Authors: Paul Levine
To my grandchildren, Alexandra and Jonah
Just after two
, Steve Solomon sprinted along the seawall, chasing the man on the Jet Ski.
Black wet suit. Black helmet. Dark visor. A Darth Vader look.
The man shot Steve the bird, then shoved the throttle wide open. The Jet Ski jolted airborne, splashed down, and roared along the channel toward Biscayne Bay.
“Stop him, Uncle Steve!”
Bobby, urging him on. Steve had ordered his twelve-year-old nephew to stay on the dock, but the boy was running, too, trailing behind.
“You can catch him!”
Sure, kiddo. Leave it to me to capture the bad guy, rescue the dolphins, save the world.
A quarter-moon hung like a scythe over the Bay. Cetacean Park should have been quiet. The channel should have rippled placidly in the moist breeze, the air scented with salt and seaweed. Instead, the Jet Ski growled like an angry beast, belching greasy vapors in its wake.
Steve picked up his pace. Years earlier, he had been the fastest Jewish kid on Pine Tree Drive, admittedly a group with more shleppers than sprinters.
He figured there was one chance to catch the man. The channel ran straight for three hundred yards, then dog-legged right for another two hundred yards before reaching open water. He could cut diagonally across an empty field, the shortest leg of the triangle, and intercept the Jet Ski at the inlet to the Bay.
Steve looked back over his shoulder. Bobby had stopped along the seawall, either because he was pooped or because he was belatedly following his uncle’s orders.
Steve ran tall, back straight, shoulders relaxed, head still. He had always been fast over short distances. Stealing bases at U of M, a painless ninety-foot sprint. But lousy at distance running. No patience for the training, no tolerance for the pain. Before Victoria, his live-in girlfriend, he’d been a sprinter in his personal life, too. Hundred-yard dashes, hundred-hour relationships.
Flying now, feet barely touching the ground. Hopped over a fallen pond frond, never breaking stride. Shot a look at the Jet Skier, the dive knife sheathed at his ankle. Calculated time and distance. And possible injuries.
Knife wound, concussion, drowning.
They would reach the intersection of channel and Bay simultaneously.
Steve hit the embankment and drove off his back foot. He launched into space, arms spread like wings, soaring toward the man on the Jet Ski, thinking…
Just what the hell am I doing?
FROM BEDROOM TO BAY
One hour before leaping into the darkness of Biscayne Bay, Steve was locked in the spooning position with his girlfriend and law partner, Victoria Lord, her hair tickling his nose, her sweet scent fueling his dreams. The phone jarred him awake. Wade Grisby at Cetacean Park.
Victoria stirred as Steve pulled on his Hurricanes running shorts and a T-shirt with the slogan:
“What If the Hokey Pokey
What It’s All About?”
“Bobby,” Steve whispered. Explanation enough.
She rolled over, her blond hair splayed across the pillow. “Dolphins or stars?”
Steve understood the shorthand. Bobby had broken into the planetarium the night of a meteor shower. Lately, the kid had been sneaking out of the house to play with the dolphins on Key Biscayne.
He stroked Victoria’s cheek. “Dolphins. Wade Grisby caught him talking to Spunky and Misty.”
listening. Bobby believed he could understand dolphinese, as he called it. The boy was even writing a dictionary of the clicks, whistles, and moans that came from their blowholes.
Victoria propped up on one elbow. In her sheer black negligee, with her sleepy eyes, she looked like a star in one of the old black-and-white movies. Lauren Bacall, about to entice her man back to bed.
“Steve, I just can’t get enough of you.”
Instead, Victoria said, “Steve, maybe it’s time Bobby saw a therapist.”
“I’ll talk to him. He’ll be okay.”
Steve leaned over and kissed her, Victoria exhaling a warm breath. Asleep before he was out the door.
Every day another drama, Steve thought, driving across the Rickenbacker Causeway. Getting Bobby out of another jam. This didn’t sound as serious as climbing on a catwalk over I-95 to spray paint an exit sign. Bobby had removed the apostrophe from the word “Beaches’” because the typographical error drove him nuts. The kid was sweet and loveable, and in some mysterious way, a genius. But he wasn’t socially developed, and lately he’d been acting out.
Breaking curfew. Trespassing. Keeping secrets.
Steve had asked Bobby if everything was okay, if he was having problems, if he wanted to talk about anything.
