Sea Eyes Chapter 7

9 08 2007

‘Diviner than the dolphin is nothing yet created;

for indeed they were aforetime men . . . but by

the devising of Dionysis they exchanged the

land for the sea and put on the form of fishes.’

 

Oppian, Halieutica


 

Chapter Seven

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now all Ben had to do was justify to Conor the reason he’d blown the entire three month budget allocation for project Morning Glory for the next six months securing the services of one volunteer. And as Ben had already suspected, Connor was hardly enthusiastic about his choice.

 

                        “She’s just a child, Ben. What on earth were you thinking of?”

 

                        “You weren’t there. You didn’t see the ugly sonofabitch and the way he treated her. He didn’t even ask what we were doing. As far as he was concerned we could have been child molesters. If you’d have been in my shoes you would have done exactly the same thing.”

 

                        “Ben, I admire your sentiments but we can’t let sentiment muddy the waters of practicality.”

 

                        “She’s perfect, Conor. Don’t you understand? She’s got no preconceived ideas of what it’s like to see.” Ben’s face was flushed with emotion and the righteousness of his cause. Of course, Conor conceded, the fact that the child had been blind from birth made her an ideal candidate. But he was not about to let himself be so easily swayed.

 

                        “How are we going to look after her, have you thought about that? This is a marine facility, not a crèche. Suppose she wanders off and falls in one of the tanks? Suppose she gets sick? She’s going to need twenty four hour supervision and none of us here have the time or the resources to provide that.”

 

                        Those were arguments that he had hitherto failed to include in his rationale, Ben admitted reluctantly. He’d been so caught up with wanting to get the little girl away from that creep Beauford that he’d given no thought to any of the practicalities involved in caring for a seven year old child, let alone one that was physically handicapped.

 

                        “And what about the legal ramifications of all this?” Conor continued. “Even if the child’s mother is willing to assign us guardianship that makes us responsible for her upbringing and welfare and what do any of us here know about children?”

 

                        Good question. Although married for over twenty years, Conor and his wife had remained childless, although whether from choice or circumstance, Ben had no idea. As for himself, apart from a couple of brief stints babysitting for straight friends, he could hardly claim to be Seattle’s answer to Super Nanny.

 

                        “I’ll look after her. She can stay with me.”

 

                        Lily had remained so quiet throughout their conversation that Ben had forgotten that she was even in the room. She turned away from the window where she’d been staring silently out into the murky depths of the orca pool.

 

                        Conor swung around to face her. “I didn’t figure you for the maternal type.”

 

                        Lily shrugged. “It’ll ward off my mid-life baby crisis.”

 

                        But Conor was not to be so easily placated. “That’s all very well but it really doesn’t solve anything. What about schooling? The child has to have an education. It takes special skills to teach the visually impaired and the nearest school for the blind is in Seattle. Given the time it takes to commute we’re going to be left with no time to conduct any research which is why, I may remind the two of you, we needed a volunteer in the first place.”

 

                        Lily and Ben exchanged glances. Despite his continuing objections it was apparent Conor was weakening. “Ben’s got plenty of experience working with the blind which is one good reason why, I may remind you, he was hired in the first place.” Conor opened his mouth to protest but Lily continued. “Besides, you’ve got two PhD’s and an MA in this department alone. Between the three of us I reckon we may be able to impart a few nuggets of knowledge she might find useful.”

 

                        Conor tapped out a staccato rhythm with his pen in time to his thoughts. He had to admit Ben was right. The child was an excellent prospect. While he would have preferred a more independent adult, there was no arguing with the fact that her mind would probably retain a greater flexibility and be more open to what they were trying to achieve. As for the other problems, well, the sooner they managed to get the Eye operational, the sooner they’d cease to be problems at all.

 

                        He looked across the room out the window to where Saamri hung motionless in the water, nose to the glass as if eavesdropping on their conversation. Following the direction of his gaze, Ben too turned around and gave a sudden start. The orca sat, a few feet behind him, to all intents and purposes looking over his shoulder. The animal bobbed its head up and down as if nodding agreement. McHugh sighed.

 

“Looks like I’m out-voted,’ he said. ‘Okay you two, the child stays – on two conditions. One, that you see her parents indemnify us against any accident or illness that might befall her while in our care.”

