Chapter 11: Abruptio

=== At the Institute ===

Marybeth arrived very early, silently admitting that she wanted to avoid spending too much time with Terry. So she had her breakfast alone and excused herself with urgent business at work when the others just got out of bed.

She brought her bicycle into the shed and picked up her bag. A sound from the nearby kitchen, where they stored and prepared the food for the animals, caught her attention. She opened the door and discovered Claude standing in front of the sink. When he turned around, she saw the blood on his hands.

“Oh my God! What happened?!”

“I'm okay! A jogger brought an injured pelican, shot through his wing. I helped vet during the operation.”

Marybeth relaxed, but still, she felt a bit shaky. “Will he recover?”

“I hope so,” Claude answered, reaching for the towel. “Those idiots! Shooting in a wildlife reserve! And I bet the police won't catch them. – Marybeth, you still look frightened. You were that worried about me? I'm flattered…”

“Really, this was quite a shock in the morning!” She tried to laugh.

“But you know what Becky always says: not even a shark would touch me!” 

Olavunde entered. “Good morning Ma'am. Sir. I came to feed the dolphins. Or did you do that already?”

“No, not yet,” Claude told his assistant the news about the pelican. “He is in the nursery station across the yard now. And I think the turtles are ready to hatch today.”

Marybeth handed Ole the portions of fish and calamari from the fridge, and then she was alone with Claude again. “When do you think we can expect to hear from the Smithsonian?”

“This afternoon. Every applicant has to receive a formal entrance note before the evaluation procedures start. – Have your guests arrived and settled in?”

“Yes.” She was not very fond of talking about that now. “Terry and Jordan want to come here to see if Zeus might show up. I hope we can distract the boy a bit.” They stepped up to the office on the second floor.

Claude opened the door. “Well, you know I'm not good with such things… And we have to complete the survey for the coast guard. Plus, I have to prepare my lecture for Thursday at the University.”

“I know, don't worry. I call them and say I have time after our lunch break. Until then, Becky and I will have finished the survey.” She smiled and he put his arms around her. They only noticed that Becky had entered the office when she – on purpose or not – let her key drop to the ground. Marybeth opted for a forward attack and said: “Hi, Becky! Ready for the dolphin survey? I'm curious if we meet Roxanne and her new friend out there again!”

“Yeah.” Becky picked her key from the floor. “We can start right away. I bring the equipment to the boat, okay?”

“Yes, I'll be down in a minute!” Her colleague gone, she turned back to Claude, who had gone into hiding behind his computer screen. 

“Now we're the office gossip of the week,” he said, grinning.

“I don't mind,” she answered with a smile. “And I guess we are already, anyway!”

However, the survey took longer than planned. In addition to Roxanne and her friend, two more dolphins had joined the herd. Their sphere of action had widened. So, when Terry and Jordan arrived, Marybeth and Becky were still out at sea. For better or worse, Claude had to take care of the unwelcome guests.

Terry parked his bike. While he was still busy taking the helmet off, Jordan ran ahead. “Hello, Claude! Have you seen Zeus?”

He caught the boy. “No, we have not seen him yet. But all of us keep the eyes open.” He straightened and held his hand out to Terry. “I'm Dr. Carver, head of research of the Institute.”

“Terry Barnett. We have briefly met. I remember.” 

He had a vise-like grip, but Claude did not flinch.

“Claude is cool!” Jordan interrupted. “He let me do all the photos of the dolphins! For the contest, Dad! The photos of the jumping dolphins!”

The adults ignored him. “You're the guy being after Marybeth's research,” Terry continued with an angry timbre.

Did she tell you that?  He stared at that other man in the biker attire plus all the displayed coolness and got even angrier. “And you are the guy leaving her and putting her project in jeopardy,” Claude answered.

“This is none of your business!”

Thankfully, before it could get any nastier, the sound of the boat reached the two men. Some awkward minutes later, Marybeth and Becky jumped ashore. 

“I see, you've already met!” She called and waved to them.

“Yes, meeting with the villain of the day,” Claude commented. “I'll leave you three alone and check on the pelican.”

“You have a pelican here?” Jordan asked, and his sad eyes were suddenly bright. “Can I see him?”

“First time he's interested in anything but Zeus…” Terry whispered in Marybeth's direction.

Claude nodded. “Okay, join me. We have to be calm and cautious, though. It is a wild bird, and very frightened after all that happened to him.”

“I understand! Like when I broke my arm last year!”

The pelican had woken up from the sedation already a few hours ago, but naturally, he was disorientated and in pain. His wing was bandaged. Naturally, the unusual restraints bothered him.

“He looks sad.” Jordan knelt down in front of the large cage and stretched his fingers after the feathers.

