Dead In The Water(4)

By: Julie Smith


Oddly, the rest of Steinbeck’s description more or less holds true. The row is right on the bay, you can’t change that—and it’s still got its own unique, half-industrial character. The aquarium, tucked in at the end of the row, the old “Portola” sign meticulously preserved on its adjoining warehouse wall, is the one cultural attraction.

As we’d arranged, I phoned Marty when I got into town. She was working late, which seemed odd for a Friday, but she said she was catching up after her two days in San Francisco. She said she’d meet me in the parking lot, where we could leave my car while we had dinner at some splendid fish place. (People who love aquatic animals love them in every way.)

She had me park in the dirt lot on what is still Ocean View Boulevard, but becomes Cannery Row at the Monterey line—weirdly, the aquarium is on the border of Pacific Grove and Monterey. When I got out of the car, she gave me a big hug as if we were best friends instead of fairly distant acquaintances, and I started getting into the holiday aspect of the thing. She led me through the gate to the closer, paved parking lot, both of us chattering as if we hadn’t seen each other in months instead of hours.

She seemed much cheerier than she’d been in the city. That was the way these things went, I remembered from my last breakup. You were morbidly depressed for a while, and then you started having some good days, and eventually most days were pretty good. Don had been gone three months.

“Are the kids coming to dinner with us?” I asked.

“Oh, heavens no. They’re in front of the tube and can’t be pried away. Keil’s twelve, you know, and very responsible. Damn good businessman, too—takes after his mom. He has his own errand-running business, called Trap Door, Ltd. It’s not really a limited partnership, of course.” She sounded like the Stanford M.B.A. she was. “The ‘limited’ part refers to the way he feels, not having a driver’s license—has to work on a bike, poor baby.”

“What does the Trap Door part mean?”

“You don’t get it?”

“Not offhand.”

“He’s got a wild imagination, I guess.” She sighed, as if this were not a good thing. “If you get in a bind, and can’t get your chores done, you can escape via Trap Door.”

“Ah. Pretty clever.”

“He also baby-sits, which is what he’s doing tonight. Of course, he charges more for it than any kid in the neighborhood, but he’s worth it—the first time he sits, he reels off the phone numbers of the police and fire departments, demonstrates the Heimlich maneuver, and assures you he knows CPR in case your kid—in this case, your other kid—has a heart attack. The boy loves his money. Anyway, not everyone wants to babysit Libby. Especially since Don left.”

“Why not?”

“She’s—ah—difficult.”

Terrific. I’d just signed up to spend the weekend with the Bad Seed.

“Rebecca, I’ve got a surprise for you before we eat. Have you ever seen a kelp forest at night?”

“We’re going to look at the aquarium? I thought we were getting your car.”

Marty smiled enigmatically. She wasn’t the sort you usually think of as having a flair for drama. She was short, with dirty-blond hair, brown eyes, and light skin with a dusting of freckles. Her hair was naturally wavy, and though she obviously had it cut professionally, she’d opted for neatness rather than style—if asked how she wore it, I would have had to say “on her head.” Nothing else really came to mind.

Her features were neat and ordinary as well, and so was her businesswoman’s gym-trained figure. The only remarkable thing about Marty seemed to be her love of the ocean. Unless she had her own hidden depths.

“Is this legal? To go in at night?” I said, hoping it wasn’t.

“Oh, perfectly. It’s a great place for night parties. In fact, arranging them is one of the things we do in marketing. There isn’t one tonight, though.” She dropped her voice to a whisper. “It’ll be quiet as the grave.”

“That should suit our mood.”

“Oh, cheer up—that’s the point of all this.” She snapped her fingers. “I know what you’ll like. Let’s go see the mola first. It’s in quarantine.”