 

                        “Sounds reasonable. I’ll get the lawyers on that right away,” Lily said. “And the other conditions?”

 

                        McHugh paused dramatically for effect. “That no one expects me to give up my Friday night bridge in order to baby-sit – do I make myself clear?”

                       

 

Momma cried when Bethany went away but Bethany told her to be brave. After all, it wasn’t forever. Bethany missed her momma, but momma didn’t spend so much time with her since Uncle Carling had come to live with them. She also missed her friends and teachers at school. Bethany had liked school even though at first she had been frightened of going there. She was frightened of the new place she was going to but determined not to show it. She knew she had to be brave for her momma. Besides, remembering how she had come to love school gave her courage. If she could get to like school chances were she would like the new place just as much.

 

                        Bethany didn’t like Uncle Carling although she knew she couldn’t tell her momma that. Momma had been lonely since daddy had left them to go up to heaven and live with the angels. Uncle Carling had explained that to her when he told her she was to go away to school. If Bethany didn’t go to school like a good girl then Uncle Carling would have to leave momma and momma would be lonely again just like she was when daddy went away and it would be all Bethany’s fault. So she pretended to be pleased at the thought of going away to school even though deep down inside she was scared. When momma and Uncle Carling left her there she didn’t even cry. Bethany wanted her momma to be happy although deep down in her soul she had the feeling that being lonely might be preferable to being with Uncle Carling.

 

                        But school had opened windows that had previously been shuttered. She had learned to do simple things like dressing and feeding herself. She had learned to read Braille. Her teachers told her that when she got older they would give her a Seeing Eye dog so she could go out and be as independent as everyone else. Bethany liked that idea. She’d occasionally petted dogs when she was out with her momma. Dogs felt soft and happy. Sometimes they’d stick their cold, damp noses in her face and kiss her. Soppy, wet kisses that made her giggle. She knew she would like to have a dog, especially one that could help her go places on her own.

 

                        Now she was at Seabourne. Like school she pretended she was pleased to be going there as she didn’t want to do anything that might make Uncle Carling walk out on her momma.  Today was her first day and she was feeling a little nervous. She held tight to Puzzle as Lily drove them both to the institute. Puzzle had been with her forever. No one knew what kind of animal Puzzle was. Momma had said he was probably an eleroo. Lily thought he was a hippopotaphant. It really didn’t matter to Bethany what Puzzle was. Just having him with her made her feel safe. Strapped in the back seat she whispered him her fears and Puzzle whispered back: Don’t worry. It’s just like school. Everybody is going to like you. Besides, I’ll be right here with you. And she clutched him closer to her for reassurance.

 

                        But as soon as she arrived her fears were almost immediately forgotten. Everyone was so nice and friendly, just like they had been at school except they didn’t have any children her own age to play with. She wasn’t sure why she had to come here. Lily had explained that she would have to have lessons but also that she was here to help them do something special. Her new friend Ben told her that it was something they hoped would help other people like herself who couldn’t see. Something that would make Seeing Eye dogs a thing of the past. Bethany didn’t know whether to feel glad or disappointed as she’d been looking forward to getting a dog but Ben explained that if this special Eye they were making worked she’d be able to get a puppy and she wouldn’t need it to see for her because she’d be able to do that for herself. Bethany found that hard to believe. Her momma had taken her to lots of doctors and they’d all said the same thing, speaking in hushed voices that they thought she couldn’t hear. Bethany’s hearing had long ago compensated for her lack of vision and even though they kept their voices down and whispered she’d heard every word. ‘I’m terribly sorry Mrs. Caul but there’s absolutely nothing we can do. Even a corneal transplant won’t work in this case. No mental retardation. No reason why she can’t lead a full and productive life ….’

 

                        Bethany liked Ben. He had been there to welcome her when momma and Uncle Carling had brought her to Lily’s house at the weekend. He had taken her for a walk and bought her an ice cream and on the way back had hoisted her up onto his shoulders and galloped back up the path from the beach like a runaway horse. She hadn’t been at all frightened she would fall off, instead yelling ‘Again! Again!’ as a winded Ben collapsed on Lily’s doorstep. Going places with Ben was fun. He didn’t try to drag her around like she was a rag doll and he smelled good. Not sour and rank like Uncle Carling but the way your clothes always smelled when they’d been drying on the line. Like stored sunshine. Bethany didn’t like it when Uncle Carling touched her. His big meaty hands were clumsy and his breath stank. Bethany knew without being told that it was because he drank too much.

