Chapter 7:

=== Claude's Apartment ===

Marybeth could not sleep. The more she tried, the more swirled her thoughts in the restless ‘what-shall-I-do' carousel. Moreover, she was thirsty. Eventually, she decided to get up and sneak into the kitchen. The bathroom on the way back was maybe also a good idea… She wished she had stayed on the boat as she had planned. At least then, she would not have to worry about disturbing Claude!

As silently as possible, she opened the door and stepped outside on her toes. That was when the dull sound of something falling startled her. Then she saw a fast twitching flashlight shine dance through the floor.

There would not be a burglar here, would it?!

The next moment, the small light cone moved upward again. Marybeth sneaked further direction sound and hit something standing on the sideboard. She froze and clenched her teeth. Now the door to the living room fully opened. She stared at Claude. He stood there, in front of the big bookshelf, a volume in his hands and the flashlight between his teeth. Seeing her, he switched it to the right hand. “Marybeth! I already thought we have some unwanted company!” He breathed a sigh of relief.

“I did the same, hearing the noise and seeing the flashlight.”

“I'm sorry.” He picked the fallen book from the ground. “I could not sleep, and I was thinking about a paper I once read. Just cannot find the place where it was published. I hope I did not wake you?”

“No,” She huffed. “Can't sleep as well. I was on the way to the kitchen to get some water. – What about is that paper?”

“The transformation of humpback whale sounds under the influence of ship traffic. By a Finnish scientist. Malte Heikinnen.”

“Oh, I know him! I met him at a conference two years ago. He was talking about the growth patterns of corals. I think. I remember that it was not very convincing, though…”

“Yes, but this one was intriguing,” Claude answered, taking another book from the shelf and browsing through its content. “I thought it was in the collection of papers from Rome, but maybe it was the Helsinki publication. That one I have at the Institute. However –“ He stopped mid-sentence because Marybeth had started to laugh. “What did I say?”

“Look at us!” she replied. “It is for sure about three A.M., and we're standing here in underwear and browse through books and talk about Marine Life conferences! If that does not qualify for crazy scientists, I don't know what should!”

“Yes… that's probably true!” Now he laughed as well.

Marybeth realized that despite the bizarre situation, it felt somewhat right – and if felt good. Her exhaustion was gone. She had made up her mind in that very second. “Let's do it, Claude!”

He stared at her. “W…what?”

“The application for the Smithsonian grant. Let's apply together!”

“Ah! Yes! Of course! We will do that! And we will get it! And then, you won't have any money problems anymore! The Smithsonian is like an entrance fee to continuous funding!” In his excitement, he let the flashlight drop. It sizzled and died. “Don't move. You might fall over the staple of books. I can reach the light switch…”

The next instant, they were plunged into bright light and squeezed their eyes. Marybeth tried to suppress a yawn, and Claude wiped over his eyes. “We absolutely should get some sleep. Or we won't be able to write down anything useful.”

“Do you have any alcohol, to calm the nerves?”   Oh God, I must sound like an alcoholic … “I'm sorry, it's just…”

“I think I have a bottle of wine in the cupboard. If it is still okay. It was a gift; I don't even remember the occasion anymore.” Claude went into the kitchen and started to dig deep into the cupboard with bottles of any sort. “There it is!”

“Uh, a Château Pétrus! And you had this standing here all along while we were eating and drinking mineral water,” she teased.

“It might not be good anymore, careful. And… and I don't have the right glasses.”

“It doesn't matter. Reminds me of the dorm parties at the university!” Marybeth sniffed and then took a sip. “Well, it is in perfect condition! Let's drink to our new partnership!”

Claude filled half of another glass, but then, he thought it might not be a good idea to drink alcohol right now. He had to stay in control and not do anything stupid… and that was difficult enough, seeing her clad in that too-big pajama jacket that started to slip down her shoulders. He was so happy she had agreed to work with him – what was more he had hoped for only two days ago – and he did not want to ruin this. So he stood there, hands clasped around the ordinary water glass.

“Claude?”

“I'm…” Now he decided to drain the glass anyway. “I'm glad that you are here, Marybeth.”

“I'm also glad to be here. And… I'm starting to get sleepy… so it might be a good idea to try again.”


==== Next day / Home of the Dunnhill's ====

Nora and Judith had just come home from their overnight stay with their friends and found the house empty.

“Mom is already at the Institute, it seems,” Nora said and opened the fridge to get something for a second breakfast. “Why don't you call Jordan?”

“Good idea.” Judith watched her sister putting a load of jelly on top of the peanut butter on her sandwich. “You'll get fat if you continue to stuff yourself like that!”

“You start to sound like Mom! I am—“

“Shht! Someone's picking up! Hello? …. Hello, Jordan! It's me, Judith. How are things going?”

“I'm okay,” the boy said, however sounding the contrary. “But I'm worried about Zeus. He's really sad. I think he misses the sea and Roxanne.”

“Yeah. About that… Any chance your Dad might change his mind and come back?”

“I don't think so.”

“Mom is very sad, too. You know, the whole research thing, where she needed Zeus for? It's down the drain. And also, she misses you guys.” She heard the boy sighing at the other end. She did not particularly like discussing this matter with a kid – but what choice did she have?! A moment passed. “We need to get our parents to talk to each other,” Judith continued.

“Yes! But-“

“Let me think…. When your Dad has his headphones on and does not pay attention, you call us. And we act as if someone is on the phone from… from San Diego Maritime Museum or whatsoever, and wants Mom. Then you give the phone to your Dad and say it's…. I don't know... someone he'd like to hear from. Understood?”

“Perfectly!”

“Mom is at work right now, but she'll be back around five, mostly.”


