Ros' new title, Fish Out of Water, released this week. But I got to read this hip mermaid mystery when it was a mere guppy. Today I'm sharing my favourite bit.
But first, the setup:
Dirtwater's straight-talking Deputy Sheriff has a lot on her plate: a nicotine addiction that's a serious liability for a mermaid, a solider-of-fortune ex who's hooked on her Mom's brownies, a gorgeous, naked stranger in her shower, and a mysterious dead blonde with a fish tattoo on Main Street.
Oh, and one other thing. She's scheduled to die on her thirtieth birthday - in three weeks - unless she can 'change the course of destiny and save the world entire'.
Throw in a Mom who's the local Mayor and a Dad who's been locked in the county jail for twelve years, and that's all the trouble she needs without her mermaid roots coming back to haunt her.
Rania's heading home to Aegira for a family wedding but she's starting to have a sinking feeling that's got nothing to do with hydroporting seven miles under the sea and everything to do with some weird connections that seem to be emerging between her, the dead blonde, her Mom's shady past and a ten thousand year old prophesy.
Now if she can just steal a corpse, get a crazy Aegirian priest off her case, work out who the hell's trying to kill her and stop sleeping with the fishes, she might be able to unravel the prophesy, the mystery of the missing choirgirls and the secrets hidden in her Mom's past. And maybe even save her own ass while she's at it.
Now, my favourite bit:
“Okay, so you weren’t kidding.” Larry’s face was grim, the deep lines that normally accentuated his handsomeness intensifying his seriousness. In some other kind of man it’d be freaked out, but Larry’s seen a lot. “She really is from someplace else.”
“Yep.” I wasn’t sure what else to say.
“Someplace wet?” He was asking the question but it wasn’t really a question.
“Yep,” I confirmed again, shortly. “Very wet. What gave it away?”
“Well…” Larry scratched his head, as if where to start?
“The dual respiratory system, that’s kind of unique, and these interesting internal gill things. Nice. Beautiful, actually, I’d be inclined to say. So… tidy.”
He stood back, as if admiring a work of art, and considered Blondie for another moment or two. She was stretched out on the long white bench. It was dark. He’d used only the lights he absolutely needed for the clandestine procedure. But I could tell he’d been careful, and neat as ever. The railroad track across her chest and forehead was made up of perfect little stitches, and there wasn’t a trace of blood or fluid on her.
He kept looking at her, carefully wiping down a line of tiny silver instruments.
“Then there’s the dermis. Our skin’s waterproof, but this stuff, this is something else altogether. Looks like ours, but is actually made of these microscopic organic shields. Scales, I guess you’d call then. Perfectly adapted for long term submersion. Remind me of this incredible scuba get-up a SEAL buddy of mine usedta have. I won’t even go into what I found in here.”
He tapped Blondie’s forehead gently.
“But let’s put it this way Rania. I always knew you were a smart girl. But what I’ve seen here today makes me wanna ask what the hell’s a smart fish like you doin’ in a dive like this?”
I smiled at him wanly. It felt weird, hearing her described this way. Hearing me described this way. “What else?”
“Well. There’s the muscular-skeletal system, but I probably shoulda guessed about that. After all, those arm wrestles have been messin’ with my head for… what? Thirteen years now?”
He shook his head. “Incredible artistry, y’know that? The weighting system built into the sinews. That how you guys stay under? No dive belts needed. And then her vocal apparatus. Amazing. I guess it’s hard to communicate underwater without some special equipment.”
I was smiling again although my whole body felt numb.
But we needed to cut to the chase. I needed to know what he was able to find out about what happened to her. Whether he could give me any leads. Because I’d surprised myself by not being able to watch the autopsy. Weirder and weirder. I’ve seen dozens of them, and I was only sick once, the first time. But something about her, so still and perfect and secret. Relying on me to find out what happened. I couldn’t watch her get cut.
And maybe it was more than that. Maybe I was just getting squeamish about death as my own appointed time drew closer. As I wondered if I’ll be lying on some slab, just like Blondie…
So I’d sneaked outside and avoided the temptation to ransack the morgue for stray cigarettes, raiding the fridge instead. Larry keeps it stocked. Three bagels, four slices of cheese, two quarts of orange juice and three Hershey bars later, Larry was done.
“So did she give anything away? About her death?” My voice sounded shaky and I didn’t like it, so I tried again. “I mean, probably not, I know. Nothing visible from the outside. Anything internal?”
Larry scratched his big grey beard again as he spoke carefully. “Most things seem to be in place. Far as I can tell, of course, not being an expert on what ‘in place’ is supposed to look like for her. But there was something odd.”
I leaned forward, desperately curious and sick inside at the same time.
“It’s her ears,” Larry said. Then paused, like he didn’t quite have it right. “Okay, not her ears exactly. More like deep inside the ear canal.”
“What is it?” The creepy fingers of fear I hadn’t shaken off tightened their grip.
“It’s like…” He searched for the right analogy. “The tissue in there’s all been melted.”
“Melted?” I was confused. “Like with heat?”
“Yeah,” he sighed. “But… not. I mean, it looks melted. Hmmm… no. Dissolved. Turned to mush and nothing.”
My mouth was suddenly very dry, and I got a sheen on my top lip. But I wasn’t gonna lose my lunch in front of Larry, so I reached for the jar of kool mints and gobbled four of them in a row. He silently handed me a glass of water.
“Anything else?” I was asking more to keep busy than anything else.
Larry consulted some notes he’d made on a little pad next to the kool mints.
“Um,” he said, and was I just imagining it or did he look kinda shifty?
“Stomach contents are pretty standard vegetarian fare, but I’d say she’s from the city. God knows you can’t get a good no-meat chow mein round here.”
Huh. I was listening but not computing.
“Otherwise seems to be in good health. No surgery, broken bones, illness.”
Again, not surprising. Aegirans don’t get sick often. With little pestilence and crime, they keep themselves nice well into their sixties and beyond.
Larry went on. “She’s never had a baby.”
I shouldn’t have been surprised. Watch-keepers are young, focused. But Larry’s words made my throat close over. No babies. And now she’ll never have any. They love children, in Aegira. They got population control sorted out several millennia ago, realizing the population couldn’t grow like on The Land if they were to continue to hide. So Aegirans have only one child, but each belongs joyfully to the community, and they share and delight in every birth.
Larry put his book down.
“Rania. There is one other thing, and I don’t know what to make of it so I’ll just tell you.”
He paused again. I’d never seen him look so uncertain as he ran his hands again over his mouth and rubbed at his beard. “Actually,” he corrected himself. “Maybe I’ll just show you.”
He lifted the sheet that he’d used as a modesty cover for Blondie. Her legs were slightly apart underneath it, and the gold of her skin looked impossibly smooth and unbroken against the white of the cotton. Larry pointed, high on her thigh, almost to the top of the inside of her leg. I could see another tattoo, blue-green like the watch-keeper fish. But fresher, a very recent tattoo. I could see the angry red lines indicating it had just been done. And this time it was a name.
My name. Rania Aqualina.
I’m the reason she was here. She came for me.
Suddenly, in my mind’s eye, I saw that big old aquarium, and things started to make sense. I knew how she got here.
But why me?
Buy Fish Out of Water.
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