 

                        Strapped into her seat in the back of Lily’s car it occurred to Bethany that she could probably ask Ben what kind of animal Puzzle was. It seemed Ben knew about an awful lot of things. He’d told her the names of all the birds that she’d heard crying above their heads on their walk and when he’d placed seashells in her hands to examine that he’d found on the beach he knew the names of all those as well. Yes, Bethany thought, if anybody could identify Puzzle, Ben could.

 

                        Bethany liked Lily too. Lily had a house right near the sea and would leave Bethany’s bedroom window open at night so she could hear the waves breaking against the shore, just like her momma used to back home. Lily made her lots of nice things to eat and she always had Oreo cookies in the house owing to it being ‘That time of the month’, whatever that meant. All Bethany knew was that every day seemed like the time of the month for Oreos.

 

                        Bethany had brought her wind chimes with her and Lily got Ben to hang them from the eaves where they accompanied the rush of the tides. There was the singing too. A faint melodic stirring far beneath the ocean. She thought that perhaps it had accompanied her from Astoria. Seeking. Homing. Following her up the Northwest coast. She still didn’t know who or what it was that called to her but it seemed to be getting closer. She wondered if she would soon find out. She found the prospect exciting and perhaps a little scary.

 

                        “Ben, do you know what kind of animal Puzzle is?”

 

                        They were heading down the path from the institute towards the dolphin lagoon on the opposite side of the bay. Bethany’s hand in his, her cane marking time to her footfalls like a metronome, the animal wedged securely under her arm. Ben glanced down at Puzzle. A dog-eared plush pet that had been loved to the point of oblivion. It’s genus unguessable, the strange hybrid creation of some amateur toymaker.

 

                        “To tell you the truth I’m not sure, honey. In fact, I think he’s an enigma.”

 

                        “An Enigma!” Bethany exclaimed, the mystery of Puzzle’s identity solved at last. “Why of course he is! You hear that Puzzle? You’re an Enigma!” She had known Ben would be the right person to ask. Ben had the answers to everything.

 

                        “There’s some steps coming up, seven of them,” Ben warned her. Bethany nodded, pausing to tuck Puzzle more firmly under her arm. She squeezed his hand tighter, counting the number of steps out loud, as they descended slowly in a painfully precise manner. Ben realized he was going to have to get used to moving at Bethany’s pace, no matter how impatient he was to get where they were going. They reached the bottom and made their way past the bleachers in front of the performance pool which were already filling with tourists eager for the best seats for the upcoming show. Ben estimated he’d have about twenty minutes in which to introduce Bethany to the dolphins before they would have to go and perform but he could use the intervening time to set up his equipment in preparation for their return.

 

                        “Ben, where are we going?”

 

                        It was then he realized that in his preoccupation with what he had to achieve today, he had neglected to tell the little girl what he had in mind. “We’re going to meet some friends of mine.”

 

                        “Will they like me?”

 

                        He heard the wavering uncertainty in her voice. Poor little tyke, he thought.  Abandoned by her folks. Left in the care of mad scientists. No wonder she’s apprehensive. What must she be going through? It was something he could hardly comprehend. “Honey, they’ll going to love you.”

 

                        They stopped while Ben unlocked the gate and he led her though, closing it behind them. He took her hand, leading her slowly towards the water’s edge while rummaging in his pockets for his whistle. “Be careful honey, don’t let go of my hand unless I say so. We’re right by the water here and I don’t want you falling in.”

 

                        She nodded solemnly. The floor underneath her feet was wood but it moved up and down, bobbing faster with each passing eddy. She could tell there were gaps in the floor because water slapped and hissed at her feet, wetting her shoes.  She moved forward slowly. She knew Ben wouldn’t let anything bad happen to her but she didn’t want to do something silly like trip and fall in and make Ben all wet because he had to jump in and fish her out. And then she heard it and in that instant her apprehension vanished. There was something in the water. Something talking. Talking so fast she couldn’t make out what it was saying. Like all the talk and all the noises of Astoria had been brought into this place and let loose. And beyond the talk, not far away but close now, right near her was the singing. She wanted to concentrate on the singing but the talk just got louder and louder until she had to stop her ears to try to shut it out. Except now the talk had turned to laughter. Laughter that was splashing around at her feet. Splishy, splashy wet laughter that wanted her to laugh with it and she cried out “What is it? Oh tell me, what is it?”

