An Excerpt From Friday's Harbor (cont'd)
in all the world only animals were honest; that if God were truly almighty, things would be going a lot better.
Ivy had joined a blue-ribbon panel convened by the Bogotá theme park to solve Viernes’s increasingly desperate housing and health problems. In addition to the Whale Museum, the committee included representatives from SeaWorld, the Vancouver Aquarium, Shedd Aquarium, and Sea Life Park—some of the world’s preeminent marine parks. The committee’s unqualified conclusion was that the whale had run out of time, but that saving him would require an immediate move out of Bogotá. Unfortunately, not a single zoo or marine park would take him. He was a high-profile, failing animal that might die of stress during or shortly after transport, on top of which no one had a pool that was at once big enough for a full-grown killer whale and at the same time unoccupied, which it had to be in case he arrived with something contagious. And then there was the problem of money—enough to underwrite the crippling costs not only of transporting a killer whale out of Central America, but also of sustaining him through a long and uncertain rehabilitation.
Ivy’s last-minute involvement was, as she would put it, a game-changer. She knew what no other committee member did, namely that the tiny Max L. Biedelman Zoo in Bladenham, Washington, had just finished constructing but not yet populating a large saltwater pool intended to exhibit porpoises, thereby beefing up the zoo’s dwindling revenue stream; that the zoo was run by Ivy’s nephew Truman, a newly minted lawyer and recently appointed executive director; and that Ivy herself was exceedingly, excessively, congenitally rich.
In her eyes, the project was perfect.On the same day that Ivy got back to her home on San Juan Island, off the northern Washington coast, Truman sat at his computer drafting a staff memo with a subject line reading No More Fear and Trembling at the Zoo! Though he had only been appointed zoo director six weeks earlier, he knew the Biedelman zoo very well, even intimately. He’d been its business manager until three years ago, when he’d cast aside his normally pragmatic judgment and colluded in a plot to smuggle the lone Asian elephant, Hannah, out of the zoo. After that, his career in shambles, he’d enrolled in law school. He had just gotten word that he’d passed the bar exam when the Bladenham City Council petitioned him to come back as the zoo’s director. The board had just fired his predecessor and former employer, Harriet Saul, and thought he’d be an excellent replacement. Unfortunately, the zoo had also just completed construction of a porpoise pool for which Harriet had advocated tirelessly.
“Nothing brings people in the door like dolphins. Have you ever seen one? Of course not. No one in the Northwest has, except maybe on vacation at Sea World,” she’d famously asserted during her campaign to persuade—some would say browbeat—the city’s mayor and councilmen into approving the expansion. They had eventually capitulated in the face of Harriet’s tireless hectoring, but from the moment ground was broken, a year and a half ago, the pool had proved to be a never-ending son-of-a-bitch. The fourteen-month timeline had been determined by Harriet’s trademark impatience rather than by its inherent doability, forcing the facility’s design and construction to occur more or less simultaneously. There had been issues with the ozone filtration system; with the company responsible for constructing realistic-looking underwater rock work that would make the pool look less like the cement box that it was and more like some undersea grotto; and, most recently and disastrously, with the intergovernmental permits required to move three harbor porpoises from their current rehabilitation facility in Vancouver, British Columbia, to the Biedelman Zoo. No one seemed able to say when the animals might be transported; the pool had already been filled, making its lack of inhabitants that much more damning. The fiasco had cost Harriet her job, though Bladenham News-Tribune reporter Martin Choi allowed her a face-saving quote in which she stated she’d been successfully headhunted by an up-and-coming safari park in Texas.
It was Harriet’s dramatic fall from grace that had motivated the skittish Bladenham City Council to woo Truman to take her place, and not only because of the extensive working knowledge of the zoo he’d gained during his tenure as business manager, but also because he had not one contentious or narcissistic bone in his body, which would be a welcome relief after Harriet’s disastrous reign. Being the quiet only child of one appellate court judge and one high-profile attorney had made Truman an ideal consensus-builder, though it sometimes gave him a falsely milquetoast demeanor. Milquetoast he was not.
Truman had no illusions about his lack of passion for the law, but he’d worked hard to get where he was, and was looking forward to the relative financial security it offered him and his fourteen-year-old son, Winslow. Working at the zoo, even at the top, would mean a life of basics. Still, he’d invested a lot of himself in the place before he left, and he felt the facility could thrive under a measured hand, so before he could think better of it he’d said yes.
