Copyright© January 2006 by Souvie
Edited by Denny
"Tolliver, get your skinny ass in here!"
I jumped, my hand going automatically to cover my racing heart. I had been casually flirting with Eric, the cutest guy in the mailroom, instead of putting the finishing touches on my "Fashion Week Gives Area Retail a Boost" article. I considered fashion to be fluff, something I hated covering, but if it got my name on a byline I didn't feel I could be too picky.
I sighed and shot Eric an apologetic smile. He smiled back, fueling my erotic dreams for at least another night, and rolled his cart down the aisle. I pushed a pencil behind my ear, and approached Peterson's office, not in any hurry to get my latest butt-chewing.
He shut the door behind me. "Could you have walked any slower?" His stogie moved from one side of his mouth to the other as he talked.
"Actually, yes," I answered honestly. I perched on the edge of his desk.
"Don't be a smart ass." He shooed me into a battered and soda- stained chair, and then sat behind his desk.
"If it's about the fashion article," I started, "I was about to--"
"Fuck the fashion article; Heather can finish it. I need you for something bigger."
That got my attention. "Like how bigger?"
"Big enough to make Dirk jealous."
Oh yeah, now he was talkin'! Dirk Drummand was the closest thing to a rival I had at the Daily Press. He was rude, crude, a chauvinist and thought he was God's gift to women. One-upping him would not only make my week, it'd make my entire month. "I'm all ears," I prompted.
"Have you heard of that new marine aquarium that opened up in the West End last year? It's called, get this, The Fish Tank. Pretty fucking original, huh?"
I nodded, even though I only had a vague idea what he was talking about. Sight seeing and scientific places didn't go hand-in-hand in my book.
"To cut the crap, they supposedly found this extinct fish, got a whole bunch of funding for it, and now some bigwigs in the scientific field are challenging it, saying it's all an elaborate hoax."
"Uhhh, right. Extinct fish, not extinct. So what's the story?"
"Shit, Tolliver! Do I have to spell everything out for you?" He crushed the stogie into an overflowing ashtray on his desk. "I want you to get down there and get me the story. Not the fancy pants version they're going to feed to the press, but the behind-the-scenes real life shit. I want to know if this fish is the real deal or not." He tossed me a folder. "Here's all we have on this thing so far: they've pulled the fish from display, pending the outcome of an investigation. I want details, details, details. Take a photographer with you, too."
"Really, Mr. Peterson, I know how to work a camera," I protested. I was stingy about sharing the glory with anyone.
"Yes, I know that." He glared at me. "I still have the negatives from last year's 'Tux and Tennis Shoes Ball.' The whole lot, double exposed, if I remember right, and I do."
"Okay, okay, I get the message." I didn't need a rehash of my mistakes; I could do that perfectly fine myself.
"I need that story the day after tomorrow, too," Peterson added. "I want to run it before the formal inquiry starts on Monday."
"Gee, you don't ask for much, do you?" Sarcasm laced my voice though I tried to keep it out. I honestly did.
He growled and I quickly shut his door behind me. I didn't want to press my luck.
If I had to grab a photographer, Gayle was my best bet. She'd already proven she could handle my unorthodox methods when she didn't blab to the whole office that she'd caught me photocopying my boobs last month. Crap! I never sent a copy to Eric.
"Hey, Trudy," Melissa called out. "One of the rings around Uranus, eight letters, starts with a 'd'."
I wrinkled my brow trying to remember. "Try Desdmona," I answered. Crossword puzzles were a passion of mine, the end result being that my brain was filled with bits of obscure information. Melissa was a friend who'd gotten hooked on them, too, and came to me on occasion for help.
"Thanks. And a four letter word for rectum." She smiled at me as I walked past. "And I've already tried butt. It can't end in a 't'."
"That one's easy," I replied. "Four letter word for rectum would be Dirk." Several people around me snickered and I couldn't help but join in. I was on a high. I had escaped getting my ass chewed out, been assigned a story with front page potential, and gotten to insult Dirk. I was on top of the world.
The next morning, decked out in my one and only business suit, my hair in a bun and glasses perched on my nose, I met Gayle down in the West End of Dallas, about a block from The Fish Tank. I'd done a bit of research the previous evening, and filled Gayle in as much as I thought she needed to know. She had her camera tucked into her shoulder bag and as we walked to the aquarium, I briefed her on our cover story and handed her her fake badge. It wasn't too complicated, and as long as we kept it simple I figured we'd be okay.
I timed our arrival for lunch hour. The fewer people we had to deal with the better. And if we lucked out and got some brainless lackey, our job would be like taking candy from a baby. I crossed my fingers as I crossed the entryway of the aquarium.
"Wow," Gayle said from behind me.
I stopped to take stock of my surroundings. She had pretty much summed it up. We were surrounded on all sides by huge floor to ceiling tanks, each filled with fish of all shape, size and color. A few I recognized: lionfish, clownfish, dogfaced puffers, trigger fish, seahorses, and eels. I was impressed.