 

                        And her friend Ben took her hand and led her forward and said, “This is Dottie and this is Oscar and they’ve come to say ‘Hello’.” And she reached out and there was something wonderful. Wet and warm. Better than Puzzle. Better even than dogs. Better because the moment her hand came into contact with whatever they were she knew they loved her and that they would love her forever.

 

                        “What are they? Are they people?” Bethany asked.

 

                        Ben had been watching her face and watching the dolphins. He hadn’t even had to blow the whistle to summon them, in fact it was still in his pocket. Instead he had seen them arc across the lagoon towards the deck the moment they had come through the gate. Almost as if they were waiting to greet them. There was no sign of the boisterous behavior they had exhibited when he had first been introduced. Instead their movements were gentle. Easing themselves up out of the water to allow the child to pet them. Making gentle clicks of encouragement as her confidence increased. Well I’ll be darned, Ben thought. It’s almost as if they know. “Not people like you or me honey. They’re dolphins.”

 

                        “Dolphins,” Bethany repeated. She nodded, as if this, like the naming of Puzzle, explained everything about the creatures and what they were. Running her hands along their slick smooth bodies to combine their name and the feel of them to form a picture in her mind. “Yes, they are,” she said, finally standing up.

 

                        From across the cove came the sound of Flip’s whistle and both animals turned and headed towards the gate that had been opened into the channel that led from their enclosure to the performance pool. “Where are they going?” Bethany asked.

 

                        “They have to go work now honey, but they’ll be back in half an hour or so. In the meantime you can sit down and relax while I get some equipment ready for when they get back.” He went to take her hand but she remained standing at the water’s edge, looking across to the orca pen on the far side of the lagoon. Saamri breached from the water and then swam excitedly back and forth across the pool as if in anticipation of the coming show. Bethany turned and for one instant Ben got the eerie feeling she could actually see where his fin sliced through the water for her head followed his movements until he slid below the surface to the immense disappointment of the crowd who were clearly enjoying the impromptu display.

 

                        “Who else is here?” she asked.

 

                        “You mean in the other pen? That’s a Killer whale. Saamri is what they call him.”

 

                        He tugged at her hand but she remained stubbornly rooted to the spot, eyes glued sightlessly on the point where the whale had vanished.

 

                        “Why’s he called a Killer whale? Has he been bad?”    

                                               

“No, he hasn’t been bad,” Ben replied, pushing the memory of his earlier encounter with the orca aside. “That’s just what people call him. The kind of whale he is.”

 

“Does he kill little girls?”

 

                        “No honey, he doesn’t want to kill little girls.”

 

                        “Does he want to kill Puzzle?”

 

                        Ben smiled. “No, he definitely doesn’t want to kill Puzzle. In fact, I don’t think he wants to kill anyone,” he added in an attempt to convey a reassurance he didn’t actually feel.

 

                        “Can we go see him later? I think he’s lonely.”

 

                        “Maybe later if we have time,” Ben replied, making a mental note to make sure they didn’t make any. “In the meantime we’ve got work to do,” he said, finally succeeding in leading her away from the pool towards the equipment store at the rear of the enclosure.

 

                        “You mean like school work?”

 

                        “Not exactly. You’ll be doing schoolwork with Lily later. No, this is to do with the special Eye that we’re working on. The one that’s hopefully going to make you see.”

 

                        He punched the code into the lock and opened the door, leading Bethany over to a chair, he sat her down and then went about selecting the equipment he was going to need.

 

                        “So what are we doing in here?”

 

                        “We’re going to need a special piece of equipment to record some of the noises that Dottie and Oscar make. Then we play the recording back though a computer which is programmed to make sense of them.”

 

                        “You mean like a tape recorder? I have a tape recorder to play music and talking books.”

 

                        “Kind of, although this is a very special kind of tape recorder,” said Ben finally locating it. “It’s designed to record things you and I can’t even hear from microphones which we’ve placed under the water called hydrophones.”

 

                        “Now that sounds technologically advanced!”

 

                        “And those sound like big words for a little girl.”

