8 - The Virus

The Guardian Dolphin

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The fish closest to me drifted, stunned, in the current. I moved in, picked the best one of the lot, and left the others to recover.

Then I kicked off toward shore.

I cooked the fish myself, in Charlie's old iron skillet. I used bacon fat; I liked it better than Oleo-especially the way it smelled in the pan. The radio played "Ghost Riders", and Charlie limped around the table, setting out jelly glasses and pouring milk.

He didn't seem healthy to me lately.

"That sure smells good, pup. How far out did you have to go?"

"Further than last time. You should have come along."

"Sometime, maybe."

"Why don't you ever go out anymore, Charlie?"

"I don't know."

"Are you feeling all right?"

"Sure."

"Your limp is worse."

Charlie hobbled to the window, and stared across the beach. I waited. Finally he turned and looked at me.

"It's the virus, Pup, and there's nothing I can do about it."

"Don't talk like that, Charlie."

"Got to face facts."

"I don't want to hear it. You should see a doctor."

"A doctor wouldn't have a clue, you know that. Even if there was a cure, it's too late for me."

I decided to change the subject.

"You know, Charlie, we should paint this place."

"Maybe when I first stopped listening to the waves, or to our friends calling from the sea…" He was droning on now, talking more to himself than to me.

"Yellow would be good, to match the linoleum."

"…maybe even the first time I tried to change back and couldn't…"

"We could do it next Saturday…"

"It all happened so fast, one day I was a dolphin, the next…"

"Let's talk about something else, Charlie."

"At first I was desperate. I didn't even notice it happening."

"Please."

"You know what I always thought. I always thought if I really helped one of them it would cure me."

I gnawed on my lower lip and concentrated on frying the fish.

"But I never really did, did I? I was always too selfish, Pup. Too concerned about me."

****

I came out of the restroom at the Seaside Bar and grill dressed in a dinner jacket, my hair combed, my goatee trimmed, and my fake glasses polished.

The after work crowd had arrived, and the place was full of loud voices, laughter, and that indefinable sense of relief and celebration people emit when they are finally on their own time.

Things hadn't gone so well with William's sister. It was time to start thinking about plan B.

I crossed to the bar and caught Kels' eye.

"So what do you think?"

He looked me up and down with his mouth pulled to one side.

"Spiffy."

"Thanks."

"You're sure this is a wonderful idea?"

"You'll see."

"You don't think maybe you should take that little vacation you were talking about first? Rest up a little. Get back in touch?"

"After I take care of this pipeline."

Kels snorted.

"They should be very grateful to you."

He didn't mean it.