Up For Review:
The Case of the Fraudulent FishTank (A Trudy Tolliver Story) (oral)
copyright August 2002
"What I'm looking for, I guess, is if there is anything in the story that doesn't really "work" - does it need more sex, more descriptive parts (explain a little more about Trudy to make her more "real"). [An aside: I like Ace Dyson and Stanton and Maytag and Slot's twins and I guess a part of me wants Trudy to be like them - adventurous, fun loving, able to get out of tough scrapes... lol]"
"Tolliver, get your skinny ass in here!"
I jumped, my hand going automatically to cover my racing heart. I had been casually flirting with Eric, the cutest guy in the mailroom, instead of putting the finishing touches on my "Fashion Week Gives Area Retail a Boost" article. I considered fashion to be fluff, something I hated covering, but if it got my name on a byline I didn't feel I could be too picky.
I sighed and shot Eric an apologetic smile. He smiled back, fueling my erotic dreams for at least another night, and rolled his cart down the aisle. I pushed a pencil behind my ear, and approached Peterson's office, not in any hurry to get my latest butt-chewing.
He shut the door behind me. "Could you have walked any slower?" His stogie moved from one side of his mouth to the other as he talked.
"Actually, yes," I answered honestly. I perched on the edge of his desk.
"Don't be a smart ass." He shooed me into a battered and soda- stained chair, and then sat behind his desk.
"If it's about the fashion article," I started, "I was just about-"
"Fuck the fashion article, Heather can finish it," he interrupted. "I need you for something bigger."
That got my attention. "Like how bigger?"
"Big enough to make Dirk jealous."
Oh yeah, now he was talkin'! Dirk Drummand was the closest thing to a rival I had at the Daily Press. He was rude, crude, a chauvinist and thought he was God's gift to women. One-upping him would not only make my week, it'd make my entire month. "I'm all ears," I prompted.
"Have you heard of that new marine aquarium that opened up in the West End last year? It's called, get this, The Fish Tank. Pretty fucking original, huh?"
I nodded, even though I only had a vague idea what he was talking about. Sight seeing and scientific places didn't go hand- in-hand in my book.
"To cut the crap, they supposedly found this extinct fish, got a whole bunch of funding for it, and now some in the scientific field are challenging the find. Saying it's not what it was thought at first." He gestured vaguely with his hands.
"Uhhh, right. Extinct fish, not extinct. So what's the story?"
"Shit, Tolliver! Do I have to spell everything out for you?" He crushed the stogie into an over flowing ashtray on his desk. "I want you to get down there and get me the story. Not the fancy pants version they fed to the press, but the behind-the-scenes real life shit. I want to know if this fish is the real deal or not." He tossed me a folder. "Here's all we have on this thing so far: they've pulled the fish from display, pending the outcome of an investigation. I want details, details, details. Take a photographer with you, too."
"Really, Mr. Peterson, I know how to work a camera," I protested. I was stingy about sharing the glory with anyone.
"Yes, I know that." He glared at me. "I still have the negatives from last year's 'Tux and Tennis Shoes Ball.' The whole lot, double exposed, if I remember right, and I do."
"Okay, okay, I get the message." I didn't need a rehash of my mistakes; I could do that perfectly fine myself.
"I need that story the day after tomorrow, too," Peterson added. "I want to run it before the formal inquiry starts on Monday."
"Gee, you don't ask for much, do you?" Sarcasm laced my voice though I tried to keep it out. I honestly did.
He growled and I quickly shut his door behind me. I didn't want to press my luck.
I thought about who from the photo department to take with me. I wanted someone I could work with; someone who wasn't liable to question my sometimes-unorthodox methods of information gathering. Gayle was probably my best bet. She was outgoing, but not too pushy, and pretty, not stunning. She'd accidentally walked in on me last month when I was using the copy machine to copy certain parts of my anatomy. Her face turning a slight pink, she didn't say a word, just turned around and walked out. The fact that the whole office hadn't found out about it in ten minutes flat led me to believe that she could keep a secret.
"Hey, Trudy," Melissa called out. "One of the rings around Uranus, eight letters, starts with a 'd'."
I wrinkled my brow trying to remember. "Try Desdmona," I answered. Crossword puzzles were a passion of mine, the end result being that my brain was filled with bits of obscure information. Melissa was a friend who'd gotten hooked on them, too, and came to me on occasion for help.
