The sun had already risen when Fiona left the house. That morning was beautiful, with the light of the sun scattering over the waters of the bay and palm and coconut trees lining the shallow cliff. Calusa Shores was not too far from the mainland, but it was an island paradise.
Despite being seated in the Florida Keys, Calusa Shores was not a part of the Overseas Highway. Nor was it a key itself; it was known for its hornfels and limestone bedrock, which were atypical for the area. What little coral and sedimentary rock could be found was often on the beaches and outer edges of the main island, suggesting it formed separately from the rest of the Keys; due to its location on the northern edge of the archipelago, it was reachable only by the Calusa Shores Causeway and a catamaran ferry. While the ferry was popular, it only took about twenty minutes to cross the causeway, and driving had its benefits to tourists.
Fiona rubbed her eyes and fumbled with the buttons on the radio. There wasn’t much in the way of good stations in town, at least not in her opinion, but she quickly found one worth listening to. The jockey was rather obnoxious, but at least it wasn’t airing Jimmy Buffett. “In other news today, the FBI finally made an official statement on the series of arsons that have plagued Eastern Florida. As expected, Assistant Director Anderson refused to directly say whether or not these incidents were related, but admitted that his office was looking into it. Considering these fires were all started with accelerants at chest height and all along the same series of highways and interstates, one has to wonder why he would consider it anything else but the work of a serial arsonist.”
She had to agree with him; the family had their own run in with Anderson in ’99. His arrogance at the time nearly got him killed, and cost the lives of several local officers. It was because of Anderson that Yvonne left the FBI, and considering the hell he put her through, both her and Roderigo would probably love to meet him again just to kick him in the balls.
Speaking of which, she thought, I should probably start looking at hors d’oeuvres for the party. She checked her watch to be sure of the date.
Despite the hype on the radio, the drive to work was mundane. It didn’t help that the institute was only two miles north of her house; Fiona had walked there frequently as a child. Now she was too busy and too tired to try, and while many of the buildings were still in place, the drive was too short to admire. Still, she was always able to keep an eye out for any potential sites for sifting or diving even though she rarely had enough energy to do field work.
After pulling into her space, she sat inside her car for a moment, rubbing her eyes. When she got out, she walked past the main building and toward the opposite side of the lot. Even from there she could see the myriad of grates and glass that composed her father’s oceanarium.
Her destination, however, was a much smaller. She entered simply by swiping her card on the staff door. This took her directly into her office. Just outside her door a much larger room could be seen, filled with secured display cases and tempered glass. This was where her dream had come true: a small museum dedicated the sharks and rays that had long since gone extinct.
Compared to the stylish displays of her Museum, her office was rather ordinary. There was a custom computer that she used for her database and a small server that she used to run the museum’s site. Both sat atop a large but plain oak desk, all three gifts from her sister. There was a stereo on the shelf for her late hours and a plush leather office chair, but her favorite piece of furniture was the matching couch that many nights had been her home away from home.
The first thing she noticed a note from Carlton telling her that a package had arrived over the weekend. She wasn’t expecting one, but it wasn’t unusual; her cousin often sent her trinkets from Rome. She shrugged it off and got to work.
Her nap was interrupted by a knock at the door. Rubbing her eyes, Fiona asked,”Who is it?”
Simon Carlton was a rather tall man in his early forties, with a light tan and slicked back hair. He initially arrived about the same time she’d been given the museum, and had even helped her set it up; unlike the other workers whose respect had to be earned, he’d given it to her from day one. These day’s he was the Institute’s jack-of-all-trades, doing everything from overseeing animal care to field research. He’d even earned enough respect from her father for him to be allowed to use his lunch breaks fiddling around in an unused section of the parking garage.
“Dr. Carter asked me to bring you some paperwork. I know it’s early, but I thought it’d be best to get you before the tourists come in.”
“No problem,” Fiona said. Carlton handed the envelope to her, and she quickly opened it and scanned the contents. “I’ve been waiting for this anyway. It’s the insurance paperwork for the collection we’re leasing.”
