Just after two a.m., Steve Solomon sprinted along the seawall, chasing the man on the jet ski.
Black wetsuit. Black helmet. Dark visor. A Darth Vader look.
The man shot Steve the bird, then pushed the throttle wide open. The jet ski jolted airborne, splashed down, and roared along the channel toward Biscayne Bay.
"Stop him, Uncle Steve!"
Bobby, urging him on. Steve had ordered his 12-year-old nephew to stay on the dock, but the boy was running, too, trailing behind.
"You can catch him!"
Sure, kiddo. Leave it to me to capture the bad guy, rescue the dolphins, save the world.
A quarter-moon hung like a scythe over the Bay. Cetacean Park should have been quiet. The channel should have rippled gently in the moist breeze, the air scented with salt and seaweed. Instead, the jet ski growled like an angry beast, belching greasy vapors in its wake.
Steve picked up his pace. Years earlier, he had been the fastest Jewish kid on Pine Tree Drive, admittedly a group with more shleppers than sprinters.
He figured there was one chance to catch the man. The channel ran straight for three hundred yards, then dog-legged right for another two hundred yards before reaching open water. He could cut diagonally across an empty field, the shortest leg of the triangle and intercept the jet ski at the inlet to the Bay.
Steve looked back over his shoulder. Bobby had stopped along the seawall, either because he was pooped or he was belatedly following his uncle's orders.
Steve ran tall, back straight, shoulders relaxed, head still. He had always been fast over short distances. Stealing bases at U-M, a painless 90-foot sprint. But lousy at distance running. No patience for the training, no tolerance for the pain. Before Victoria, his live-in girlfriend, he'd been a sprinter in his personal life, too. Hundred-yard dashes, hundred-hour relationships.
Flying now, feet barely touching the ground. Hopped over a fallen pond frond, never breaking stride. Shot a look at the jet skier, a dive knife sheathed on his leg. Calculated time and distance. And possible injuries.
Knife wound, concussion, drowning.
They would reach the intersection of channel and Bay simultaneously.
Steve hit the embankment and drove off his back foot. He launched into space, arms spread like wings, soaring toward the man on the jet ski, thinking...
Just what the hell am I doing?
One hour before leaping into the darkness of Biscayne Bay, Steve was locked in the spooning position with his girlfriend and law partner Victoria Lord, her hair tickling his nose, her sweet scent fueling his dreams. The phone jarred him awake. Wade Grisby at Cetacean Park.
Victoria stirred as Steve pulled on his Hurricanes' running shorts and a t-shirt with the slogan: "What If the Hokey Pokey Is What It's All About"?
"Bobby," Steve whispered. Explanation enough.
She rolled over, her blond hair splayed across the pillow. "Dolphins or stars?"
Steve understood the shorthand. Bobby had broken into the planetarium the night of a meteor shower. Lately, he'd been sneaking out of the house to play with the dolphins on Key Biscayne.
He stroked Victoria's cheek. "Dolphins. Wade Grisby caught him talking to Spunky and Misty."
Talking and listening. Bobby believed he could understand dolphinese, as he called it. He was writing a dictionary of the clicks, whistles, and moans that came from their blowholes.
Victoria propped up on one elbow. In her sheer, black negligee, with her sleepy eyes, she looked like a star in one of the old black-and-white movies. Lauren Bacall, about to entice her man back to bed.
"Steve, I just can't get enough of you."
Instead, Victoria said, "Steve, maybe it's time Bobby saw a therapist."
"I'll talk to him. He'll be okay."
Steve leaned over and kissed her, Victoria exhaling a warm breath. Asleep before he was out the door.
Every day another drama, Steve thought, driving across the Rickenbacker Causeway. Getting Bobby out of another jam. This didn't sound as serious as climbing on a catwalk over I-95 to spray paint an exit sign. Bobby had removed the apostrophe from the word Beaches' because the typographical error drove him nuts. The kid was sweet and loveable, and in some mysterious way, a genius. But he wasn't socially developed, and lately he'd been acting out.
Keeping secrets. Breaking curfew. Trespassing.
Steve had asked Bobby if everything was okay, if he was having problems, if he wanted to talk about anything.
Typical adolescent. But unusual for a kid who was ordinarily so verbal. Steve wondered if Bobby's central nervous system disorders were in play. A little klutzy, a lot brainy. The kid see-sawed between semi-autistic behavior and savant-like abilities of memory and language feats. "Paradoxical functional facilitation," the doctors called it. Bobby could create anagrams in his head. But lately, his wordplay had been limited to chirping sounds at the breakfast table. Dolphinese.
Steve pulled his Mustang convertible into the empty lot at the bayside attraction. Signs pointed toward the bottlenose dolphin channel, the killer whale tank, the indoor aquarium.
Steve hustled toward the channel. Wondering if he'd been too lax with Bobby, too reluctant to discipline him. Grounding his nephew didn't seem to work. He just crawled out his bedroom window and took off.
Steve followed a path of palm trees to the channel. Spotlights on metal poles illuminated the dark water. He figured Grisby would be in his small dockside office, lecturing Bobby on the dangers of breaking into other people's businesses.
That's when Steve heard the roar of the engine. Spotted Darth Vader. Totally surreal.
The jet ski carved a turn, kicked up spray, and slowed near the dock. The man glared at Steve. Early twenties with a pugnacious jaw and angry mouth. Raising a fist above his head, the man shouted, "Liberation!"
What the hell's going on? Where's Grisby? Where's Bobby?
Steve heard sneakered footsteps on the concrete dock, his nephew running toward him, all flying elbows and knees, a skinny arm pointing at the man on the jet ski. "He's stealing Spunky and Misty!"
The man cruised close to the seawall and bared his teeth. "Freedom for the animals!"
So that's it. The guy's a dolphin kidnaping, animal libbing, ec