To start at the beginning, use this link: Link to chapter 1
After the meeting with the new mermaids, Allen and Fernando had an appointment with Cammy. They both swam to the practice pool and Paul ran the crane to lift them out of the water. Then they wheeled themselves down to the basement to meet the tail artist. As they rolled down the hall toward the room where Allen used to get his tail attached and removed, the feisty young woman ran down the hall to greet them and leaned over to give Allen a big hug.
“I’m so glad you’re safe!” She said. “I always thought it was kind of fishy when they stopped calling me to help with your tails. Jonas insisted you had all quit, but it didn’t sound right for you to leave without getting your tails taken off first.”
“It turns out you were right to be worried. May I introduce Fernando Salazar? I don’t believe his tail is your work.”
“Definitely not. I think I may have passed you in the halls once or twice, but we were never introduced.” Cammy said while shaking Fernando’s hand.
“I believe I have seen you before as well. It is nice to finally meet you. Do you think you can give me a more useful tail?”
“Let’s go into my workroom and take a look.”
The room was quite a bit different than the first time Allen had been in it. It had started out as a bare basement room with a configurable examination bed and a few bins for scales and such. But as the number of merfolk had grown and used the room regularly, Audra had added a second bed and a set of shelves and cabinets for all of the supplies needed. The supplies were still there, though a little dusty from sitting unused for several months. Cammy was in the process of checking through to refresh her memory on what she had and what she might need to resupply. Allen rolled up next to one of the beds and showed Fernando how to lower it so that he could slide over from his wheelchair.
“I’ll do you first, Allen, since it will take less time. Can you tell me what you need?”
“Well, Carlos cut my tail fin down, so I would like it restored to its previous size. Then there are the tears on my leg where the crocodile bit me.”
“Wow! Katherine told me a few things, but you have to promise to tell me the whole story while I work. What are the bandages for?”
“They used healglue to attach a fish body to my torso that confined my arms. Dr. Hansen had to cut it off where my skin grew around it.”
“It looks like on your legs they just painted over the existing scales, but then they glued new ones on above your waist. I can still see where they added a few. Do you want your old paint job back?”
“Yes. I don’t want any more reminders of that place.”
“All right, I’ll get to work then.”
It only took Cammy a few minutes to replace the missing scales on Allen’s legs and to even out the transition at his waist. It took a little bit longer for her to shape a new tail fin. She had an extra from when they were regularly changing, but she had to trim it down and then cut Allen’s existing fin to allow her to slide the new one over the old and glue it in place. She strapped Allen down to hold him still while the glue dried, and then she moved over to Fernando.
“You’re going to be a bit more of a challenge.” She said. “I’ll have to cut away this long seahorse tail and then figure out a way to attach a regular tail fin. The workmanship on your tail isn’t bad. I wonder who they hired to do the work?”
“I’m sorry not to know who did it.” Fernando said. “I was unconscious at the time. But Dr. Hansen said to give you these.”
Fernando held out a few pages of printouts from the MRI scan. The doctor had marked on them where Fernando’s flesh stopped and the silicone began.
“It looks like your body has grown out a bit from where your toes initially were.” Said Cammy. “It’s a good thing I have these printouts so I know how close I can cut.”
Cammy got to work on Fernando’s tail, cutting away the long curling seahorse tail and replacing it with a wide fluke for swimming, then filling in the transition with individual scales. By the time she was finished with Fernando, the adhesive on Allen’s tail was dry so she switched over to painting Allen’s tail. While she worked, Allen and Fernando filled her in on the details of their captivity, leaving out the submarine ride at the end.
“That’s quite a story!” She said as she applied the finished touches to Fernando’s tail. “I’m glad you got away from that horrid man. And I’m a little unhappy that your tails are permanently attached now. I was looking forward to helping you put your tails on and off again. It’s more interesting than just making the regular tails for our mail-order customers. Of course, I suppose you’re even more unhappy being stuck as mermen forever.”
“It was certainly a shock.” Fernando said. “But I have learned to live with the idea. At least I get to see my beautiful wife in a swimsuit every day.”
“Not to mention spending all day with a whole group of lovely mermaids.” Allen added.
They chatted for another hour or so until the paint was dry, and then Cammy left the two mermen to get back in their wheelchairs and return to the mermaid quarters.
“Thanks for the help.” Allen told her. “I’m sure we will need your services again from time to time.”
“Happy to oblige. I kind of feel like an artist, and the merfolk here at the aquarium are my masterpieces. Every time a kid asks you if you are a real merman, it’s a validation of my skill.”
