wheelchair into the sling on the crane and lowered her into the water. Then he simply dove in himself. Katherine swam slowly on the surface so he could keep up as she led him into the greenhouse pool. The plants in the pool had gone a little wild in the months that Katherine had been gone, though the new mermaids had obviously done some pruning.
“Wow.” Jacob said. “It’s quite a beautiful underwater garden.”
“You’re only seeing it from the surface. Try taking a dive and looking at it from below.”
Jacob took a deep breath and dove, swimming around and looking at the plantings from beneath. Since he was not practiced at holding his breath, he had to surface after less than a minute. Katherine followed him up.
“Very impressive. I had heard about it, of course, and the mermaids told me it was a beautiful place. I’m glad you invited me to come along.”
“Let’s go to the cafeteria pool next.”
“You’re the guide here. I’ll follow where you lead.”
Katherine swam underwater this time, though she still went slowly so that Jacob could keep up. She swam through the connecting tube and up into the pool, then crossed and sat at one of the tables. A little bit of mold had grown on the tables in the months of darkness and damp. The room felt empty and lonely without her fellow mermaids in it. Once they had seen the cafeteria, Katherine swam into the recreation pool. Everything was still in place there, though some mold had managed to grow on some of the chairs. The computer screens were dark and silent.
“I guess I’ll have to do some cleaning if I’m going to stay here again.” Katherine said.
“Yes. If I could I would like to move back in to the mermaid quarters. When you have a mermaid tail it is much easier to live here than in an apartment on land.”
“Why don’t you take you tail off? You never did explain why you were still wearing it.”
“It’s a long story, but the gist of it is that my tail is permanently attached. It will take surgery to remove it.”
“I thought we had a solvent that would dissolve the adhesive. Didn’t you take the tail off every few weeks?”
“We did before, but when we were kidnapped our abductors added some of the healgel for permanent prosthetics and my skin has grown into the tail material.”
“Oh, no. I’m so sorry. Of course I will see if you can move back in here.”
“Thanks. Now I want to check our old bedroom pool to see if our stuff is still in there. Would you mind waiting out here?”
Katherine went into her bedroom pool. As far as she could tell, everything in the room had been untouched. So she found one of her own tankini tops and put it on instead of the borrowed one. She turned out the lights and went back out to the recreation pool.
“You changed tops.” Jacob said.
“I feel more comfortable with my own clothes. Let’s go out to the arena pool now.”
“Lead the way.”
She took him back through the greenhouse pool and down the slide into the mermaid swim area. Jacob whooped as he slid down the slide, obviously enjoying it. Katherine opened the gate to the arena, though she was a little surprised that the code hadn’t been changed. When she swam out into the arena pool, three dolphins immediately charged over to her and began gently bumping up against her side and pinging her with their echolocation sounds. Jacob was a bit apprehensive, and he hung back in the tunnel while Katherine reacquainted herself with her dolphin friends. After swimming around with them for a few minutes, Katherine headed for the channel to the gulf. The dolphins seemed excited as they followed her. Jacob trailed behind, still keeping his distance from the dolphins. After a short distance they came to the gate.
“How do we open this?” Katherine asked.
“There is a coded lock behind a hidden panel up top.”
“Can you climb up there and open it?”
“Yes, now. These dolphins have been held captive here long enough.”
“I think so. I should be able to climb up the gate to get to the top.”
Jacob struggled a bit, but he was able to get his fingers and toes into the grating on the gate and climb up out of the channel. Katherine listened to him working at the panel for a minute, and then the gate opened to the side. The three dolphins immediately swam through as soon as the opening was large enough for their bodies. They turned back once they were past the gate, looking at Katherine as if asking her if she wanted to come with them.
“I’ll be fine. Go on back to your pod.” Said Katherine, making shooing motions with her hands. The dolphins hesitated for just a moment or two longer, and then turned and disappeared down the channel and out into the gulf.
“I sure hope we can convince them to come back.” Said Katherine.
Jacob called down from up above.
“Since I’m already out, should I walk around and get the crane ready?”
“That sounds good. I’ll be waiting for you.”
Katherine quickly swam back through the mermaid swim area, went through the lock into the greenhouse pool, and then back into the practice pool. She sat on the bottom where she could see the crane and waited for Jacob to return. He followed after a few minutes and she swam up to the crane so he could lift her out of the pool. Once they had both changed back into dry clothes, Katherine asked Jacob a question.
“Would you be willing to come back sometime this evening and let me into the pool? I might want to stay the night in the mermaid quarters tonight.”
“I could come back and meet you around 9:30 after I put my kids to bed.”
“That would work. Thank you.”
Katherine wheeled herself over to Ray McKenzie’s office and asked if he was willing to re-instate her as an employee.
“I’m not asking for back pay or anything. Just to start working again at the same salary as before.” She told him. “Jacob seems amenable to letting me help work with the new mermaids and to letting me stay in the mermaid quarters.”
“You have already been a great help today by informing us of what was going on, and reminding us that we need to think about more than just profits where the aquarium is concerned. I’ll go pull your old records and set you up as an employee again. We may have to take a new picture for a new badge.”
“Thank you. I’ll be back this evening to move in, and I’ll be ready to start work in the morning.”
Katherine called Janice and then went down to the lobby to wait for her.
“Have you heard from Dave yet?” She asked once they were back in the car.
“No. I guess it’s taking longer than he thought to find them. I hope nothing’s gone wrong.”
“So do I. Carlos seems to be very determined and powerful, so I’m going to be very worried until I’m sure Allen is safe.”
“How did your time at the aquarium go?”
“Very well. Once I explained what had happened they were very receptive to my advice. And I made sure to let the dolphins free.”
“I’m glad to hear that. I hope they can recover from the closure and the general lack of care that I saw on my last visit.”
“I’m trying to push for that. And Jacob Bryson, their new aquarium manager, seems to be willing to improve things. He was just stymied by Jonas before. He also agreed to let me start working again and to move back into the mermaid quarters.”
“Do you have to? You’ve only been back a short time. I was hoping to spend more time with you.”
“We can still spend time together. I can come visit in the evenings, or you can put on a swimsuit and come visit me. But I don’t want to spend all my time in a wheelchair and needing help to get into the bathtub.”