 

                        “Not really. The teachers at school said I have a very good vocab – vocabillary.”

 

                        “Vocabulary,” Ben corrected, gently.

 

                        “Vocabulary,” Bethany repeated, “because I do so much reading. Well, listening anyway. I’m always listening to what people say and the way they say it. The words they use. It’s something I don’t think sighted people pay too much attention to. They’re too busy looking at what’s going on around them.”

 

                        Ben decided he liked this solemn, serious little girl whose despite her disability seemed to have formed a very accurate picture of the world around her. “So what do you like reading best?” he asked.

 

                        “I think I prefer stories with magic in them.”

 

                        “You mean like fairy tales?”

 

                        “Hmm, not like Cinderella or Snow White although I do like The Little Mermaid, but other stories too. Like Harry Potter and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Lily started to read me this really good story about toys that come to life called Oddkins. Have you read it?”

 

                        Ben had to admit he hadn’t.

 

                        “Well, it’s really good and there are bad toys and good toys and the bad toys are trying to stop the good toys from finding a new toy maker. There’s even an Enigma in it like Puzzle.” She paused while Ben proceeded to hook up the recorder to a sound spectrograph, a machine which produced a visual record of how the components of a sound, be it a spoken word or the babble of a dolphin, varied with time. “Ben, I’m hungry and I need to go to the bathroom.”

 

                        Ben sighed and stopped what he was doing. It was plain it was going to be a very long day.

 

 

For the first time since she graduated, Leigh was out of a job. At first, she wasn’t unduly concerned, remembering how aggressively she’d been recruited when she’d first decided to relocate to the Northwest. But after three weeks, when only one of the four headhunters she’d contacted had bothered to return her call, when the direct approach to agencies had resulted in a coldly polite ‘We’re not hiring any creatives at this time’. And when restoring the Cherokee to some degree of roadworthiness had all but drained her bank balance, Leigh had finally formed the sinking suspicion that her period of unemployment might turn out to be more protracted that she had originally envisaged.

 

            It was the one recruitment consultant who did return her call who confirmed what Leigh herself already suspected. Her impromptu departure from Como Schofeldt & Kurtz had branded her as a troublemaker with a capital ‘T’.

 

            “After all, darling,” said the ashen woman opposite as she chain-smoked her way through Leigh’s book. “If we all resigned every time a client did something we didn’t like there wouldn’t be an account in America with a creative left to service them.”

 

            The bottom line was that no amount of repackaging could disguise the fact that overnight she’d gone from flavor of the month to well past her use-by date.

 

            “Go back to New York,” had been the consultant’s final piece of advice. Not that she hadn’t considered it. But the thought of being just another maggot in that big wormy apple depressed her more than the hatchet job Lennie’s small town petty-mindedness was presently having upon her career. Fact was, she liked Seattle. But the problem remained of how she might earn a living if she was to continue living there.

 

            Perhaps it was time for a change of direction. She remembered her parting shot at Lennie of threatening to volunteer at Freeseas. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea. After all, even if they couldn’t afford to pay her it would give her something to do instead of just sitting at home vacuuming cat hair off the couch and worrying about her dwindling back account. Maybe it would even help her sleep better. Financial worries were not the only thing to keep her awake at night. The sight of dying dolphins struggling in nets continued to snare her conscience.

           

It was a day almost Californian in its laid back balminess. The sky was clear apart from a few wispy mares tails snagged high up in the stratosphere. As she drove towards the city Leigh could see clear across to where Mount Rainier jutted skyward like a great ragged tooth in the elderly jaw of the earth.

The Freeseas building straddled the border between downtown and the International district at the southern end of Yesler’s Way in what had once been the city’s infamous Skid Row. Originally named Skid Road after the great corduroy log slide that allowed timber to come tumbling down the hills straight into the welcoming maw of the city’s sawmills that lined the waterfront, the area later become a milieu of hopelessness, poverty and crime when the mills retreated out of the city along with the receding lumber. Mean streets whose name would later be corrupted to Skid Row and used to conjure a vision of urban decay in cities throughout the United States and the rest of the English speaking world. The irony of which was not lost upon Leigh as she parked the Cherokee next to one of the many ‘No Loitering’ signs that seemed erected not so much as a warning but as a tribute to the area’s ignominious past. Always knew I’d end up a bum, she thought as she locked the car.