Harriet Saul had been a bully and a micromanager who had so relentlessly ridden her employees that the zoo personnel were paralyzed. When the head of maintenance came all the way across the zoo grounds to request Truman’s permission to order toilet paper—toilet paper!—Truman had had enough.
I welcome any and all ideas, he now typed with two fingers, and hope that you will all feel welcome to bring them to my attention, either in person or in writing. I believe we can bring this zoo to greatness, but it will take the brainpower of every one of us. By the same token, do not feel you need my permission to carry out your job’s day-to-day functions. I trust you and your dedication to this zoo implicitly. You were hired for your expertise. Use it.
His phone rang as he was deliberating over whether to change I welcome in the first sentence to I’d love to hear. On the other end of the line he heard his Aunt Ivy’s strident voice say, “I have a proposition for you.”
He moved the receiver six inches from his ear.
“There’s a killer whale I need you to take in.”
“That got your attention, didn’t it.”
“Here’s the thing,” Ivy continued. “There’s this poor killer whale named Viernes in an awful place in Colombia—”
“—who’s been living in a terrible little pool for years and now he’s dying.”
“Okay,” said Truman. “I’m listening.”
“You need to take him. The zoo needs to.”
“You’re kidding,” Truman said flatly.
“You know me better than that.”
Truman sighed. He did. “But there must be facilities much better equipped to deal with an animal like this.”“Evidently not. If you could have seen the poor thing, honey, it would have broken your heart.”
“I understand that, but we’re a zoo. An inland zoo.”
“Don’t patronize me, Truman,” Ivy snapped. “You have a brand-new pool with no one living in it.” And Ivy was in a position to know: she’d contributed nearly seventy-five thousand dollars to its construction.
“A pool, yes,” Truman acknowledged. “Expertise and staff, no. Right at the moment, we can’t even get permits to bring in porpoises, never mind a dying adult killer whale.”
“If that pig of yours was dying you’d be more responsive,” Ivy said bitterly.
“Now you’re just trying to cheer me up,” Truman said. Miles, his three-year-old potbellied pig, was always a tender topic.
“What do you mean?”
Truman sighed. “We’re fighting over who gets the bed.”
“Yes. Or, as Miles would tell you, his.”
“You let him on the furniture?” Ivy sounded appalled. “Honey, he’s a pig.”
“I know he’s a pig. I know it and you know it, but he thinks he’s a dog, and dogs get to be on furniture. Ipso facto, he wants the bed.”
“Your father told me he goes to some cockamamie doggie preschool,” Ivy said.
“First of all, it’s doggie day care,” Truman said defensively. “Neva’s doggie day care.” Three years ago his girlfriend, Neva Wilson, a career zookeeper, had been fired for her role in the plot to relocate Hannah. In order to be close to Truman, she had stayed in Bladenham and taken a job managing Woof! Now Truman told Ivy, “Second of all, it keeps him socially engaged. Otherwise he roots.”
“It’s what pigs do,” Truman said absently, mulling. “Look, I’m sorry but I don’t think the zoo’s in a position to help.”
“Oh, that’s just a bunch of hooey,” Ivy said. “And you know it.”
Truman sat silently for a long beat. There were certain resources he could probably tap into, charitable trusts with soft spots for marine mammal welfare projects. “If I approach the board about this—and I’m saying if—I have to be able to guarantee them that all the funding will come from donations,” he said. “One hundred percent, and up front. There’s no surplus in the budget—zero.” And that, at least, was the absolute truth.
“I have a checkbook, don’t I?” Ivy said irritably. “And frankly, I’m surprised you’re not looking at this as a chance for the zoo to get some favorable press for a change. Biedelman Zoo Takes in Ailing Orca. Look—I want you to talk to a fellow named Gabriel Jump. He’s an expert in this kind of thing. He was down there with me, and he can answer all your questions.”
Truman became aware of the vertiginous feeling he always got before he jumped off the cliff of moderation. In words he was sure he’d live to regret he said, “Have him call me.”
“Hah!” Ivy crowed. “Now you’re talking, baby. Come up this Saturday, and I’ll have Gabriel here.”
It was at that exact moment, Truman would later recall, when he first should have known he was screwed, screwed, screwed.
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