"Thanks. And a four letter word for rectum." She smiled at me as I walked past. "And I've already tried butt. It can't end in a 't'."
"That one's easy," I replied. "Four letter word for rectum would be Dirk." Several people around me snickered and I couldn't help but join in. I was on a high. I had escaped getting my ass chewed out, been assigned a story with front page potential, and gotten to insult Dirk. I was on top of the world.
The next morning, decked out in my one and only business suit, my hair in a bun and glasses perched on my nose, I met Gayle down in the West End of Dallas, about a block from The Fish Tank. I'd done a bit of research the previous evening, and filled Gayle in as much as I thought she needed to know. She had her camera tucked into her shoulder bag and as we walked to the aquarium, I briefed her on our cover story. It wasn't too complicated, and as long as we kept it simple I figured we'd be okay.
I timed our arrival for lunch hour. The less people we had to deal with the better. And if we lucked out and got some brainless lackey, our job would be like taking candy from a baby. I crossed my fingers as I crossed the entryway of the aquarium.
"Wow," Gayle said from behind me.
I stopped to take stock of my surroundings. She had pretty much summed it up. We were surrounded on all sides by huge floor to ceiling tanks, each filled with fish of all shape, size and color. A few I recognized: lionfish, clownfish, dogfaced puffers, trigger fish, seahorses, and eels. I was impressed.
But I still had a story to get.
"Come on," I said, walking to where a door marked "Employees Only" beckoned. I squared my shoulders and assumed my best I'm- supposed-to-be-here attitude.
The door led to a hallway with doors branching off it on either side. Each one was marked, thankfully, which saved me having to ask directions and further complicating things.
Near the end of the corridor I found what I was looking for. Marked with a small plaque that read 'Quarantine Room: Authorized Personnel Only,' the door had a sophisticated looking electronic lock that quashed my hopes of a quick entry. I sighed with frustration, and turned to Gayle, hoping we could go somewhere and come up with a "Plan B."
She pushed passed me, handing me her oversized purse in the process. She quickly started pressing buttons on the lock, her fingers moving faster than I could almost keep up with. "What the?"
"My father is a security expert for the Pentagon," she said in a low voice. "I picked up a tip or two growing up." She smiled at me over her shoulder. "The lock might look impressive, but it's actually one of the cheapest on the market. The trick is to confuse it into thinking that you've entered the right code."
I wasn't a math whiz, but even I could figure that the odds of just happening to have along someone who was a semi-pro at lock picking - and electronic locks at that - was probably a million to one. I made a mental note to pray to all the good fortune deities I could think of before I went to bed that night.
"Got it." Gayle turned the door handle and it opened inward a couple of inches. She took her purse back from me and checked on her camera as I pushed the door the rest of the way open and slipped inside.
The room looked as I'd imagined any other marine biology lab to look - large tanks, some filled with water and others empty, cabinets lined one wall, two stainless steel tables, one holding an elaborate computer set up.
The only occupant of the room was a shark like fish, pacing the length of its tank. I held my breath. If this was the fish in question, I would be almost tempted to lean over the tank and kiss its scaly little head. Or skin, in this case.
I smiled at Gayle and walked over to the tank, the sound of my heels on the cool tile echoing off the walls.
"Hey! This area is off limits." A young man walked into the lab from a door that was partially hidden behind a tall cabinet. His dark hair was disheveled and looked like it hadn't seen a pair of clippers in at least a month. His glasses had slipped down to the end of his nose - or maybe that's the way he normally wore them - giving him a schoolmarm appearance. Well, if it weren't for the lean and very masculine body under his lab coat that flashed into view with every step he took. I had sudden urge to back away, just so he'd have farther to walk. I blamed it on the setting: I'd had fantasies of getting it on with a geeky scientific type ever since my crush on Mr. Fisher in eleventh grade chemistry.
I adjusted the hem of my suit jacket, and assumed what I hoped was an officious air. "I'm Dr. Honeywell from the United States Customs department. This is my assistant, Agent Mead." I flashed him a phony badge that Remy, my downstairs neighbor who was a private detective, had made for me the previous evening. "My office called to say I was coming. Didn't you get the message?"
"I don't get messages around here. I'm just Dr. Trayhern's assistant." His eyes held more than a trace of suspicion.