 

            The converted warehouse that housed the Freeseas headquarters was painted an uninspired gray. It looked out of place amongst the Southeast Asian eateries crowding against it, their small garish shop fronts like the spines of cheap novels jammed in against a weighty academic tome. Only the large mural of a surfer riding the back of a dolphin painted on the side wall of the building told Leigh that she was in the right place. Steel shuttered windows gaped eyelessly over what would have been, at least from the upper floors, a spectacular view of the downtown skyline and Elliott Bay.  The only way in or out appeared to be via a single entrance below the mural, distinguished only by a terse sign which read ‘Inquiries’ and an arrow which pointed to an intercom set into the wall.

 

            Leigh pressed the button and waited. A slight whirring sound altering her to a video camera mounted above her head. Below the lens a red light went on at the same time a disembodied “Yes?” issued from the loudspeaker.

 

            “Oh, yeah, hi.” Leigh glanced up at the camera, unsure whether she should be addressing that or the intercom, the absence of human contact causing her to forget the speech she’d carefully rehearsed in the car on the way over. “Er, my name’s Leigh Carson and I was wondering if you needed any volunteers to help out in your office. Fundraising, administration. That kind of thing.” No response. The only indication that life might indeed exist within the walls of the sterile facade was the red glow of the record light and the turning of the lens which indicated whoever might be operating it was zooming in for a closer look.

 

            Nervously she blundered on. “I saw your piece on the dolphins the other night. That’s the reason I’m here. You see, I worked on that account. Dapple. Well, I used to. But don’t hold it against me. I’m kind of between jobs right now and I wondered if you might need somebody with advertising or marketing experience to lend a hand. I also make a mean cup of coffee …”

 

            Her voice trailed away. She was beginning to feel really stupid. Standing here, confronted with a steel door like the entrance to Fort Knox and a monosyllabic voyeur. What the hell was she doing here? Volunteering her time, her expertise and for what? Obviously these people weren’t concerned about their image. As far as Leigh could tell they didn’t have one.

 

            “Drivers license.”

 

            “I beg your pardon?”

 

            “Hold your drivers license up to the camera, please.”

 

            She rummaged in her purse and taking out her wallet held it up for the camera’s inspection. With every passing second she was feeling more foolish. What would they ask for next? Blood tests and a sample of her water? Not that she expected gratitude but all this hostility seemed unwarranted.  She was volunteering to stuff envelopes, not to join the CIA

 

            “Thank you, Ms. Carson. We’ll pass your message on to our director. If we need anyone we’ll let you know.”

 

            Leigh walked back to the car feeling like she’d failed to gain an audience with the Great Oz.  Planet loving, maybe. People loving, definitely not.

 

 

            Denton watched as the woman got into the Cherokee. Aside from the employees whom he now all knew by sight and the regularly scheduled deliveries she was the only visitor to the building in the two days he’d been stationed outside. He wondered who she was and jotted down the license number. Something he could amuse himself by checking out later. Obviously no one of importance as they hadn’t bothered with the welcoming committee. As if all their fancy security counted for anything. He could get into that building any time he wanted. The check on the girl was just what he needed to relieve the boredom. Attractive, in a big-assed way. Nice hair. Long, shiny chestnut ropes. Looked like she took care of it. He imagined what it would be like to run his hands through it. Long enough to wrap it around her throat even.

 

           

He watched as she started the motor and drove away. His hand went to the bulge under his ram where his piece hung in its holster like an erection.

           

Baby, you should see what I got for you.

 

 

            “Leigh Amelia Carson. Date of birth twelve fifteen seventy six. Rents a house down by Lake Union for just under fourteen hundred a month. Telephone 555 4167. Most recently employed by a firm called Como Schofeldt and Kurtz as a copywriter. Before that at DDMB, New York. Checking account contains less than three thousand dollars. No police record. Just rocked up to the front door and rang the bell. And here’s the irony of it, this is the genius who gave the world the Dapple jingle.”

 

            Tomio dropped the dossier in front of Kyle. “Everything else is in there including her next-of-kin and anything else you may want to know from her HIV status to the size of her bra.” From the other end of the table Fran shot him a look. “Just kidding,” he apologized as he sat down.

