INTERLUDE THE THIRD
(1 HOUR EARLIER)
The Gentile Sisters had been so excited, by what they had found and videotaped, that they had been literally unable to wait for the dry sub to bring them back to the ship at the predetermined time. So, the young South African had radioed for the speedboat to come by and pick up the identical twin carrot tops as soon as poor Brad Deane had been taken to sick bay.
He should have known it would be Jonesy (Jean-Antoine Jones, the Tulane University pre-med from the American state of Louisiana) who would volunteer for that duty. He had been trying to seduce both girls into his state room since the expedition had begun! In any event, it was Flora (or maybe Dora) who had asked him to stay behind and mark the site of their discovery of The Dewitt Clinton with the dry sub. And, as he anticipated a rather lengthy wait for someone to come and relieve him from that drudgery, he decided to try and catch something edible for the ship's galley to cook everybody tonight.
Hence, the fly-casting he was currently practicing with the Popeil Pocket Fisherman he had been sent as a mail-order birthday present by his father's brother (who worked for South Africa's ambassador to the United Nations).
Thrice now, he had reeled in the line only to cast it out, again, after failing to catch anything. On the fourth try, however, something nibbled on the baited hook. Something that almost instantly bit down on the bait and tried to make off with it!
"Holy Shit!" he muttered to himself: "Did I catch a bull shark, or something?! Whatever it is, unless it breaks the line, I just might have to release it to keep from capsizing."
* * * * *
KEN SCHUYLER'S POINT OF VIEW
Our descent to the beach took less than half the time it had taken our ascent. Even with Celeste carrying Dell like he was a toddler who had fallen asleep in her arms!
[As the first-born child of the Saucier family, she had often had to act as the catcher for her parents and brothers' trapeze act.]
When we got down to the beach, she hopped into the back seat with Dell, while I unearthed the anchor and stowed it in the shotgun seat before turning the key in the ignition. I put the speedboat into reverse until we had backed out of the shallows. Then, I rammed the gearshift into drive and opened the throttle to maximum!
"Mayday! Mayday! This is Ken. Tell Doc, Smitty, and Jonesy to get another bed ready in sick bay. Whatever happened to Brad, Dell is now suffering the same symptoms. Repeat: suffering the exact same symptoms! Over."
"Copy that," replied "Sparks" O'Leary (the ship's radioman): "Emergency triage will be waiting for you when you get here. Over and out."
We got to the stern of the Humu-humu-nuku-nuku-apua'a within half the time it had taken us to reach the lagoon. I then moored the boat while Celeste handed off Dell to Smitty and Jonesy. Consequently, I was the last to reach sick bay and witness a former U.S. Navy SEAL being practically thrown on to a cot, with oxygen tank, as if he were a hyper-active five year-old still on a sugar high at bedtime. It was only when Dell's breathing had steadied that Dr. Shareen King stopped feeding the oxygen to him at full blast.
Only then did she try to get particulars from me and Celeste.
"How did this happen?"
All we could do was shrug...helplessly.
"One moment, we were looking for him along what looked like a well-worn footpath or game trail," I replied: "With no trace of him, whatsoever. The next moment? He's there, right in front of us, as short as Brad. Maybe even shorter!"
"Oh, I sincerely doubt that," the doc growled with a scowl: "Come with me."
She took us to a large room just off the main infirmary. The boundary of which consisted of twin doors similar to those in a supermarket. You know; the ones that would normally have to be pushed open, from either direction, to permit exit from or entry into the "Employees Only" area? Well, in this case, these two doors had now been bolted shut, top and bottom.
"What's up, Doc?" I asked (Bugs Bunny cartoon reference genuinely not intended).
"See for yourselves," she replied (gesturing to the circular windows).
Celeste took the window on the right while I peered through the one on the left. For my part? All I saw was a Sony AVC-3250 closed circuit TV camera on a tripod, pointed downward at something in a terrarium on top of a gurney. And, when I said as much, the doc turned to the counter on her left and flicked a switch on a small portable CCTV monitor. The second she did so, she took three steps back and gestured for us to take a closer look at the screen. So Celeste and I stepped forward, and bent slightly downward, accordingly.
We gasped in perfect unison.
"It can't be...!" exclaimed Celeste.
The doc nodded: "I'm afraid it is."
On that screen, wearing what looked like a toga made from facial tissue, was Brad!
"How...?" I began.
"I found him like this less than twenty minutes ago. Ten minutes before then, I had taken him out from underneath the oxygen tent, as he seemed to have stabilized. When I came back to check on his pulse and heart beats, however, all I saw was his dressing gown, lying on the cot, flat as a pancake. Except for this strange little mound moving about, to and fro, under where the stomach would be!"
"And it was Brad?" Celeste whispered.
The doc nodded, again, adding: "Five inches tall, at best."