Typical adolescent. But unusual for a kid who was ordinarily so verbal. Steve wondered if Bobby’s central nervous system disorders were in play. A little klutzy, a lot brainy. The kid seesawed between semi-autistic behavior and savantlike abilities of memory and language feats. “Paradoxical functional facilitation,” the doctors called it. Bobby could create anagrams in his head. But lately, his wordplay had been limited to chirping sounds at the breakfast table. Dolphinese.
Steve pulled his Mustang convertible into the empty lot at the bayside attraction. Signs pointed toward the bottlenose dolphin channel, the killer whale tank, the indoor aquarium.
Steve hustled toward the channel. Wondering if he’d been too lax with Bobby, too reluctant to discipline him. Grounding his nephew didn’t seem to work. The kid just crawled out his bedroom window and took off.
Steve followed a path of palm trees to the channel. Spotlights on metal poles illuminated the dark water. He figured Grisby would be in his small dockside office, lecturing Bobby on the dangers of breaking into other people’s businesses.
That’s when Steve heard the roar of the engine. Spotted Darth Vader. Totally surreal.
The Jet Ski carved a turn, kicked up spray, and slowed near the dock. The rider glared at Steve. Early twenties with a pugnacious jaw and cruel mouth. Raising a fist above his head, he shouted, “Liberation!”
What the hell’s going on? Where’s Grisby? Where’s Bobby?
Steve heard sneakered footsteps on the concrete dock, his nephew running toward him, all flying elbows and knees, a skinny arm pointing at the masked man on the Jet Ski. “He’s stealing Spunky and Misty!”
The man cruised close to the seawall and bared his teeth. “Freedom for the animals!”
So that’s it. The guy’s a dolphin-kidnapping, animal-libbing, eco-terrorist asshole.
Steve was all for animal rights. But not burning down labs. Or bombing research centers. Or terrorizing scientists. If a few rats had to die to find a cure for cancer—well, it was a trade-off that made sense.
The man gave Steve the finger, gunned the Jet Ski, and headed out the channel toward the Bay.
“Stop him, Uncle Steve!”
CALL ME FISHMEAL
One hour before Bobby Solomon begged his uncle to stop Darth Vader from stealing the two dolphins, the boy had climbed a chain-link fence, sneaked across a concrete dock, and crept over a catwalk to a floating wooden platform.
Praying he wouldn’t be caught.
Uncle Steve would be so pissed. But Bobby had decided to take the risk.
I need to talk to Misty and Spunky.
His best friends.
Waiting for their signal, Bobby sprawled on his back. He let his eyes grow accustomed to the dark. In a moment, he spotted the constellation Sagittarius in the clear night sky.
A splash, then a rapid-fire
A second splash and a familiar high-pitched whistle.
Misty and Spunky saying hello.
They were the stars at Cetacean Park. Spunky was the color of a blue-steel revolver, with a long beak and a gray belly. His fluke—the wing-shaped paddle at the end of his tail—was oversize, powering his giant leaps. He weighed about 250 pounds, depending on how much mackerel he’d had for breakfast. Misty, his girlfriend, had a sleek, silvery-blue body with a pink belly. She loved to be rubbed at the base of her dorsal fin.
Bobby put two fingers to his lips and whistled. Two short blasts.
Spunky slapped the water with a fin, splashing Bobby. The Spunkster joking around.
No tanks to confine them, the two dolphins lived in a channel that ran to Biscayne Bay, a steel gate blocking their path to open water. Bobby swam with the dolphins, fed them, played with them. Even watched them have sex, belly-to-belly.
Not an everyday sighting. Not like seeing Pamela Anderson or Paris Hilton do the big nasty on video.
Pennants strung across the channel crackled in the sea breeze. The park had been closed for hours, but sugary songs about a thousand years old still poured from the speakers. Barbra Streisand was ordering someone not to rain on her parade. Barbra Streisand. SAD BREAST BRAIN.
So easy. You just picture the letters, and they fly around and anagrammatize themselves. Bobby thought in pictures and sounds, just like the dolphins. He could remember almost everything he’d ever seen or heard.
For the past year, he’d been listening to the sounds coming from Spunky’s and Misty’s blowholes, trying to untangle their language. Building a dictionary of dolphin talk. The clicks and squeaks, moans and whistles all meant something, but you had to be patient. You had to
listen and remember the patterns. Tonight, he hoped to add a few new phrases to his notebook. Then he’d bicycle home, sneak back into the house without waking Uncle Steve and Victoria, and catch some z’s before school.