But I still had a story to get.
"Come on," I said, walking to where a door marked "Employees Only" beckoned. I squared my shoulders and assumed my best I'm- supposed-to- be-here attitude.
The door led to a hallway with doors branching off it on either side. Each one was marked, thankfully, which saved me having to ask directions and further complicating things.
Near the end of the corridor I found what I was looking for. Marked with a small plaque that read 'Quarantine Room: Authorized Personnel Only, ' the door had a sophisticated looking electronic lock that quashed my hopes of a quick entry. I sighed with frustration, and turned to Gayle, "Guess it's time to think of Plan B."
"We were so close."
"We could always just try the door, see if it opens," I suggested half-heartedly.
"Are you kidding? It probably locks automatically."
She had an excellent point, but for the hell of it, I reached out and tried the handle. It turned, the door opening a fraction of an inch.
"Holy shit!" Gayle whispered exactly what I was thinking.
Talk about your dumb luck. As I pushed the door the rest of the way open and we slipped inside, I sent a silent 'thank you' to all the good fortune deities I could think of.
The room looked as I'd imagined any other marine biology lab to look - large tanks, some filled with water and others empty, cabinets lined one wall, two stainless steel tables, one holding an elaborate computer set up. &&& (end) if you mean the computer is set up, 2 words; if you refer to the computer and peripherals, it's 'setup'
The only occupant of the room was a sharklike fish, pacing the length of its tank. I held my breath. If this was the fish in question, I would be almost tempted to lean over the tank and kiss its scaly little head. Or skin, in this case.
I smiled at Gayle and walked over to the tank, the sound of my heels on the cool tile echoing off the walls.
"Hey! This area is off limits." A young man walked into the lab from a door that was partially hidden behind a tall cabinet. His dark hair was disheveled and looked like it hadn't seen a pair of clippers in at least a month. His glasses had slipped down to the end of his nose - or maybe that's the way he normally wore them - giving him a schoolmarm appearance. All that was offset by the lean and very masculine body under his lab coat that flashed into view with every step he took. I had sudden urge to back away so he'd have farther to walk. I blamed it on the setting: I'd had fantasies of getting it on with a geeky scientific type ever since my crush on Mr. Fisher in tenth grade biology.
I adjusted the lapels of my suit jacket, surreptitiously unbuttoning the top button, and assumed what I hoped was an officious air. "I'm Dr. Honeywell from the United States Customs department. This is my assistant, Agent Mead." Gayle and I flashed him the phony badges that Remy, a private detective friend, had made for us. "My office called to say I was coming. Didn't you get the message?"
"I don't get messages around here. I'm just Dr. Trayhern's assistant." His eyes held more than a trace of suspicion.
"Then where is this Dr. Trayhern?"
"He's at lunch right now."
"Oh isn't that too bad!" I raised my eyebrows at Gayle and caught her rubbing her nose to hide a smile. "And who are you?"
"George. George Filbert."
"Well, George, then maybe you can tell me why we received an anonymous tip that The Fish Tank was smuggling fish illegally into the country?" I tapped my foot, drawing his attention to my fishnet- covered legs. So far my cover story was going flawlessly.
"What?!" He jerked his eyes back up to my face. His arms started to wave around wildly. "I don't know anything, and I mean anything, about illegal fish."
I kept silent.
He started pacing back and forth, just a few steps in both directions, his hands raking through his already-rumpled hair. "First the misidentification and the court order, now smuggling? What the Darwin have I gotten myself into?" I let him stew for a minute more, then cleared my throat. He stopped and looked at me, as if he'd forgotten Gayle and I were even in the room. "Relax, George, relax." I smiled, trying to put him at ease, unbuttoning another button on my jacket. "We've already inspected the rest of the facility and spoke earlier with the director, Mr. Harsk. We found no indication that anything was out of order." I looked at Gayle and she nodded in confirmation. It wasn't a lie, per se.
He put his hand to his chest. "Give a guy a heart attack, why don't you? Scaring me like that."
"Now that we've got that straight, tell me about this guy." I gestured to the fish in the tank behind me.
A guarded look came over his face. "I'm really not at liberty to discuss the animal with anyone other than Mr. Harsk or Dr. Trayhern."
"Come now, George." I smiled again. "Do you honestly want me to rethink the 'nothing fishy going on' report?"
He seemed to consider his options. "I guess it won't hurt to tell you what's already public knowledge." He walked to the tank, standing beside me close enough to touch. I clasped my hands to resist the temptation.
"This little guy, and at only three feet he really is little, is Scapanorhynchus texanus, ancestor to the modern day goblin shark, and not seen, at least not alive, for over 110 million years."
"Wow!" Gayle said, taking the words right out of my mouth.
"Exactly," George replied. "He was found in the western Pacific, I'm not sure of the precise location, Dr. Trayhern found him himself so he would know."
"How do you know for certain that it's this Scapa-whatever shark and not simply some modern shark?"