Chapter 9 Disruptions

=== Next day / On the Institute's ship ===

Marybeth and Claude had been working in the office until noon, and then they went on the boat again for undisturbed proofreading. Claude sat in front of his laptop, and Marybeth had spread the printouts with notes in front of her.

“Outline pages 1 to 2, abstract, 3 to 5,” she announced.

“Check,” Claude answered and scrolled further.

“First section: previous research results, pages 6 to 25.”


“Tables 1 a to 3 c on pages 20, subsection 3.2. and on page 24, subsection 3.3.”


“Second section: definition of project's goals, pages 22 to 31.”

“No, wait! I am on page 33 with that.”

“Let's see…” Marybeth browsed through her papers. “We have expanded one paragraph and moved another to subsection 3. It should begin with “alternate resonance pattern”.”

“Ah, okay, I have it. The figure numbers are still correct? I have 4.6. and 4.7. here on page 26.”

=== Meanwhile, home of the Dunnhill's ===

Judith had picked up the phone and discovered an agitated, sniffing Jordan at the other end of the line.

“Zeus ran away,” the boy told her. “He jumped over the balcony down into the hotel pool and was gone! I went after him, but before I reached the pool, he was gone! A few guests had seen him, but… but…”

“Hey, buddy, calm down!” She covered the phone with one hand and whispered the news to her sister sitting nearby. Then, she moved closer, so Nora could hear herself.

“…. Think, he'll try to get back to you, back to Roxanne!” the boy said.

“How should he do that; we're too far away.”

“There are stories of animals finding their way home after months,” Nora whispered. “Hijacking vehicles and that stuff!”

“Yes, but Zeus was only here for a couple of weeks! – Jordan? Do you hear me? Does your Dad know about this? Did you inform the animal rescue and the shelters to look out for Zeus?”


=== On the boat ===

Dawn had already spread over the horizon a while ago when the two colleagues finally had finished their work. This day, no dolphin had shown up, despite several calls. Marybeth leaned back on the cabin's bench and covered her eyes with her arm. “I'm done. Could use a two-week vacation! I really hope it will be worth it.”

“We've done all we could.” Claude put his legs on the table next to his laptop. 

“If this application is denied, I don't know what to do. Probably, I'll stay in bed and wait until the bills and reminders flood my postbox…”

He did not seem to have heard her. “If we get the grant – and I refuse to think otherwise – we could move the Institute to one of the old villas at the seaside. We will have high-end equipment and large staff!”

Her arm sank down, and she turned to him. He had his eyes closed, played absently with his glasses, and continued to dream aloud: “We will have functioning climate control in the office… no – every one of us will have an own office. We will have to meet in the cafeteria to have some arguments!” Now he looked at her and smiled. “I enjoyed the last days. It was a gruesome struggle, but still, I enjoyed it. We were striving for the best result possible, and I think we have achieved it. It feels good.” He padded onto the folder with the application. “Our child.”

“I enjoyed it, too,” Marybeth admitted. “I always liked to discuss with you. I guess… back then, I was only afraid to get at work what I just had gotten rid of at home.” She stared to the ceiling and then outside toward the darkening ocean. “That day, when I quit, I was so mad at you. I was mad and still relieved because now I had the perfect excuse to go.”

“But what made you come back? I honestly never expected to see you again after that clash.”

“Yes! I remember the look on your face when I came through the door! You looked as if you would see a U.F.O. right in front of you! And you let your papers almost drop on my feet.” They both laughed, but then, Marybeth sighed. “What made me come back? I needed a job, and there was one. And… maybe… I thought I had to prove I could stand my ground against you… and my ex-husband. And everyone else.”

“You did." For a few minutes, only the waves and the wind surrounded the tired researchers. "Marybeth?”


“Please promise me you won't quit again. Because it would really be bad publicity if we get that Smithsonian grant and my associate runs away from me.” 

Marybeth opened her mouth to retort something about selfish people. But then, their views crossed, and she saw the truth in his eyes, right behind that offhand remark. Following a momentous inspiration, she leaned over and placed a light, gentle kiss on his mouth. And surprisingly enough, she felt him respond just as cautiously. As if a new ground had to be tested in a highly sensitive experiment. She sat back again, tried to order her thoughts and feelings – and was disrupted the same instant by the sound of a speed boat motor. It was closing in fast and then stopped. Claude was on his feet already and looked out.

It was a ranger's boat from the nearby National Park. “Hey, everything okay over there?” The man yelled.

“Yes, of course. Why?”

Now Marybeth was outside as well. Meanwhile, it was completely dark, if not for the boat's lights. “What's going on?”

“I've got a call from your Institute! When you weren't back at 6 P.M., someone was worried, it seems.”

Claude looked at his watch. “It is already almost 8:30! Sorry, Sir! We were working and did not pay attention. We're heading home now!”

The ranger saluted. “Well, better a false emergency than an overlooked one! Have a nice evening!” He sat down and started the engine again.


=== Later / At the Institute ===

Becky peered into the night with squeezed eyes until she could discern the lights of the boat. “There they are!” She was relieved. Nora and Judith, who were standing next to her, as well. It was because of them that she had called the ranger station. A few minutes later, the boat had docked and Marybeth and Claude were on their way toward them. Walking side by side and laughing. Becky realized that she was probably scrutinizing them like a grumpy mother-in-law, or more like a police officer waiting for the suspect to make a mistake. 

