Chapter 10 Looming Danger

=== At the Institute ===

Nora and Judith stood in front of the peaceful nightly building.

“We should not do this,” Nora said, while they moved upstairs. Her sister did not answer. She switched the flashlight on and inserted her mother's key into the hole. It squeaked overly loud. In a tree nearby protested a bird. And then, the girls were inside the office.

Judith had been here only two times. However, she knew where her Mom's desk and Claude Carver's desk were. The flashlight covered a bit with her hand, so no one from the outside could notice any suspicious shine, she looked for the envelope she had spotted in Carver's hand last evening.

“There!” She grabbed it. “It is not even sealed yet!”

“Maybe… he wanted to check it one last time before sending it out.”

Her sister had already taken the staple of papers out.

“And? Is Mom's name on the front page?” Nora asked.


“So put it back and let's go!”

But Judith took the front page and the correcting fluid standing next to the screen – and started to paint over the name of Marybeth Dunnhill MA.

“What are you doing? Are you nuts? Stop that! Judith!” Nora tried to snatch the little bottle from her sister's hand but failed.

“Where is Mom's copy card? Look in the drawer!”

Nora browsed through the office items and finally retrieved the card with shaky hands. She was afraid but also did not know what to do, and thus, acted almost automatically. Judith took the little plastic card and went to the copy machine in the corner. She copied the altered title page, stuffed the original in her pocket. Then, she placed the copied title page on top of the stack of papers, put them back, and closed the envelope.

“It was open when we found it! What if Carver re-opens it ?!”

“He won't.”


“Just shut up! Nobody will notice anything. And we saved Mom and ourselves from a lot of trouble! Everything is fine! Let's go home.”


=== Next day at the Institute ===

It was seven in the morning. Still, the office was empty, except for Claude. He had just entered and now turned the envelope in his hands. He had been sure that he had left it open, to give everything one last final look… 

But, well, obviously, you HAVE closed it. He thought shortly about opening it again, but the doorbell rang. That must be the courier service! He had called them from home already. And actually, there was now a young fellow in the courier service's uniform at the door! Good, so I'll leave it as it is. We checked everything twice yesterday. It should be fine.

He signed the forms for the courier and handed everything over. They will give us the grant. They will!!

A few minutes later, Marybeth showed up.

“Good morning,” he greeted her. “I just sent out our application.”

She saw her copy card inserted in the copy machine and took it. “How much did it cost? I can't expect you to pay everything!”

“It is okay.” He smiled, feeling so happy just to see her again. “When we get the grant, I will have you working a few double shifts in return! – Any news from Zeus?”

“Not that he has been found yet. But a gas station on Highway One has reported a pick-up with a dog resembling Zeus. Might have been him. Jordan is convinced he'll try to reach Key West and his ‘girlfriend' Roxanne.”

“I suppose this is hard for the boy.” Even if he had never been very fond of children, he felt a connection to this one and was genuinely worried.

“Yes.” Marybeth sighed and sat down on Claude's desk. “He got Zeus when his mother died. Now his best friend is gone… —Are the dolphins fed already?”

“No. I wanted to do this after the courier had gone. Ole comes later today; he has an appointment at the university.”

“So let's go together! I wanted to see how Oldtimer is, anyway!”

He agreed happily, and while they went downstairs, he mused how to bring up yesterday, their kiss, and his joy to be with her – without sounding cold-hearted in the face of the lost-dog-tragedy. He had already made a few plans for the next days, involving a dinner invitation and a visit to a theater with Marybeth. Would she like that? Or rather going to the cinema? He realized that he did not know much of her besides work-related stuff, and of course, her worries about her two daughters. And that she was fond of traveling…. But which music did she like? What movies?

At the moment, they had only two dolphins in the basins. Oldtimer and a younger one, which had been injured by a speed boat. 

“Oldtimer is quite agile. I think we can unite him with his herd soon,” Marybeth stated, feeding the last fish from her bucket.

“Yes.” Claude's thoughts were elsewhere. 

“—Claude? Are you meditating with that fish in your hand or what?” her voice reached him.

He looked up and saw the twinkle in her eyes, which made him almost forget everything else. “Ah… yes. No.” He let the last fish drop right in front of the dolphin. “I was just wondering… if we could schedule our planned dinner for this weekend?”

“You make it sound like a briefing with the President!” 

“No, it is just that I would have to make a reservation early enough and –“

“I know. But… I don't really need those high-society spots! I liked it perfectly with our Sandwiches on the boat!” 

“Yes.”  Me too.  “I only thought, I might…” He stopped, knowing that he was about to sound ‘official' and awkward again. 

“After those hectic days, I only need a quiet cozy spot, believe me.” Marybeth had turned toward Claude, was about to embrace him, when she remembered the very last second her sticky hands. As did he. And so they stood there, arms spread to the side, and laughed.