“Don't touch him,” Claude admonished and the boy pulled back his hand. “Image how you might feel if you sit injured in a cage without knowing what has happened to you.”

“But maybe he is hungry. Try to feed him a bit of that minced fish.” He gave Jordan a tiny plastic bowl and filled in a few spoons of the special puree. Very cautiously, the boy pushed the food through the hatch and waited. The bird looked and then moved his big beak through the mass.

“He likes it!” Jordan was excited. But all too soon, his shoulders slumped again. “I'm afraid something has happened to Zeus…” He stared at the floor tiles. “Why did he run away? I'm his friend. Of course, he loves Roxanne, but I'm his friend!” He pressed his lips together in a vain attempt to hold his tears back. “Maybe he doesn't like me anymore. Maybe I did something wrong…”

“No, I'm sure he still likes you, and you are still his friend.” Claude hesitated for a moment, but then put his arm around the boy. “You can love someone and still be friends with another person.” Heavens, how shall I explain to a six-year-old the difference between love and friendship?!

“Is love worth more than friendship?”

“No, it is just something different. Like… like…” He was at his wit's end already. “You will understand when you are a little bit older.”

“Nora told me, my Dad loves Marybeth. But we also went away.”

Yes, you did. 

“She also said, Marybeth loves my Dad. Because she kissed him? Did Zeus kiss Roxanne?” Jordan looked up to him with his innocent eyes.

“No,” Claude had answered before he had put his thoughts into order.

“Why?”

“Come on, let's give our patient a little rest. I'm sure your Dad is waiting for you.” They left, and Claude was wondering what Marybeth really felt for him. Was it just a little playful flirt? He felt tortured as he saw her with Terry. Did she love him? Or were they simple friends?

 

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

One and a half days had passed. Claude was in Miami at the university. Marybeth waited for the entrance notification of her application. The more time passed, the more nervous and anxious she became. Still, there was no sign of Zeus either, and everyone in the house was stressed out. Had the application arrived at all? She could not ask Claude; she did not have his number at the university. In the afternoon, she could not stand it any longer and called the office of the Smithsonian.

“Hello? This is Marybeth Dunnhill from Key West. I just wanted to know if the application of Dunnhill and Carver for the Maritime life communication grant has arrived. It was sent out three days ago by courier, and so far, I have no entrance note.”

The woman on the other end promised to take a look in the database. Some time passed.

“Hello? Mrs. Dunnhill, we only have an application under the name of Claude Carver.”

“You are sure?”

“Yes, we have inserted all incoming applications into the database, using the name on the title page.”

This cannot be…. Marybeth let the receiver slip back. Her mind was blank. She did not know how long she had been sitting there without moving when Judith looked into the room. “Mom? Everything okay?”

“He stole my research…” She answered with a hollow voice.

Terry and Nora showed up. They tried to find soothing words, but none of it reached her. “Leave me alone!” She yelled at some point. “All of you, just leave me alone!”

=== Later / Claude's apartment ===

Later the night, Marybeth went out, took her bicycle, and rode to Claude's place. By now, he had to be back from Miami! She had to drive through half of the city, but she was so fuelled by anger now, she did not care. It was past midnight when she arrived and pushed the doorbell like mad.

Claude looked down the balcony. He had obviously been in bed already. “Marybeth? What is going on?!” He let her in, and shortly after, she stood in front of him at his apartment's door. 

“You mean, lying son of a bitch!” she hissed before he could say anything. She would have loved to slap him, but she had no strength left for such endeavors. 

“What?! What are you –“ 

“You deleted my name from the application! And you tried to seduce me! And… and what's the worst of all, I actually believed you!”

“Marybeth! I don't have the slightest idea—“

“I called the Smithsonian!” She fought against her tears. “And my name was no longer on the title page!”

“That's not possible! We checked everything together! You were credited everywhere! It was perfectly fine!”

“And when I was gone, you changed it! I hope you'll never get that grant or any other in your whole damned life!” She stormed down the stairs.

“Marybeth! Wait! Wait!!! We will get to the bottom of this! Marybeth!”

But she was gone. Claude closed his door, walked back into his apartment, and felt as if someone had sentenced him to lifelong prison. The rest of the night, he racked his brain on what could have happened. The envelope! The CLOSED envelope! He had left it open, now he was certain. Someone had tampered with it. But who? Moreover, why? It must have been someone who had a key to the office, as he had not discovered any sign of a break-in. 

Who could gain anything if Marybeth did not get any funding? All the others had their respective contracts. And Marybeth was friends with the rest of the staff! Maybe someone would try to get rid of HIM, but not of her! It made no sense. All theories forming in his mind became increasingly absurd. He decided to call the Smithsonian himself in the morning, as soon as possible.