Judith stared as well and saw her darkest misgivings taking shape right in front of her eyes. “Oh no. They kiss …”

Her sister did not dwell upon it any longer but decided to run ahead and simply tell the news as if nothing had happened. “Mom! Mom!” She called, completely ignoring Claude. “Zeus ran away from the hotel in Miami!”

“When did it happen?”

“This morning! Terry phoned the Animal Rescue and the shelters, but so far, no one has seen him. Jordan is totally upset!”

“Marybeth, I go ahead,” Claude said, clearly feeling awkward in the suddenly changed situation. “I'll bring the application into the office and send it out tomorrow first thing in the morning with a courier service.”

“Okay. Thank you again, for your help! See you tomorrow!”

He made a hand sign and was on his way, past Judith and Becky.

Marybeth turned her attention back to her daughter. “Maybe Zeus was accidentally locked up in a yard or a shed, and he'll find his way back tomorrow morning,” she said while they walked back to the others. Poor Zeus! She really liked that funny and intelligent bundle of energy with his yellow fur! And of course, poor Jordan, that must be hard for him! 

“Jordan thinks Zeus might want to try to come to Key West.”

“I don't think that's possible. – Hello, Becky! Sorry to have worried you, Claude and I were working and just forgot the time. – I'm sure you are in a hurry right now to reach the next bus.”

Her colleague nodded, gave her a short hug. “Just wanted to watch some TV, so – no big deal! You take care, Hon, right?!” 

“Yes, of course!” Marybeth wondered if they had SEEN anything or if it had been too dark…  and what if?! – You behave like a fourteen – year old teenager afraid of being seen with… with… 

Becky took the backpack she had put on the bench next to her. “So, good night, everyone!”

“Bye, Becky!”

“So, Mom, what we're going to do now? They should print some search posters. What do you think?”

“Yeah, that's probably a good idea. In case Zeus really sets out in our direction, they should inform the gas stations on the route. I will call Terry once we're home.”  And I was looking forward to a quiet evening… I could need some me-time…


=== Claude's apartment ===

Claude stored closed the door and placed his shoes perfectly aligned on the mat. Those girls are a nuisance, he thought once again, replaying the scene at the jetty again in his mind. Especially Judith. If looks could kill, I'd be dead. Why did they have to be there; at that time?! They have barely visited their mother five times at the Institute! But this evening, they had to be there!!!  Still, it bothered him almost more that he felt uncomfortable in the presence of them and almost fled. They weren't his classmates from 25 years ago, chatting and laughing behind his back.  But I bet they are laughing nonetheless… I know they cannot stand me… and well, I cannot stand them…

He sighed, discovering that he needed to fill the washing machine when he stuffed his clothing into the laundry basket. Then he prepared the shower. While he stood under the flowing water, he relaxed and allowed himself to dream a little bit more.  If we get that grant, I'm going to tell Marybeth that I love her. And if we don't get it… I'm going to tell her as well because I need her to stay … 


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

It was past midnight, and the Dunnhills were all awake in their respective beds, however, for different reasons and worries. By now, Judith's primary concern was no longer Zeus or Jordan. She reached over and tugged at her sister's arm. “Hey!”

“Yes,” Nora's answer came slightly sleepy.

“We need to do something! We have to get Mom out of Carver's greedy grip! – Hey?!”

“I heard you.” Nora sat up and yawned. “But maybe… maybe he's not that bad.”

“What?! Do you like him now? Are you dumb?! Don't you remember how often she came home and complained about that arrogant asshole?!”

“Mom has worked on that application with him, and she is smart. If—“

“She has KISSED him! Or he has forced her. Maybe he has. It was dark.” The girls were silently brooding for a while. Then, Judith said: “We should at least make sure that application is right, with Mom's name on the front page, you know. She mentioned she was afraid he could steal her research. And he was browsing through her stuff, spying on her. What if he is about to betray her NOW?!” She climbed out. “I'm going to check!”

“What?! In the middle of the night? You're insane. I want to sleep!” Nora tried to dig herself into the sheets.

“We take the bikes. We'll be there in 10 minutes. Carver said he has put the application on the desk. We take a look – and we're gone. Nobody will notice. Except, we'll find something. Then we're going to tell Mom. But she'll be grateful.” Judith slipped in her clothes. “Come on! We're in this together!”

“We need Mom's key.”

“It's in her purse as usual. So, come on!!!”

The girls dressed and sneaked out of their room, through the kitchen, and to the coat rack, where Marybeth's purse hung among bags, jackets, and scarves. It was quite full, and Judith fumbled between the items, carefully trying not to let anything slip and wake their Mom. “It's not enough light! I can't see a thing!” she whispered, after reaching for the second time in her own bag.

“Let's drop this and go back to bed!” her sister hissed out of the dark.

“Shht!” They froze for some moments as they had heard something out of the bedroom of their mother. Soon, however, it was silent again. 

“We can't just – I have it!” Triumphantly, Judith held the key to the office into the pale stripe of moonlight. “Now, hurry!”