==== Claude's apartment ====

“Marybeth?”

She woke up, blinked slightly disorientated, and discovered Claude standing next to the bed. 

“We have to get ready for work,” he said now. “Or do you want to take a sick day?”

“No… We need to start with the application.” She sat up.  If I look like I feel, I must give a terrible sight… And he's looking as impeccable as ever...  “I'd need an Aspirin… and some coffee.”

“Breakfast is in the making.”

“Thank you. I'm in the bathroom, then.”  It feels good to be cared for , she thought.  Instead of always being in charge and caring for others.  Although it was still slightly odd that Claude Carver did those things for her - and not Terry, whom she had seen in this role. Or maybe… it wasn't that odd. She would think about it later when the throbbing in her head was down to a bearable level. Anyway, coffee and toast started to spread their delicious aroma in the sun-flooded apartment. It seemed to become a good day.


==== Later at the Institute ====

Marybeth had ignored the curious looks of the others as she and Claude showed up together and one hour later than usual. Her only worries were about Roxanne.

“Have you seen her,” she asked Becky, who had just returned from her morning tour in the bay.

“No, I'm sorry.” She gave her colleague a comforting hug. “I'm sure she's fine. She just needs a little time off from us noisy humans!”

“I wish I had given her a transponder,” Marybeth sighed. “Back then, I thought it might bother her, but now it would make all the difference if we could track her.” She looked out of the window onto the calm sea, as if she could summon the dolphin somehow. Then she turned back to her desk, took the envelope with the prepared application and her folder with her notes, and moved over to Claude's desk.

He had just switched on his computer. “If you want to take the boat for a quick tour and look for Roxanne, I can start reviewing the files. We have to make it irresistible bait for the Smithsonian commission!”

“Yes. I guess I can't focus unless I have checked the area myself!”

Claude was also worried because she was. However, he could detach from it and block those things and concentrate on his work. But now, he was concerned to give a cold-hearted impression, and this was the last thing he wanted to do.

Marybeth ran down the stairs. Claude opened the folder when he noticed Becky standing next to him. “Yes?” he said, looking up.

Becky snorted. “I KNEW you are a selfish, unscrupulous bastard, Claude, but THIS tops it all!”

“Excuse me?!”

“Marybeth has a bad time, and you exploited the situation! You tricked her into sharing her research data with you! This is the meanest, sneakiest thing ever!”

He had no time to answer, because that very moment, Marybeth showed up again in the office. “Forgot the keys!”

Claude turned away to his computer, as usual keeping his anger inside instead of bringing it to an all-out eruption. Becky felt validated in her opinion and followed Marybeth down to the jetty to save her from imminent danger.

“Beth! Wait!”

She had already climbed aboard. “What is it?”

“I can't believe you're working with Carver?!”

“What was I supposed to do? After Zeus and Roxanne are both lost, my project was literally dead. Claude allowed me to salvage what's possible and continue my research, hopefully.”

“He'll feed you to the sharks, you know that!”

“I'm sure I will be fine,” Marybeth answered. “I have to go now!”

Her colleague and friend shook her head and spread her arms in a giving-up gesture when the engine started, and the little ship slowly turned.

Out on the sea, Marybeth anchored at a place where she had often played with Roxanne. She called her and waited, called, and waited again. Her thoughts went back to Becky and her warning. Was she right?

“He isn't that kind of man,” she whispered into the faint breeze, half to assure herself of it. Then she thought of last night, how they stood in front of the bookshelf, smiled again, and repeated. “No, he is not.”


==== Later that day ====

When Marybeth rode home that evening, she was so tired, she thought to fell from her bicycle at the traffic lights. She was glad when she arrived home and planned to catch up on some sleep. Roxanne had not appeared. A few other dolphins, but not her, she could tell it after the little mark she had on her fin. After an hour, she had steered back to the Institute. She had tried to convince herself that she could help many more dolphins in danger if she got that grant. Still, it felt like abandoning Roxanne for selfish reasons and money…

To combine Claude's research and hers proved to be an arduous undertaking, given the time. He had worked on sound recognition, and she had worked on interspecies communication. They needed a complete program with well-defined research steps and goals and not something that looked like a hastily patched-up puzzle!

She tried to be attentive to what her daughters had to tell about the rock concert and her friends. The girls seemed to be overflowing with energy and cheerfulness. To their delight, Marybeth simply ordered a pizza for dinner. After the meal, the girls even took care of the dishes.  I probably look as if I would fall asleep on the spot…  The telephone rang.  Oh no….

Nora took it, and a second later, turned around. “Mom, someone from San Diego, from the museum.”

She sighed inwardly and shuffled to the phone. “Yes. Marybeth Dunnhill.” When she recognized the voice at the other end, her annoyance about the call changed to irritation. It was clearly a set-up by her daughters again! She did not like that! As it seemed, Terry was as embarrassed as she was. Hanging up would have been childish, though. They exchanged some niceties, but to be honest, Marybeth was disappointed and did not really want to talk to Terry. She needed all her strength not to yell into the phone ‘How could you simply leave, with Zeus?! Knowing how I need him for the project? How the hell could you just go and leave me sitting here?!' Those minutes until he found an excuse to go, stretched eternally. 

She put the receiver back, decided to have some words with her daughters – but the little conspirators had conveniently left! The phone rang again. Marybeth cursed and picked it up.

It was Claude. “Marybeth? Everything okay?”

“No! I mean, yes. Just a little trouble with the girls, and I'm tired.”

“Me too. But I have good news, and I wanted to share them with you! A coast guard ship has spotted Roxanne in the open sea, and she seems fine.”

“Really?!” She was close to crying because of joy. “That's just wonderful! Thank you!”