Just Between Us Marine Biologists

Jiffy Felis

 

“You found what?” Andy Eckhoff froze, only halfway out of his leather jacket.

“A deer – a purple deer. All mushed up and rotten like last week’s loaf o’ bread. And that’s the least o’ it.”

“Hold on. The professor said this was an urgent research matter.” 

“It is, Mr. Eckhoff! Come, have a seat.”

Andy eyed the man. He was heavyset and grizzled, and looked more like a biker than an academic in his crusty denim jacket. But Andy had googled him up and found a few reputable publications… from the 80’s.

“Doctor Fizzbarrow, is that right?”

The man spread his arms. “The one and only.”

“So we’ve got some gaudy roadkill? Look doctor, I’m sorry, but I only drove down here because the boss said there was some catastrophe brewing off the coast that NOAA would want to know about.”

“Aye, there is lad. Sarah, bring ‘im a pint already! And a whiskey for me.” Doctor Fizzbarrow swung his arm in the get on with it motion, then pulled out a stool for Andy in front of the bar. The place was rustic to say the least: a fisherman’s pub, complete with guttering lanterns and nets strung above the bar.

Andy looked at the set of keys in his hand, then slid them into his jacket pocket and took a seat on the wobbly stool.

“OK. I’ll stay for a beer, but come on man. You don’t expect me to use research funds — and the submersible — to investigate some hunter’s missing dinner, do you?”

“It’s not just deer, Mr. Eckhoff. There was the cat last week, and then the dog on Monday. And now…” Fizzbarrow shook his hairy jowls. 

The lady behind the bartender cast Andy a sympathetic look and set down his pint. “Enjoy.” 

Andy sighed, took a gulp of the pale, bitter ale and closed his eyes. He could have been at colloquium, or grading exams, or arranging the stack of post-it notes on his desk. There were so many better options and grad students had so little time, but he needed another paper if he was going to graduate and his boss said this might lead to something. Still…

“Doctor, this hardly merits a dive off the coast.”

“And the missing girl?”

Andy choked on his beer. “Missing girl?”

Fizzbarrow slammed a newspaper onto the table. A grainy photo of a high schooler lay beneath the headline: Girl’s Mother Pleads for Help! 

Andy pried the paper from the sticky wood. “Uh, yeah, I’d call that a problem. Why’d you bring up the deer first?”

“I’d assumed you’d heard. She’s been gone near two days.”

Andy grimaced at the paper. It was The Yachats Shopper and only ten pages thick, with a tagline that boasted of the coupons hidden inside. He massaged his forehead, then gulped more of his beer.

“Look man, I’m no expert, but what if she ran away? And I’d love to help but this isn’t exact research material.”

“Oh but it is. The sea here is a dangerous thing, Mr. Eckhoff. They say the shadows beneath the waves consume man and beast alike.”

Andy’s narrowed his eyes. “You’re saying she’s drowned?”

“Drowned? Hah!” Fizzbarrow downed his whiskey in one slurp and pounded his fist on the table. “Not young Emily. A strong swimmer she was, by all accounts. And the animals know how to swim. No Mr. Eckhoff, I don’t think they’ve drowned.”

Andy took a glance at the bespectacled girl on the Shopper’s front page. He had his own doubts.

“Look, I understand where you’re coming from. This is a small town and people are scared. But if Emily is lost, there’s nothing a submarine can do to help.”

“Wrong again lad.” Fizzbarrow grinned and his yellow teeth glistened in the lantern light. “Folk here have long told tales of an ominous presence by the sea.”

The bartender replaced Fizzbarrow’s whiskey with a full one and turned to go, but the man caught her sleeve.

“Tell him of Yachats, Sarah.”

She shot Andy a look that said not this again. “They think it’s a monster.”

“It is a monster, Mr. Eckhoff! A monster most foul.”

Sarah groaned. “For Pete’s sake, Doc. Can’t you leave well enough alone? Nobody really believes in…”

“Believes in what?”

The wind gusted outside and the lanterns flickered.

“Since ancient times, folks here ‘ve known of the dark one.” 

Andy massaged his brow with one hand and held up the other to stop the man, but Fizzbarrow went on.

“Do you know what Yachats means, Mr. Eckhoff?”

“No, but you’re about to tell me.”

“In the Siletz Language it means dark water at the foot of the mountain.”

“OK. Suppose it is some sort of kraken.”

“Just between us marine biologists–” Fizzbarrow leaned in conspiratorially and put an arm on Andy’s shoulder “–it’s worse than that. Much worse.”

Andy could smell the whiskey on the man’s breath as they made eye contact. How had his advisor known the man? And how had he come to owe him this favor?

“Look, how can I possibly help? And what good is our tiny submersible?”

“We’ll finally have proof, Mr. Eckhoff. Proof of what the government’s denied for near two hundred and fifty years! There’ll be a paper for yah in this, to be sure.”

“Oh yes, a paper about missing cats and a runaway girl. Maybe we’ll get some murky photos too. And all it will cost me is a day of driving and–” he checked his watch, “– a Friday evening in the nearest motel.”

“Aye, take some time and sleep on it. You’ll come ‘round.” The old man stood and walked to the door. “This paper’ll happen one way or another. I suggest you consider it.”

“Say, what’s that PhD of yours in, doctor?” 

“Marine Biology, with a focus on Cryptozoology,” Fizzbarrow gave a bow. “From Pale Mountain College. Used to mean somethin’, years ago. Anyways, I’ll see you tomorrow, sure as sin.”

Fizzbarrow winked and pushed out the door.

“Sure as sin?” Andy sighed and glanced at the bartender. There was plenty of to be sure of in the town, but a research paper wasn’t on the list. “How long are you open?”

“Till ten,” Sarah said as she wiped a glass and strode over.

“Thank God.” 

“The Shanty Motel is just down the road,” she added. “Don’t worry, it’s not that musty, at least by our standards.”

Andy nodded. “School would cover it. But I’m out of here.”

“You sure? You’re not the first grad student he’s lured out here, you know.” She frowned.

“And not the last, I suspect.” 

“Your boss warned you about him, right?” 

“He said he was an old colleague and that he owed him a favor. I suspect some grant money was exchanged years ago.”

“Grant money? Yea, he could use that. The old sod has been broke since the 90’s.” A shadow came across her face.

“What?”

“He usually asks for a ride.”

Andy’s eyes went wide as his hand shot into his jacket pocket. He ran to the door, but the truck and the submersible were already gone.


Jiffy Felis is an author, artist, and science communicator living in the San Francisco Bay area, in Oakland. Jiffy has published several poems and scientific papers on the subject of compact string entanglement. When she’s not writing or doing science, she looks to curl up with a good book in the morning sunlight.