15 - On the Way to the Party

Submitted by Ken Watts on Fri, 12/15/2006 - 10:28
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Julie and Tim were back in Tim's little sports car by then, speeding along the Pacific Coast Highway. The sunset was almost gone, and there was a heaviness in the air that hinted at rain.

Julie stared straight ahead, hoping that she could avoid conversation until they reached William's party. Tim's silence was accusation enough; she didn't need words.

Tim took a deep breath through his nose, and she knew it was coming. He snorted in frustration and disgust.

"I can't believe it. A broken heel."

"I'm sorry."

"By the time we get to your house and back again…"

"I should have brought some spare shoes, or… Sorry."

* * * * *

I took a detour at the edge of town, for a final visit to the new aquarium. The landscaping wasn't in yet, and there were only a handful of exhibits, but it was open to the public.

I paid the entrance fee and went through to the deck overlooking the main tank: a large cylindrical pool, half in the ocean, half on land.

They had added a sign over the deck since my last visit:


THE WILLIAM HOGAN DOLPHIN OBSERVATORY


I was surprised at the small crowd. This was the big day. I wandered over to the railing and contemplated the water.

The first stars sparkled through the darkening sky. There were thunderclouds on the horizon, and a warm but weighty breeze from the sea. A young docent led her charges toward me, her hair and skirt pulled landward by the wind. I took a deep breath of the sea air, and watched the waves on the surface of the tank.

The docent was in the middle of her memorized lines. Why do they always inject that tone of affection and amusement into every phrase?

"...and fresh sea water," she said, "is constantly pumped in from the bottom as the old water flows out. This facility was specifically designed to accomodate an extremely rare species of dolphin. In fact, the two moving in tonight are the only pair in captivity."

She was right, of course.

I tossed my gift into the water, and resumed my journey to William's party.

My friend William stood in the only place I've ever seen him happy—at home in his kitchen. He was dressed for the party, but wearing an apron instead of his evening jacket.

His cooking island was covered pots and pans. They gave off hissing and boiling and simmering sounds, scented with garlic and butter and onion and celery and spices I wouldn't know the name of.

He hummed to himself, while tasting and chopping and adjusting the heat under this pot, stirring this one, adding a spice to that one.

I stood in doorway for a moment, enjoying his bliss, before announcing myself.

"William."

He looked up and beamed.

"Dudley!"

* * * * *

Sometimes in my line of work you need an alias.