Chapter 47: A Surprise Visitor
“Okay, you guys, back to work!” I ended our picnic lunch at the pavilion, sending all three kids and my two assistants to the penguin enclosure to feed Carl and give him some extra-mild physical therapy. I’d checked him out with everyone watching before lunch and determined that the old grump was simply going to let arthritis set in on his hip if he didn’t move it more than he was on his own volition. Vickie and Chuy knew what to do, so I had no reason to stay for the session.
I was going to head back to the infirmary to see if my wounded turtle was healing and re-wrap the bandage on his leg. I swear every animal here, with the exception of Delilah, had some sort of attitude problem; and this semi-aquatic slider turtle was determined to ensure his wound did not heal properly!
Speaking of Delilah, I decided to take the long way to the infirmary so I could walk through the underwater tank viewing area and get my fill of the beautiful old lady. Seeing the dolphins underwater always had a way of putting my mind at ease and making my day more positive. The viewing area was a darkened theater-like room with a few benches, and as we didn’t have visitors yet, it was always extra peaceful and quiet down there.
As I came to the bottom of the steps leading into the dimly lit room, my eyes landed on the elderly dolphin floating placidly in front of the thick glass. It was as if she were peering into the room and I instantly laid eyes on the figure standing opposite of her, silhouetted by the glow of the blue water. It was as though the two of them were silently communicating with one another. I couldn’t quite discern who the stranger was, his head bent so that his forehead, along with his hand, were pressed against the glass. Delilah was focusing her attention on him, which struck me as odd as she didn’t usually seem to notice people down here much, what with her eyesight being so poor.
It was an odd, yet beautiful sight and I swear I could almost hear the murmur of thoughts between the two of them. I hated to break the moment, yet I did anyway. We didn’t have the rehab open to the public yet, and I couldn’t let just anyone roam around the place.
“Hello?” I said quietly.
The figure jerked slightly, and I knew I’d startled him, though I hadn’t meant to. He removed his hand from the glass, turning towards me and Delilah glided away as though their conversation were over.
“Can I help...” I started as my eyes adjusted to the dark, then realized, to my surprise, that it was Torin. His almost black eyes piercing the darkness of the cave-like room, emanating with a softness when he realized that it was me who’d interrupted his moment of quiet. “Oh, hi!” I said instead.
“Hey,” he replied simply, and I could detect a hint of sadness in his voice, making me feel a little uneasy.
“Is everything alright?” I asked, worried that something bad had happened and that he was here to tell his Mom and Rainie some tragic news. He never came here - not since the day I met him - and the atmosphere around him was too dark for this to be an uncharacteristic social visit.
He nodded lightly. “Yeah, I just have a lot going on at work and needed to clear my mind.”
Thinking this was an odd place to do so - at least for him - not for me, for I loved coming down here to commune with Delilah when I needed a break, I ventured further to lighten the mood. “Um, Rainie’s out with everyone else doing physical therapy with Carl - uh, the penguin - if you wanted to watch?”
He shook his head, but maintained his silence, so I continued, “Your mom’s up in her office now. We just finished lunch on the pavilion.”
He smiled slightly, but didn’t move. Did he not come to see his family? Technically, he shouldn’t be here just roaming the rehab on his own, as he wasn’t an employee, but I knew Rob wouldn’t have a problem with him, being immediate family to both Rhonda and Rainie.
“Uh, I can leave you be, if you want to spend more time here. I didn’t mean to intru...”
“No,” he said firmly, yet kindly, interrupting me. “No, please stay.”
He wanted to talk to me?! I know we had a wonderful time last night, but I didn’t expect him to want me to stay instead of seeking solace with Rhonda or Rainie for whatever troubled him. I stepped down completely into the room, motioning to the bench in the center, facing the tank. “Do you want to have a seat?”
He proffered for me to sit first, so I took a spot at one end of the bench and he sat at the opposite end. There were a couple of feet between us, and while I partially faced him, he sat facing the tank with his elbows on his knees and his chin resting on his fists, as he stared into the murky blue water where Delilah swam on the far side of the pool.
I didn’t know if I should say anything, nor what I should say if I did, and so we sat for what seemed like forever, though in reality, was probably only several seconds. Finally, I prompted, “Are you alright, Torin?”
He cleared his throat, his focus never leaving the tank in front of us. “A couple of detectives from Miami showed up in my office this morning looking for this guy - Jimson. He’s part of big crime; drugs, mostly in Miami, but they have reason to believe he’s in our area looking for some stolen goods that were left somewhere in Navarro Beach by the people who used to run this place.” He motioned around us, so I guessed he was referring to the old aquarium.