“I take it it’s good?” Carlton asked.
“Oh yeah,” she replied. She quickly pulled a pen from a cup on her desk and got to work signing the forms.” The Sacaco dentition is a part of this loan.”
“And that is?”
“It’s a fossilized jaw of a broad-toothed mako that is well on its way to becoming a great white. It blows a hole in the theory that megalodon was a close relative, and is probably the most important find on the subject in history.” She quickly looked the document over to be sure she’d signed everything before handing it back to him.” I had to insure this specimen alone for four hundred grand.”
He laughed. “I swear, if my showpieces brought in half of what you spend a month, I could retire.” He took the paperwork and waved goodbye. “Take care,” he said, “and try and get some sleep.”
Fiona breathed a sigh of satisfaction. When the days went like this, it was hard to remember how bad the nights were. Leaning back in her chair, she rested her chin on her knuckles and drifted off.
* * *
Carter stared down at the holding tank beneath him, watching the handlers as closely as he could. They were attempting to load a large oceanic white-tip into a transport harness, her jaw visibly mangled from a fouled hook.
The shark wasn’t going easily. Normally bold and inquisitive, the oceanic whitetip was a persistent predator when encountered in the open sea; though only rarely aggressive, her species was known on occasions to drive experienced divers out of the water. This shark however, was simply frightened, and while cornered animals were often unpredictable, her wounded jaw made it difficult for her to inflict a serious bite.
The safety of his crew wasn’t what concerned him, however. Although extensive repair work had been done, the shark’s cartilaginous skeleton wasn’t easy to fix, and if she did try to bite one of the workers, she could easily rip out the rods holding her jaw together. There were other problems as well. The oceanic whitetip preferred warm, open ocean over the shallow tanks of the oceanarium; Carter knew from experience that housing a pelagic shark for an extended period of time could be harmful for the animal’s health. Still, this shark would starve if left to fend on its own. Life in the wild was brutal and unforgiving.
But this one was lucky. A sports fisherman who often helped tag specimens found the shark for sale on the dock, still clinging to life. At first, her outlook wasn’t good. Her injury normally have been a death sentence even in captivity, but the surgery to repair the jaw seemed to have done its job. It was still necessary to hand feed her however, and she was still too stressed for even a temporary display. Thankfully, her vigor was already starting to return.
That was, until the previous night. An oversight by maintenance had led to some of the circulation pumps failing, and new seawater was no longer being pumped into this holding tank. With nothing to keep the water from stagnating, she needed to be moved immediately. If left in the tank too long, she would suffocate. Carter wasn’t convinced she was healthy enough to move though, and this made him very anxious. If they weren’t careful, the stress would kill her.
“Dr. Carter, the shark is secure.”
He was relieved, but they weren’t out of the woods. The combined stress of being grabbed and placed into the canvas would undoubtedly take a toll on her health. Sadly, the odds of the shark dying in transport were still very high.
But if a facility existed that could rehabilitate her, it was his institute. Over the past two decades, it had saved hundreds of injured sharks and rays. Some would never be able to be released; these sharks became the staples of the oceanarium where they were used to educate the public and entertain and educate the masses.
“Get her into the transfer tank,” he said. “Be careful, especially when you put the pump in. We can’t risk her wound reopening.”
The engine whined, and the eight foot shark slowly emerged from its canvas blanket. Carter held his breath, his hands clenching the railing and nails digging into the insulation. The other team quickly moved to place the shark in a large plexiglass tank filled with saltwater. A thick hose was inserted into the thrashing shark’s mouth, forcing a constant flow of water over its gills. It wasn’t pretty, but without it the shark would suffocate. At last, Carter watched as the tank was placed into the back of the transport truck. Carlton shouted across the room, asking, “Which tank should we put her in?”
“Three!” It seemed like the most logical choice–it was an open enclosure, which would help mitigate the animal’s stress.
As the truck drove off, Carter felt a bit of relief. He felt like the day was going smoothly. “All things considered,” he said to himself, “this could have gone much worse.”