"Then where is this Dr. Trayhern?" I asked, but I actually hoped the man, or woman, would be out to lunch.
"He's at lunch right now."
"Oh isn't that just wonderful!" I raised my eyebrows at Gayle and caught her rubbing her nose to hide a smile. "And who are you?"
"George. George Filbert."
"Well, George, then maybe you can tell me why we received an anonymous tip that The Fish Tank was smuggling fish illegally into the country?" I tapped my foot, a smirk on my face as I waited for his answer. So far my cover story was going flawlessly.
"What?!" His eyes widened and his arms started to wave around wildly. "I don't know anything, and I mean anything, about illegal fish."
I kept silent.
He started pacing back and forth, just a few steps in both directions, his hands raking through his already-rumpled hair. "First the misidentification and the court order, now smuggling? What the Darwin have I gotten myself into?" I let him stew for a minute more, then cleared my throat. He stopped and looked at me, as if he'd forgotten Gayle and I were even in the room. "Relax, George, relax." I smiled, trying to put him at ease. "We've already inspected the rest of the facility and spoke earlier with the director, Mr. Harsk. We found no indication that anything was out of order." I looked at Gayle and she nodded in confirmation. It wasn't a lie, per se.
He put his hand to his chest. "Give a guy a heart attack, why don't you? Scaring me like that."
"Now that we've got that straight, tell me about this guy." I gestured to the fish in the tank behind me.
A guarded look came over his face. "I'm really not at liberty to discuss the animal with anyone other than Mr. Harsk or Dr. Trayhern."
"Come now, George." I smiled again. "Do you honestly want me to rethink the "nothing out of order" report?"
He seemed to consider his options. "I guess it won't hurt to tell you what's public knowledge anyway." He walked over to the tank, standing beside me close enough to touch. I clasped my hands to resist the temptation.
"This little guy, and at only three feet he really is little, is Scapanorhynchus texanus. Ancestor to the modern day goblin shark, and not seen, at least not alive, for over 110 million years."
"Wow!" Gayle said, taking the words right out of my mouth.
"Exactly," George replied. "He was found in the western Pacific, I'm not sure the precise location, Dr. Trayhern found him himself so he would know."
"How do you know for certain that it's this Scapa-whatever shark and not just some modern shark?"
"Because of the coloring, and the fact that he matches no known species of goblin shark. We also have some fossils to compare him to." George smiled and touched the side of the tank, almost as if he were caressing the shark instead. "This fellow is not even full grown, either. Not by Dr. Trayhern's calculations."
"Didn't I read recently that there was some sort of debate on whether or not this is in fact an extinct fish? I mean, there's no doubt that he's a goblin shark, is there?" I wanted to see how much I could get out of him by simply asking questions.
"There's no doubt about him being a goblin shark." George pointed to different areas on the shark as he spoke. "All goblin sharks have striated, fang-like teeth, a long tail with a weak lower lobe and a long, blade-like snout. It's the elongated snout that gives them their name."
"Ah." I nodded my head, thankful he didn't question why, if I were a doctor and investigating illegal fish, I knew so little about sharks. Maybe he'd assume that they weren't my specialty. "So all the controversy is unfounded. Dr. Trayhern can substantiate his claims that this is in fact a Scapa - a Scapanorhynchus texanus, and not just a new species of goblin shark, right?" I raised my eyebrows questioningly.
Gone was the brief glimpse of total confidence he'd shown while talking about the goblin shark. Now he squirmed uncomfortably under my scrutiny. "Dr. Trayhern is the person you should ask, not me."
My reporter's nose sniffed a lie. I unbuttoned my suit jacket, letting the thin white shirt underneath show. "Come now, George, I think we can be honest with each other, can't we?" I ran my fingers down his arm and he jerked it back like he'd been bit. I smiled slowly, slipping off my glasses and tucking them into my jacket pocket. "I just asked one little question."
"I, um, uh," he flustered.
"I'm sorry, George, I didn't mean to put you on the spot," I liked. I licked my lips and reached my hands behind me, pulling my hair from its bun. I shook out my shoulder length blonde curls, sighing heavily. "If you just show me Dr. Trayhern's office, I can just sit down and wait for him to return from lunch." I batted my eyelashes, my blue eyes promising a myriad of sinful things.
He glanced at the door he'd come through, and back to me.