 

            Kyle picked up the folder and leafed through it. It always amazed him the amount of information that could easily be gleaned on an individual. And Freeseas only had access to a limited amount of it but even that amounted to personal details that most people wouldn’t want made public. He glanced at a print out of recent medical procedures that Ms. Carson had undergone. Blood: O Negative, HIV: Negative. The electronic age had brought about not so much an information superhighway as a free-for-all. If only people knew that Big Brother wasn’t merely content with watching any more. The thought made him uncomfortable and he pushed it aside. To dwell on how much they had on him was to dabble in paranoia. He continued to study Leigh Carson’s employment history. A Clio. A gold pencil. Leigh Amelia Carson had some impressive credentials. What bothered him was why she had come knocking on their door looking for a job, as opposed to pulling down six figures in some cushy advertising agency.

 

            “Resigned the day after our tuna expose went to air,” Tomio elaborated in answer to his question. “I’d say she’s exactly what she appears to be. Yuppie scum with a sudden attack of conscience.”

 

            “Sounds like she’s just what we’ve been looking for.”

 

            “Unless the guilt trip’s nothing but a temporary diversion. This month it’s cool to be eco, next month it’s cool to be bi.”  Fran piped up.

 

            “Only one way to find out.”

 

            “You’re not seriously thinking about giving her Connie’s job?”

 

             Fran had been Connie’s best friend. Derision had now given way to open hostility and with it the unspoken accusation of betrayal. After he had relinquished Connie’s position to assume the role of director, Freeseas had in effect, been without a full-time marketing manager for the past three years. Since then, all their advertising and PR work had been done on an ad-hoc basis by committee, with everyone chipping in their five cents worth, pretty much like they were doing now. The results, Kyle had to admit, had not always been successful.

 

            “I’m proposing we try her out, nothing more than that. As far as I can see she’s more than qualified. We might all benefit from some fresh blood and a few new ideas. Any one got a problem with that?”

 

            One by one he met their eyes. Most responded with a mumbled ‘No’ or Tomio’s more enthusiastic “Sounds fine to me.”

 

 All but Fran who continued to glare at the cover of the financial report on the table in front of her as if she expected it to suddenly rise to her defense. Kyle sighed. He had known she wouldn’t welcome his decision. That was why he’d deliberately avoided filling the position for so long. Keeping it open so that when Connie returned she’d find her job waiting for her. But now he knew she wasn’t coming back. Ever. And this was the final, public acknowledgement of that.

 

            “And just what do you intend to pay for her services?” Fran indicated the report in front of her. “We can’t afford to pay her the kind of fat, padded salary with the fat, padded European car and the fat, padded expense account she’s used to. And I don’t think Miss Madison Avenue is going to relish making ends meet on the kind of subsistence wages we all exist on.”

 

            “I’ll pay her whatever I think she’s worth, no more, no less. Just like the rest of you,” Kyle replied.

 

            With that he got up and left the meeting. Even as he closed the door behind him he could see Fran glance up and him then lean across to say something to Tomio, the heavy glass door swinging shut on her protest: “I don’t think its fair …”

 

            Clearly Fran wasn’t pleased with his decision. She’ll get over it, Kyle thought as he reached his office. After all, he’d had to.

           

 

The recruitment section of Ad Week was disappointingly barren. There was an opening for a Creative Group Head in Chicago but Leigh doubted whether she had either the enthusiasm or inclination to relocate to the Midwest. Another month and she’d be reduced to waiting tables to keep both herself and the house above water. One thing was certain, unless something turned up soon she was either going to have to find a cheaper place to live or else take in a roommate to cut down on the expenses. Maybe her sojourn in Seattle had been one of those things that just wasn’t destined to work out. I suppose if I’m considering finding another apartment I may as well consider another city, she thought, picking up the magazine to re-read the Chicago want-ad.  She supposed it wouldn’t do any harm to email them her resume. She wondered if they were willing to pay interview expenses, and if not, if American Express would tolerate the further delinquency of a flight Midwest when the telephone interrupted her thoughts.

 

“Hello?”

 

            “May I speak with Leigh Carson, please?”

 

            “This is she.” The voice on the other end of the line was one she didn’t recognize. Filled with an easy-going masculine warmth. Intriguing.

 

            “My name is Kyle Raitt. I’m the director of Freeseas. I believe you paid us a visit the other day inquiring about doing some work for us?”