Earlier tonight, he’d told Victoria a big fat fib. More than one, really. She’d been cooking meat loaf, filled with onions and dripping with Worcestershire and Tabasco sauce. She wouldn’t eat a bite, but she always made meals Bobby loved. That’s the way Victoria was. Making sure his clothes were clean, his homework finished, his hair combed. So he was bummed to fake her out.
She’d been worried about him, Bobby knew. Tonight, he promised not to break curfew, not to sneak out, not to slink into places he didn’t belong. Then, when she came into his bedroom around eleven
, while Uncle Steve was watching
Bobby pretended to be asleep. Victoria sat on the edge of his bed, stroked his hair, and sang a lullaby to him. “Goodnight, My Angel,” the Billy Joel song. Like he was a little kid, except no one ever sang to him when he was little, including his real mom, who—let’s face it—was basically a coke whore who didn’t care about anyone but herself.
As Victoria sang, Bobby squeezed his eyes shut and bit his lower lip to keep from crying. Wishing she was his mom. Hoping Uncle Steve didn’t blow it with her.
Now, two hours after Victoria pulled the blanket up to his chin and softly closed his bedroom door, Bobby lay on the floating platform at Cetacean Park. After a few moments, Misty swam up to him.
ed his tongue.
She whistled a two-syllable reply.
That’s what it sounded like, anyway. Bobby reached into a rubber pail and lobbed a chunk of mackerel toward the water. Misty gulped it down and whistled again.
He dug into the pail for another fish, and chirped a high-pitched sound from the back of his throat.
“Squid or crab, Spunky?”
Oh, shit. Mr. Grisby.
Bobby could see the owner of Cetacean Park, silhouetted by a spotlight on the dock. A nice guy—but then, he’d never caught Bobby breaking into the place.
“Goddammit! Answer me! I know you’re there.”
And if Uncle Steve finds out…
Bobby peered through the darkness, his heart pounding. Mr. Grisby was holding something in both hands. A rifle? A shotgun? No, why would he…?
“Who the hell’s there!”
Southern accent. Sounding riled.
Bobby pressed down flat on the platform. It was hard to tell in the spotlight’s glare, but Mr. Grisby seemed to be looking his way.
“Dammit! Answer me.”
Nowhere to swim, nowhere to hide.
A thunderclap. Spunky broke the surface, twirled a backflip ten feet above the waterline, hung in the air a second, then hit the surface with a quiet
Showing off, but blowing Bobby’s cover, too.
On the speakers, Celine Dion was singing, “My Heart Will Go On.” Somewhere, Bobby thought, a big ship was about to sideswipe an iceberg. Celine Dion. END ICON LIE.
Spunky surfaced and whistled. A trilling
wee-o, wee-o, wee-o.
Calling Misty, Bobby knew. Then another sound. Not the dolphin.
A sliding metallic
Bobby knew that sound. He’d gone skeet shooting with his grandpop.
A shotgun racking.
“Last chance, dammit! You, on the platform! Hands up!”
“Don’t shoot, Mr. Grisby.” Bobby’s voice wobbled.
“Robert Solomon. That you?”
“Yes, sir.” Bobby got to one knee, raised his hands in surrender.
Grisby chuckled. “Dammit, boy. Your uncle know where you are?”
“No, sir. I sneaked out.”
“Gonna call him right now. I’ll bet he tans your hide before the sun comes up.”
“Uncle Steve doesn’t believe in spanking.”
“Then he’s a damn fool.”
A blast of water. Spunky and Misty exploded above the surface, side by side. The dolphins’ bodies were silvery-black against the moonlight. They hit the surface together, smooth as knives, and vanished.
They had heard something, Bobby thought. Or sensed it with their sonar. What we call “sonar,” anyway. Their echolocation ability. Sending out sound waves, getting readings back. Seeing in the dark by picturing the shapes of objects.
So totally cool to be a dolphin. To swim so fast, dive so deep, jump so high.
Bobby wondered what they sensed in the darkness. Mr. Grisby stared out at the channel, toward the open water of the Bay. Bobby followed his gaze. Nothing there.
“I want you out of here quick.” Grisby didn’t take his eyes from the horizon.
Bobby heard something in the man’s voice. Saw it as a picture, felt it on his skin. Something cold and sharp, an icicle poking him in the back.
“Dammit, boy! You hear me? This is no place for you.”
The sound a freezing liquid now, covering Bobby as if he were encased in a glacier. It was the sound of fear.