I smiled; the cat that ate the canary had nothing on me. Taking him by the lapels of his lab coat, I urged him toward the door. "We'll be right back," I said to Gayle. "You just wait out here, Agent Mead." I winked at her and she nodded knowingly. I had no doubt that her camera would be snapping away while I was occupied with George.
I opened the office door and backed inside, my hands still holding onto George's lab coat. When he was safely inside, I kicked the door shut with my foot and backed him up against it.
"Wha?" he uttered as my hands flew to his waistband and fumbled for the zipper of his slacks.
"Just lean back and enjoy the ride, George," I said as I knelt in front of him. My hands felt the bulge in his briefs. "My my, I do believe I've found a fossil."
George moaned as I pulled his briefs down and exposed his already erect cock. I stuck out my tongue and licked from the base of his balls to the tip. "Mmmmmmmm."
My mouth and hands went to work, my hands cupping and caressing his balls while my mouth slid up and down his small, but thick, cock. I used my tongue to swirl around it as I sucked, my lips creating pressure and mimicking my nether lips.
He moaned again, low and deep in his throat. I looked up: his head was titled backward, eyes closed, brows wrinkled in concentration. He looked as far from a "geeky lab rat" as could be.
I closed my eyes, concentrating on getting him off. I pulled my lips back to where they just circled the head and hummed.
Just like that, he came. No warning, nothing. One second nothing, and then the next he's pumping his hips like crazy and there's hot come filling my mouth and running down my chin.
He slumped back against the door as I wiped my chin off with the back of my hand. He helped me to my feet, but kept his eyes downward, a telltale blush of pink tinting his cheeks.
"I think I should get cleaned up," he mumbled, reaching down for his underwear and pants.
"Uh huh," I agreed.
He hurried out of the room into an adjoining bathroom, shutting the door behind him. I could hear the lock clicking into place and bit back a chuckle. It was a bit late for him to be worrying about his modesty.
Knowing I didn't have that long, I hurried to Dr. Trayhern's desk, taking out the little micro-camera Gayle had given me that morning.
"The Fish Tank Director and Chief Biologist Conspire to Commit Fraud." Mr. Peterson shook the paper in his hand at me and beamed. Going back to the article he continued, "Papers uncovered reveal that the alleged extinct goblin shark that was found by Dr. Emil Trayhern and purchased by The Fish Tank, was in reality a new species of the modern day goblin shark. The documents also implicate The Fish Tank director, Edward Harsk, in the cover up and attempted fraud."
Peterson tossed the paper down onto his desk, evidently finished going over my article for at least the third time. "So Harsk cooked up this whole scheme to bring in publicity and funding for The Fish Tank, huh?"
"That's what the diary said that I found in Treyhern's desk. He wanted to announce the discovery of the new species, but Harsk, Treyhern's old roommate from college, thought that it'd be much more profitable if they passed it off as an extinct species instead."
"Except that one of Trayhern's colleagues got suspicious, and called for an investigation."
"Right," I said. "And why Trayhern wrote everything down. He was probably afraid that if they got caught, Harsk would claim innocence and lay all the blame at his feet." I twirled in my chair. "He was just stupid or careless enough to leave all the incriminating documents in an unlocked drawer of his desk."
"Damn, you're good, Tolliver!"
I replied smugly, "Yeah, I know."
"The pictures turned out great, too. You can tell Gayle I said that."
"I will," I replied. I also made a note to seek her out more often. She hadn't asked what happened in Trayhern's office, at least not when it came to George, and I owed her for that. I wondered if she'd like a night out at the male strip club.
Mr. Peterson reached for a cigar on his desk and then shook his head. "Want to get some lunch? My treat."
Hell, he was such a tightwad he brought sandwiches from home from lunch - every day. If he was offering to buy I was not going to pass up the opportunity. It probably wouldn't ever come again.
"Sure thing, boss," I said. I'd gotten the story I'd been sent after and it'd made the front page, much to my delight and Dirk's annoyance. I had a new friend, Gayle the photographer. I got to play out my "seducing the geeky lab assistant" fantasy. And I had George's home phone number tucked safely in my pocket. I had every reason in the world to celebrate.
"Where do you want to go?" Peterson asked, locking his desk and grabbing his jacket.
I followed him out the door. "Anything but sushi, please."