That didn’t sound good! Drugs, here?! I guess we weren’t too far from the big cities, but I just figured the recent drug bust on the yacht was a super rare thing around little Navarro Beach. Still, I wasn’t sure why this would make Torin sad. He was a cop after all, and Chief of the Marine Patrol Unit at that. Isn’t this just part of the territory?! I waited for him to continue.
He opened his mouth again, yet no words came out. Finally, he sat up and appraised me sitting next to him. “Long story, short, a lot went down at that time with Jimson and Mike Carter, the guy who used to own the aquarium back then, and the rest of the criminals he’d hired. Sandy - my wife - had gotten caught up in it all.”
He closed his eyes and shook his head, seemingly trying to clear his mind. “Jimson and all of them were behind her... her death.” These last words were in a near whisper.
I was confused - I thought she’d been sick, but the way he’d said it made it sound like they’d killed her! Had the aquarium somehow contributed to her illness? He did say long story, short, and I could tell there was a lot to this story and even more he wanted to say, but either didn’t know how or couldn’t for some reason or another. I decided not to press him, simply watching and waiting as he took a deep breath, exhaling slowly.
Then he shook his head again. “Damn, I was hoping I’d never have to deal with these people again! Why couldn’t they take care of his sorry ass in Miami already?!”
I felt pretty clueless, but as Torin was my newest friend, I felt compelled to say or do something for him. While I didn’t think he necessarily sought me out specifically to talk to when he came here, given the opportunity, he did choose me. I was touched that he felt comfortable enough to say even this much about this horrific-sounding topic to me.
So, finally, I offered, “I can’t imagine how difficult this must be for you to have to confront. I really am sorry.” I took a breath, trying to sort my thoughts, then added in an attempt to boost his mood, “Maybe these detectives will finally get this guy this time.”
I was going to end there, but it sounded so shallow and for some reason my mind and mouth continued. “As difficult as it is to face, wouldn’t it be better to get some resolution now, than not at all? And if they got him in Navarro Beach, then it might be more meaningful for, uh, Sandy’s sake.” God, I hoped I hadn’t said too much. I didn’t want to step on his toes, not now.
Torin, who’d been looking at the tank while I spoke, turned to look at me, his eyes sparking with energy as I held my breath. “Yeah, you’re right,” he said simply, looking back towards the water thoughtfully. Then, he laughed lightly. “Delilah was right.”
I cocked my head, letting out my held breath, sure he was lightening up now, and smiled. “I didn’t realize you knew Delilah. And what exactly did she tell you?”
He locked eyes with me again, a smile turning up his lips. “Yeah, I’ve known Delilah for years now, though it’s been a while. She’s pretty special.”
“Mm-huh,” I nodded wholeheartedly, having worked with dolphins my entire career. “Delilah is extra sweet and special.”
“She said the same thing about you.” His words were soft and sure, as though Delilah had really talked about me, though I was sure he just meant it in return for listening to him. Yet, there was definitely a hint of something more behind his tone and the way he held my gaze.
I’m sure I blushed and I know my insides flipped, not expecting the conversation to take this turn. I then laughed embarrassedly, breaking eye contact with him and taking my turn at focusing on the water in front of us instead. I hadn’t done anything to deserve such a compliment from him.
“You are, you know,” his voice was more serious, but still soft and my eyes drifted back to him as he spoke. “Thanks for talking with me. I came to let my grief out and I guess I was letting it get the better of me. It all just came down so fast this morning, you know? You helped me refocus to see the bigger picture again and I feel a little more motivated.”
I smiled, still feeling self-conscious about his compliments, but glad he felt better. I was also curious as hell about what did happen to his wife, but dared not ask. I had a feeling that conversation wouldn’t happen for a very long time, if ever. So, I cleared my throat, “That’s what friends are for, right?”
His smile grew, yet he didn’t say anything and we sat watching Delilah swim for a moment more. Finally, Torin spoke up again, “I didn’t mean to interrupt you from your work. If you need to get going, I can just show myself out.”
I’m not exactly sure why, but while I did have things to do, I had no desire to part ways with Chief Waters just yet. So, I fished further, “Well, I was on my way to the infirmary to take care of a patient. But, unless you’ve got to be somewhere right now, I could use an extra pair of hands. All my helpers are busy right now.”
At that moment, I knew where Rainie got that special expression reserved for occasions when she was more than thrilled about something. It was probably her most beautiful feature, and it looked exceedingly handsome on her father.
“No, I don’t need to be anywhere right now. Work knows how to reach me if they need to. I’d love to help!”
I stood, motioning for him to follow me out the opposite door of the room, a giant grin on my face and I teased, “Great! Maybe we’ll turn you into an intern before long, too!”
He laughed as he followed me up the steps and into the brightly lit hallway leading to the infirmary. “I don’t know about that. So, what kind of patient are we talking about?”