My head was throbbing and I was slumped over in a bathroom stall, pants up. A lump on the back of my head told me I’d slammed it on the wall behind me. It’s not easy, never knowing when you’ll just blink out of consciousness or for how long, but you learn to live with it. You learn to adjust.
Standing up made me dizzy, but I figured a little water would help. The sink was one of those slap it on the head and pray you can get your hand under in time kinds. Marvelous. I hate the inconvenience of getting wet at a sink.
As I left the bathroom I found myself in what appeared to be a trendy dance club. It was busy as hell, full of drunken twenty-somethings dry-humping to some techno beat. From across the floor I locked eyes with the penguin.
He was sitting at a shoddy little table in a corner of the club, poking at an empty glass with his wing when he saw me. With an awkward hop he dropped to the floor. He was shorter than the table. For a brief moment I wondered how he’d gotten into the seat in the first place, though I suppose there are better questions some would have been asking. He came to me with that penguin waddle, and looking up at me his mouth moved. He was trying to talk to me.
“Come again,” I asked, “music’s a little loud.”
“I asked ‘What the hell took you so long?’”
What the hell took me so long, what a smartass that penguin was. “What do you think, Kevin? I’m narcoleptic. I fell asleep.”
“Again? You should cut that out. Bad thing sleeping on the job. Downright irresponsible.”
* * * * *
“Wait a minute professor,” it was Peter, the class brown-noser (not that I mind being sucked up to.) “So, the penguin could talk?”
“And you could understand him?”
“But that doesn’t make any sense.”
“Okay Peter, you got me. Now, I’d love to tell you some fantastic story about how he was some crazy experiment, or I was. Or maybe aliens are to blame. But the truth is I met Kevin about 15 years ago, when I was twenty-four. I saw him at the zoo and we just vibed, became good friends.”
“I could stop telling the story if you want. We could go back to my lecture… the Byzantines were on the schedule for today.”
A series of groans.
“No, no that’s okay Professor.”
“Alright. Well, as I was saying:”
* * * * *
I helped Kevin back into his seat; I don’t really know why he ever got up to be honest. “So, I was thinking about…why we’re here, and well…I was wondering what you were thinking?”
“You forgot again didn’t you?”
“Well, I think I hit my head really hard, so it isn’t totally my fault.”
If you’ve never seen a penguin shake its head in disdain you really should. It’s an entertaining sight. “Every time, Steve. This happens every time. We get a call, we get going in the investigation, you never tell me everything, then you go and knock your head and we have to do things all over again.”
“Well somebody’s in a pissy mood. Is this because I wouldn’t buy you that sushi?”
“Don’t patronize me, Steven.”
I sighed, Kevin always knew when he had the upper hand, and since the past hour of my life was just a throbbing pain to me, he had it then. “Okay, so what’ve I missed?”
“Well, you went back through that door for awhile.” There was a narrow door behind the bar which resided across the club; it looked to be off its hinges.
“What’d I do back there?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t come with.”
“Why the hell not?”
“I’m a penguin. I’m not exactly built for scaling bars, and since Captain Hero decided to run off and confront the baddies without grabbing me, I just had to sit here and wait. And push this glass around.”
“How long was I gone?”
“Oh, about twenty minutes. Give or take. I don’t really wear a watch. You came over, said you knew where to go, but that you had to use the bathroom. Then I guess you decided it was nap time. No need to tell your buddy Kevin of course, he can stay out here; play with the glass some more.”
Twenty minutes. God knows what complex negotiations I had to go through to get the info an inanimate object stole from me five minutes later. I strode across the club and waited for the coast to be clear before casually hopping over the bar. As I walked through the door I heard the sound of shattering glass on the floor and Kevin swearing.
* * * * *
“You just left him there again?” Tiffany was a sweet girl.
“Well, he was a penguin. I’d look kind of crazy carrying a penguin into negotiations, wouldn’t I?”
“I guess, but…you probably didn’t look too sane talking to him either.”
