The Eighty-eighth Key, Chapter 65.3

88 orcawhite

Another brief walk into the sea, and who knows, perhaps you’ll find time for tea.

[Sting \\ Valparaiso]

Chapter 65.3

Didi Goodman continued insinuating herself into Brendan’s daily routine, guiding a gentle transformation from the dependency of childhood into something more closely resembling manhood. She ran with him on the beach, helped him develop a more appropriate level of physical coordination for his age, and she listened to him. Listened, as he began to express hopes and dreams for the first time in his life, and as he turned these expressions into music. She seemed to care. Seemed to grasp what he was looking for.

Didi had a natural affinity for the ocean and loved to both Scuba dive and surf, and she began to pass these loves on to Brendan, as well. She had started by teaching him how to body surf, surfing by, in effect, holding your body in a rigid plane and shooting out along the crest of a breaking wave. She bought a couple of ‘boogie-boards’ next, short little surfboards that let you surf waves a little more gracefully – though still not standing up – and lycra skins to ward off the cold. 

Yet Sea Ranch was not an ideal place for these activities.

There was but one beach where surfing was somewhat practical, when conditions were ideal, anyway, and the rest of the shoreline was crenellated with small rocky headlands and tiny coves — all lined with spires of sharp, spiny rocks. So, when the sun came out and the wind rushed onshore, Didi and Brendan could be seen rushing down to the beach, loaded down with beach towels and boogie-boards.

Yet, as Harry had mentioned to Deborah, sharks roamed these shores, for their favorite food often basked on all those rocky points. Sea Lions, or fur seals, had at one point been hunted to near extinction, yet they had made a dramatic recovery since California had enacted strict environmental protections — and all that much to the delight of the local population of Great White sharks. The sharks roam about a quarter mile off the rocks and beaches of the Pacific coastline from Washington State to Baja California and their habits are generally well understood by locals. And yet as Didi Goodman was anything but a local she dismissed Harry’s concerns about the predators.

So he always watched Didi and Brendan traipse off to the beach with a kind of icy fear clutching at his throat, and he heaved a sigh of relief every time they returned intact. Yet soon enough his fear was palpable enough that Deborah Eisenstadt questioned him. “Why don’t you go along and see if they are taking enough precautions?” she asked.

“I don’t want to be an overbearing old fart,” he growled. “No one needs that bullshit.”

“So you’re going to sit up here and pick on your fingernails all afternoon — while they’re gone?”

“I do not pick on my fingernails!”

“Oh, really?”

“Well, maybe I do just a little…”

Eisenstadt shook her head while she finished making lunch. “I thought you were working with Pat in the studio this afternoon?” she said as she put his plate down on the small kitchen table.

“No. His flight was canceled so he’s stuck in Boston.”

“Oh? That’s nice. It’s such a sunny day, perhaps we could go for a walk?”

“Yeah, that sounds good.”

She smirked. Men were so predictable it was almost painful sometimes. “Why don’t you bring your camera?” she added.

“You must be reading my mind again,” he grinned.

And so Deborah grinned too, much as she hated to gloat.

So they walked south along the coast trail until they came to a beach access trail beneath Black Point Reach — and the first thing Harry noticed was how far offshore the two surfers were. Well beyond the quarter mile mark, anyway, and yes, there were lots of seals frolicking out there among the three and four-foot combers, and then Harry saw Brendan riding a five-footer on a boogie-board and he was screaming in delight as he rode the wave in for a hundred or so feet.

So Harry aimed his old Nikon F and rattled off a few shots through his equally old 300mm, catching the excited grin on the boy’s face right up to the point where he pointed to the shark’s dorsal fin lazily scything through the water beyond the surf — now headed right for Didi Goodman.

“Goddammit to mother-fucking hell,” Callahan snarled.

“What is it?” Deborah responded, and then she followed Harry’s pointing finger. “Oh, no,” she sighed. It was impossible not to notice the fin now, and Brendan had just turned and was shouting out a warning to Didi when Callahan saw a half dozen more dorsal fins streaking in towards the White.

“What the hell?” Callahan muttered.

“Are those more sharks?” Eisenstadt asked.

“I don’t think so. Look…the fins are a different shape than the shark’s,” Harry said as he now quite instinctively brought the Nikon up to his eye and began shooting.

One of the larger animals broached the surface and the black and white markings were unmistakeable now…

“Are those Killer Whales?” Deborah asked.


“They’re not friendly, are they?”


“Oh, dear…”


Didi was doing exactly the right thing, facing the shark and holding quite still, and even Brendan seemed to have caught on as he too was now quietly treading water, yet the lead orca, a huge male, submerged and disappeared from view.

The shark was circling Didi now, still about twenty feet away when the water around the shark exploded, and the next thing Callahan saw through the lens was the Great White’s body coming apart in midair, and he tried his best to keep focus as he snapped away – soon coming to the end of his roll. He continued watching the unfolding anarchy as the rest of the pod of orcas moved in and thrashed the remnants of the shark…

…but then the large male turned on Didi…

…and the next thing Callahan saw was Didi cupped protectively inside the orcas pectoral grasp, and he was bringing her closer to the beach. Brendan paddled in as quickly as he could, but then the rest of the pod surrounded him, kept him from going ashore.

“What the fuck is going on now?” Callahan growled.

“It’s almost as if they are trying to talk to him, Harry…?”

“Let’s get down there,” Harry snarled, his prosthetic leg a real nuisance in sand and on the loose, rocky scree the trail was made of. He relied on his cane now but made it down to the rocky beach just as Didi came trembling out of the water. Her skin was pale now, but whether from the cold water or fright Callahan couldn’t tell. He found her towel and handed it to her — just as she fell into his arms, still too numb to cry.

“Where’s Brendan?” she finally managed to say.

“With his new friends, I’d say,” Deborah said, pointing to the pod.

And Brendan was drawing on the sky, pointing out his efforts to the huge male…

…who seemed…

…interested. To say the least.

© 2016-22 adrian leverkühn | abw | and as always, thanks for stopping by for a look around the memory warehouse…

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