 

            The irritation that she’d felt for that other disembodied voice returned to displace the attraction she was beginning to feel for this one. “Yes, but unfortunately the welcome mat wasn’t out and I was interrogated by R2D2’s paranoid younger brother,” she snapped.

 

            If Bailey’s Irish Cream had a laugh this was it. His was deep and rich. She found herself wondering what he looked like. Has it really been that long? Carson, she thought. You’re getting desperate.

 

            “Sorry about that. The kind of work we’re involved in tends to provoke extreme reactions in some people. We have to take precautions. As it happens we could do with some help at the moment. That is, if you’re still interested.”

 

            Precautions? Against who, or what? For the first time Leigh considered that the security she’d encountered might not just be the outward face of a faceless corporation but serve a purpose. “I could be.” Her response was less than enthusiastic. “Just what did you have in mind?”

 

            “Why don’t you drop by my office and I’ll fill you in. Say tomorrow at three?”

 

            “Why not. At least it will be a welcome change to be able to put a human face to the persecution complex.”

 

            That laugh again. “I’m looking forward to it,” Kyle Raitt replied.

 

            The crazy thing was. So was she.

 

            It was only after he’d rung off that she wondered how he’d gotten hold of her telephone number.

 

           

“Honey, if he’s got a sexy voice you can bet your condoms he’s uglier than a moose’s backside,” Joanna pontificated with the wisdom of one who had experienced this truism firsthand. Leigh had called her directly after she got off the phone with Kyle Raitt on the pretext of obtaining some background information on the group, but with the intention of finding out whatever she could about its director. But she had reckoned without Jo’s reporter’s instincts.

 

“There’s been no one since New York, has there?”

 

            “What has that got to do with anything? Look Jo, just find me a picture of this guy will you? Plus anything else you have on the organization. Is that too much to ask?”

 

            “I knew it. Eleven months without anyone slipping you the pork salami. Jesus, no wonder you went postal and resigned.”

 

            “You’re so vulgar. I don’t even know why we’re friends.”

 

            “Because no one else in this city has my contacts, that’s why. Oh, here we go ~ “

 

            Leigh could hear the sound of keystrokes as Joanna logged on to the newspaper’s database.

 

            “Lots of stuff here on Freeseas. Too much to email you even if I zip it. It’s like we run a piece on them every other issue. Not much on the smooth-talking Mr. Raitt however. Oh now this is interesting – it says here that he tends to stay out of the spotlight. In fact we don’t have a recent picture of him on file. Seems he was involved in some kind of accident during a protest a few years back and since then hasn’t appeared on camera. A couple of radio spots here and there but other than that, now he just sends out press releases.”

 

            “What kind of accident? Are you saying he was disfigured?”

 

            “You mean are we talking Elephant Man here or just plain old Phantom of the Opera?”

 

            “I don’t think I need specifics, but I guess, well I don’t want to embarrass the guy…”

 

            There was a pause as Joanna scrolled through the data. When she came back on the line the bantering tone had been replaced by one of seriousness.

 

“According to the reportage it was right before they built that marine park up near Anacortes. Freeseas were running some sort of blockade to try to stop the development. According to the police report he was assaulted by ‘person or persons unknown’ and lost an eye as a result of his injuries. Poor guy.”

 

            “Now I understand why their security’s so tight.”

 

            “Right. Plus something like that could make you pretty bitter. Leigh, are you sure you want to get involved with these people? I mean, we’re not talking about Greenpeace here. These guys are real extremists. If you join them in whatever capacity you’d be putting yourself right in the firing line. Look, why don’t I have a word with my Chief? Maybe we could get you in to do some subbing. I know it’s not ideal but it would at least tide you over until something better comes along.”

 

            Later, going through the press cuttings Jo had dropped off on her way home in exchange for her promise that she would call in and talk to the Editor next Monday, Leigh was struck by the dichotomy between the organizations methods and its operation. On one hand it was an efficient business. Issuing annual reports to its shareholders, or in this case its supporters, just like any other corporation. On the other hand, its directors behaved like rank subversives. Then there was the enigmatic Mr. Raitt himself. He appeared a fitting leader, a walking contradiction. The perfect, well-modulated voice issuing from the ruined face.

 

            The thought of it both repelled and attracted her all at the same time.

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