“Tiffany you ignorant, ignorant girl. I wasn’t trying to get information from the dancing folk. I could not have cared less what they thought of me.”
“Well, I guess that makes sense.”
“You’re damn right it does Tiffany. Damn right.”
* * * * *
So I walked through the door, ready to talk my way through any situation that would arise, and I can admit now that I was caught entirely off guard. There were bodies everywhere, writhing in pain. Somebody had handed out some beatings. I looked around, and spotted a guy crawling toward the rear exit. I regretted not having a bullwhip to crack to get his attention. “Um, excuse me sir. Would you mind-”
“Please…please don’t hurt me…I…I-”
“Who did this to you?”
“You sick bastard. Come back to gloat?”
“I did this?”
“Of course. You…we…please, just leave me alone.”
“Yes. Of course. But first, I need you to tell me everything you told me before. As a test. Of your memory. Or something.”
As I left with my information… again, I looked over my shoulder at what I had apparently accomplished. Not bad, I had to admit. I totally could have wielded the bullwhip.
Kevin was still waiting in his seat, wings flapping absent-mindedly at his side. “What’d you find out?”
“Get the car, it’s almost time,” I replied, tossing him the keys.
“Dude, I don’t drive. I’m only four years old.”
After fishing the keys out from behind the seat, I headed for the door, Kevin at my heels. As I passed the bar I slapped down a hundred dollar bill. “Sorry about the mess,” I said to the bartender, jerking my head toward the de-hinged door.
As we pulled out of the lot in my Ferrari, Kevin turned to me. “So, where we off to, Chief?”
“You’ll see when we get there.”
He stared at me over his beak. “Steve, call me crazy, but I’m thinking I’m not going to like this.”
The drive took us down the coast; we were looking fo…
* * * * *
I was leaning back in my seat, looking up at the ceiling. “What? Oh, Sorry, I… well, you know. Where was I?”
“You guys were driving somewhere.”
“Right, right. So me and Kevin are cruising in the Porsche, making great ti-“
“Porsche professor?” Goddamnit, Peter.
“I thought you had a Ferrari.”
“Yeah, that’s what I said.”
* * * * *
So we’re motoring along in the Ferrari, and we made it just in the nick of time. As we drove down the long driveway I glanced at the clock. 2:47. He said to be there by three.
“An Aquarium, Steve? What are we doing at an aquarium?”
“Easy, Kevin, we’re just here for business.”
“Business? You still haven’t told me what the hell business is. I’m used to being in the dark on investigations, but Christ! I’ve gotten nothing out of you this time.”
“A whale died at Sea Town the other day.”
“You had to beat it out of people that you could find information about a dead whale at Sea Town?”
“Whale isn’t the question, Kevin. He’s the answer.”
He glared at me, but I guess he figured it was best to leave me to my cryptic ways. As we pulled through the lot I cut the lights; we were going for stealth. The aquarium has a large cruiser, big enough to mill around the ocean, which they keep in a closed bay. Big metal double doors adorn the nearest wall of the bay, but that would be too obvious. I spotted some boxes stacked conveniently by a window on the side of the building. That’s where we were going to have to go. Ideally, we could get in, verify my lead and call the cops. They’d wouldn’t have a clue we were ever there. I turned to Kevin to let him know the plan.
The hood of the car was bent to hell, and everything smelled rotten. Kevin was on my chest slapping me in the face.
“Wake up, you bloody moron.”
Oops. We’d gone through the doors at least. Being dead on impact outside the building might have made finishing the job hard. Good thing the whale carcass was there to cushion the crash.
I looked around, and realized the severity of our situation. There were five men looking at us with bewilderment, men who did not belong working at an aquarium. As the first one closed in I sprung into action. I never actually studied the martial arts, but I was a scrappy young man. I knocked him out without any real difficulty, as I saw Kevin hobble out behind me and across the room. I lost sight of him behind the big ship.