Allen and Fernando arrived back at the mermaid quarters just in time to get ready for the press conference. Audra had decided to have the conference in the mermaid swim area. That way the merfolk could be in their natural element and she would get a bit more advertising for her aquarium. To make their entrance more dramatic, Audra asked them all to go through the lock instead of taking the slide. They all went through together and then swam to the edge of the pool, where they could see a row of cameras pointing at a row of reporters, who all had their backs to the pool while they made their opening remarks to their viewers. When the row of mermaid heads rose out of the pool behind them the reporters quickly turned around as their cameramen refocused on the merfolk. Audra pulled herself out of the water and sat on the side of the pool directly in front of the reporters, with the rest of the merfolk arranging themselves to either side of her. One of the reporters quickly knelt down next to Audra and began the questioning.
“Nick Stevens here, from ABC Eyewitness News. Are you Audra Burns, the founder of Burns Pharmaceutical?”
Audra put on her best smile and answered him. “Yes I am.”
“Can you tell us about the kidnapping?”
Pleased with the open-ended question, Audra summarized their experience, though she glossed over parts of the rescue, not mentioning the submarine. When she finished, another reporter quickly approached and asked her question.
“Our sources at the hospital tell us that your tails are permanently glued on. How did that happen? And isn’t there a solvent or something that would remove the glue and let you get out of the tails?”
“We didn’t know it at the time, but while we were unconscious, our captors apparently injected healglue under our tails. Healglue was developed specifically for permanent prosthetics, like ear replacements for burn victims. It encourages tissue to grow into and around the prosthetic, making it a permanent part of the body. It’s not like a glue that can be dissolved because our body tissues have actually grown into our tails and incorporated them into our bodies.”
“So you will all be stuck with mermaid tails until you die?”
“We don’t know. It may be possible to surgically remove them. Carla is working with a medical team to try that option, and if it is successful some of the others may go that route as well.”
Kari Davis asked the next question, holding the microphone out to Carla to answer.
“Carla, why are you the first one to try the surgery?”
“I’ve just had enough! It was fun being a mermaid for a while, but now it only reminds me of the horrible treatment we received, and the constant fear that we would be sold off or abused. I just want to go back to a normal life.”
Another reporter zeroed in on Katherine.
“I understand you were separated from the others and sold to a foreign buyer. Can you tell us what that was like?”
“It was terrifying. At least before I knew I had friends who were suffering with me. Once I was sold, I was all alone, I was powerless, and I never knew what that man would do to me.”
“So were you treated badly?”
“I was confined to a room with a pool, and they forced me to perform for my captor, but I wasn’t physically harmed.”
“They? So the man who bought you had accomplices?”
“Yes. He was wealthy and powerful and he had many servants.”
“Where were you held? What country was it?”
“I can’t say. They spoke another language that I didn’t understand.”
“How did you get free?”
“Captain Johnson worked with some local police forces and they were able to find me.”
“Did they arrest your captor?”
“He was brought to justice.”
“So didn’t they tell you what country you were in when they rescued you?”
Allen felt that the reporter was pushing too hard, so he interrupted her questions. “I think my wife is done answering questions now.” He said. “Let’s give someone else a chance to talk.”
Kari Davis took the opportunity to get another question in.
“Mr. Salazar, I understand you and your wife were kidnapped even though you weren’t mermaids before. Do you know why you were included?”
“It’s merfolk when the men are included.” Fernando corrected her. “And we were taken because we were involved in the previous kidnapping event, and Carlos Ruiz had a grudge against us.”
“How did you end up as merfolk?”
“They drugged our food when we were eating out, and when we woke up we had tails. I’m afraid we don’t remember the process.”
Another reporter jumped in. “Could you give us more details about how you escaped?”
Daphne answered. “We used a piece of wire to unlock our restraints and then overpowered our guard.”
“But where did the wire come from?”
“There were some decorations in the pool we were kept in. Allen was able to break it off of one of the decorations.”
“How did you overpower your guard? And how did you get away after that?”
“It’s a very long and exciting story.” Audra chimed in. “But I don’t think we have time to go into it tonight. I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for the book to get all the details.”
“I’m sure one of us will write one someday. In the meantime, we have an aquarium to prepare. We have our grand re-opening on Friday.”
That answer generated a slew of new questions, but Audra just referred them all to Carmen Menendez for the details. Then she slipped off the edge of the pool into the water, and the rest of the merfolk followed as they swam back to the greenhouse pool lock.