--“Marybeth?” Becky's call came from the office door. “I have Terry on the phone for you!”

“Okay, I just clean up. I'll be up in a second!”

When Claude finally came back to the office himself, Marybeth had just hung up the phone. A look on her face was enough to tell that something new had come up.

“Jordan tried to get on Zeus' tracks all alone, boarded a bus, and attempted to check in on the airport,” she explained.

“Nothing happened to the little fellow, though?” Claude asked.

“No. The airport staff is taking care of him. Terry will pick him up as soon as possible. Then they'll take the next flight down here. I offered him to stay at my house.”

Now that was a cold blow!  I don't like this at all. He will throw his big grin and biker's charm in your way again!  And what about the just made weekend plans?! Now she would be busy looking for this dog and comforting Jordan and Terry! At the same moment, he felt guilty and selfish just to think that. Of course, she has to help. If it just would not involve this biker-guy!!!


=== Later that day ===

Marybeth got on her bike and slowly rode toward home. She was not particularly eager to arrive very soon and be with her bickering daughters, Jordan ... and Terry. No, she did not want to cross paths with him right now! It would make everything more complicated! While she had been at the Institute, she had been able to put all thoughts about it aside, but now, the working day was over. She had not found any more excuses to stall. All mail was answered and sorted, every database entrance was done. There was not much she could do, now, that the application was underway and Roxanne was still with her new friend.

The traffic light switched to red, and she stopped. An excuse to stall and stay at the office – or to stay with Claude? The little thought knocked in the back of her head. She knew that there had been ‘something' between the two of them, despite her efforts to ignore and fight it, especially since she had come back to the Institute a few months ago. And despite Claude's ice-cold sarcasm. And he can be so nice and funny…

The traffic light jumped to green, but Marybeth did not move. The past days had changed everything. Now it was impossible to hide behind any walls of prejudice, pretended ignorance or anger.  And the kiss on the boat… and we have almost kissed again later on the jetty…  It had felt right. It had felt good. The same way as when I had kissed Terry?  

Red again. She shot a glance into the nearby shop window. Claude is a few years younger,  she suddenly thought.  How many? Five? Seven? That's a lot… I'm too old for such adventures… I'm too old to get disappointed again… I have two teenage daughters who are ready, willing, and able to shatter my nerves every damned day. Oh God, and if I don't get that grant—

Someone honked. It was green. This time, Marybeth rode on.


=== Home of the Dunnhill's ===

When Marybeth arrived, Judith and Nora sat on the porch, playing a board game with Terry. They greeted each other with a low voice.

“Jordan is asleep inside,” Terry explained. “He has barely slept the last night.” They went inside. The little boy lay curled up in the big chair, wrapped in a blanket. “He wanted to stay awake in case Zeus shows up, but then he just dropped.”

Marybeth guided Terry to the adjacent room and reached for the pillows and sheets stored in the closet.

“I appreciate that you're doing this for Jordan and me,” he said and touched her arm. “I'm sorry about all this mess.”

She moved away and placed the items on the bed. “It's not your fault Zeus took off. I only hope we can find him soon.”

“I heard that you had some difficulties with your project.”

“I had, yes. But… but a colleague helped me out, and I still hope to get the money to pay my rent.” She forced herself to smile. “Do you need something to eat?” 

“No, thanks. We've had something at the Airport. A beer would be enough.”

“I only have Sprite and water.”

“Okay, then. That will do it.” He held her back as she turned to the door. “Marybeth…”

“I'm very tired, Terry. Let's talk tomorrow, okay?” 

Now the voices had woke up Jordan. The boy sat up, rubbed his eyes. “Zeus? …. Dad? Dad, can we go looking for him?”

Terry knelt down next to his son and took him into his arms. “Tomorrow, okay? It is already very late. Dogs sleep at night. I'm sure Zeus has now found a cozy place and sleeps.”

The boy did not look very convinced.

“Tomorrow, we will look down the promenade. And I'll call the gas stations on the Number One again.”

“We'll go to the dolphins, too? Zeus will go there!”

“We will go, I promise.” Terry turned to Marybeth. “If that's okay with you and your colleagues, I mean,” he added. “We don't want to stand in your way.”

“Of course, I don't see a problem.”  I don't want that...  “That is if we don't have any emergencies with wounded animals or something like that.”

“I understand. I will call you first before we show up.” He looked into Jordan's little sad face again. “We could also go to the Shipwreck Treasure Museum in the morning. How would you like that?”

“I want Zeus.” The boy was close to crying.

“Maybe he comes by our house, or your old vacation home,” Nora tried to help and shoved a glass of strawberry milk in the boy's hands. “I would come here if I were a dog because he got food here. I'm sure he will come by. Really. – Mom?”

Marybeth raised her hands and sighed. She did not want to give Jordan any false hopes, and she found it very unlikely that the dog just showed up again, at least not so soon. Any of these stories of animals that have found back home involved months and even years.