At the time I was surely being assaulted by members of a biker gang, though that can probably be more attributed to the crash than the truth. As it were, these five were merely henchmen, and kind of stupid. I took care of them and as the last fell I heard the unmistakable sound. A slow clap. Surest sign some evil bastard’s around.
“Well done Mr. …”
“Mr. Kent. Am I right in assuming you’re the virtuous type? Completely uninterested in joining me in this endeavor?”
“Well then, I’m afraid I’ll have to kill you.”
He came at me in a fury. He was bigger than me, but I had faith. I blocked his first couple tries, but he landed a good punch to my jaw. He had me reeling, but I’ll be damned if I was going to let some smuggler kick my ass.”
* * * * *
“Yes Peter, a smuggler. Or to an extent at least. My client was a real Richy Rich; had some priceless art and jewels and such stolen from him. Well, when the whale died, not of natural causes as you may have come to realize, it gave an excuse for the cruiser to be going out at night. You know, say some mumbo jumbo about finding a replacement, easier to find at night. Who’s gonna know any better? Do you know anything about whales? Didn’t think so. Of course, the real plan was to link up with another ship to unload all the precious cargo stowed away inside, sell it all oversees. The French are suckers for high art.”
Katie, a girl in the back corner gasped. “They…they killed the whale just to sell some paintings.”
“Poisoned him. You’d be surprised what people will do for a couple million dollars. Good thing I was there to stop them, eh?”
* * * * *
We fought all over the docking bay, on the ship, off the ship, on the ship again. It seemed like it lasted forever, though in reality it was only about two hours of solid fighting. In the end I think it was the endurance gained from all those triathlons that won the day for me.
As I released the choke hold and let his unconscious body slump to the ground, I considered dropping a witty Bond-esque line about the irony of the situation, but couldn’t come up with one. I cast a glance at the boat and saw several paintings stowed away in the deck hatch.
I looked around for Kevin, and didn’t see him. “Hey Kevin? You there?”
His voice echoed back from a small corridor on the far wall. As I walked down it I found myself in Little Antarctica. Or Little Arctic, I don’t know, I’m a History Professor, not a Geography one, right?
He was standing next to a pile of jewelry and the remaining paintings, but he didn’t seem interested in them. His wings were slapping against his side as he gazed through the glass.
“She’s beautiful Steve.”
He was right. Well, I’m assuming he was. Who am I to rate the attractiveness of penguinettes?
“I think we were brought here for a reason, Steve.”
“Yeah, to get back these paintings.”
“No, Steve. Not for the paintings. This is where I belong, Steve.”
I wanted to protest, to say I needed him to be my Chewie, but he was right of course. That little guy always was. I helped him find the service door, even held it open for him. I realized I still hadn’t called the cops, they should probably know about the paintings. As I left the corridor, I looked back. Kevin was pushing a dead fish toward his new gal, she was staring at him with what I can only assume was love.
* * * * *
“Is this a kissing story?” It was that little guy Fred.
“What? No, don’t be an idiot. They’re penguins.”
“You just left him there?”
“Yes, Cindy. He belonged there. It’s what he wanted.”
“Did you ever see him again?” Melanie asked.
“I’d visit every now and then. Until one day I went to visit and he wasn’t there.”
Several gasps at that one, though I don’t know why. Can’t expect him to stay there forever. Peter’s voice was shaking when he spoke, “You don’t think he…”
“Went off to find a new home? Yeah, that’s what I reckon.”
“Whatever happened to the paintings?”
“Called the cops. They came and arrested the jani- smuggler, and the rest of his crew.”
A few students nodded their understanding. Peter opened his mouth as if to speak, then thought better of it.
“Hey Professor Kent, I really liked Kevin the Penguin.”
“Well, I’m glad to hear that Keith.”
I glanced at the clock, class was almost up.
“Alright guys, looks like we’re almost out of time. I’m going to need a volunteer to hand out these teacher evaluation surveys. Thank you, Peter. Okay, well, fill those out and enjoy your weekend.”