Despite her early start, the sun had already risen when she left the driveway. The sunlight danced across the waves, scattered by the crystalline blue waters of the bay. Along the roadside, the palm and coconut trees stood above the cliff--even though Calusa Shores was only a mile from the mainland, it was an island paradise.
Still weary, Fiona fumbled with the buttons on the radio, keeping her eye on the road while searching for a news station. She found one, an annoying local channel run by a condescending jock; she hated it, but in this town there wasn't much else on the air.
"In other news today, the FBI finally made an official statement on the series of arsons that have plagued our eastern coast. As expected, Assistant Director Anderson refused to directly say whether or not these incidents were related. Considering these fires were all started with accelerants, at chest height and all along the same series of highways and interstates, one has to wonder why he considers it anything else but the work of a serial arsonist."
She yawned and flipped her head to the side, stretching her neck. She had to agree with him; the family had their own run in with Anderson in '99, and his arrogance at the time nearly got him killed, and cost the lives of several local officers. It was because of Anderson that Yvonne left the FBI, and considering the hell he put her through, both her and Roderigo would probably love to meet him again just to kick him in the balls.
"Speaking of which," she thought. "I should probably start looking at hors d'oeuvres for the party." She checked her watch to be sure of the date: the 13th. She frowned. "Goddamn Mondays."
Despite the hype on the radio, the drive to work was mundane at best. It didn't help that the institute was only two miles north of her house; Fiona had walked there frequently as a child. Now, however, she was too busy and too tired to try, and while many of the buildings were still in place, the drive was too short to admire. Still, she was always able to keep an eye out for any potential sites for sifting or diving, though she rarely had enough energy to do field work.
After pulling into her reserved space, she sat inside her car rubbing her eyes. After just a moment she emerged, locking the door as she walked away. She bypassed the main building, a rather plain chunk of brutalist concrete bordering the dockside that functioned as her father's museum and laboratory. On the opposite side of the lot, she could see building housing the holding tanks, as well as the myriad of grates and glass that composed his famous oceanic aquariums.
Her destination, however, was a smaller more modern building. Within the Carter Institute's complex, that building was her domain. She entered simply by swiping her card on the staff door, which took her into the hall leading to her office; opposing this office was a single door, and beyond that, a massive room filled with tempered glass display cases, each locked by a combination, and each containing anywhere from one to a few dozen fossils. While her father's lifelong dream had been to study sharks and educated the public, her passion had always been found in the ones that died before mankind had ever appeared.
Compared to the stylish displays of her Museum, her office was ordinary. There was a custom computer that she used for her database, and a small server that she used to run the museum's site. Both sat atop a large oak desk, all three gifts from her sister. In the corner, there was a complex stereo system, for her late hours at work; and then her favorite item of all, a plush leather high back office chair, and a matching couch for when she couldn't rest at home.
The first thing she noticed was an email from Carlton notifying her that a package had arrived over the weekend. She found that odd, but shrugged it off. Most likely, it was another set of gifts from Jacob Niles; her cousin had a habit of finding interesting trinkets from the Curios in Rome. With nothing else to worry about, she set the stereo to wake her in an hour, curled up on the couch for a brief nap.
Her nap was quickly interrupted by a knock at the door. Rubbing her eyes, Fiona asked, "Who is it?"
Simon Carlton was a rather tall man in his early forties, with a light tan and curtained strawberry-blonde hair. He initially arrived about the same time she'd been given the museum, and had even helped her set it up; unlike the other workers who scoffed at the idea of a 16-year-old director, he'd always treated her with respect. Now that she was grown, he'd gone from being the overworked intern to the Institute's jack of all trades, and had even earned enough respect to be allowed to bypass her father's hatred of guns and test his custom work in the rarely-used parking garage.
"Dr. Carter asked me to bring you some paperwork. I know it's early, but I thought it'd be best to get you before the tourists come in."
"No problem," Fiona said as Carlton handed her the papers. "I kind of needed this anyway. It's the insurance paperwork for the collection we're borrowing."
"I take it it's good?" Carlton asked.
"Oh yeah," she said, pulling a pen from the cup on her desk. "The Sacaco dentition is a part of this loan."
"And that is?"
"The dentition that kills the theory that megalodon was related to the great white," she said, scribbling her signature on the document. She handed it back to him. "It's an intact fossilized jaw of a broad tooth mako that is well on its way of becoming a great white. I had to insure this specimen alone for 400 grand."
He laughed. "I swear, if my showpieces brought in half of what you spend a month, I could retire from fieldwork all together." Taking the paperwork, he waved goodbye. "Take care," he said, "and try and get some sleep."
Laying down on her couch once more, Fiona breathed a sigh of satisfaction. When the days went like this, it was hard to remember how bad the nights were. Leaning back, she rested her chin on her knuckles and drifted off.
* * *
Carter stared down at the scenery beneath him. Within the partially drained water of the holding tank, the handlers struggled to load a large oceanic whitetip into a transport harness, her jaw visibly mangled from a nasty fouled hook.
The shark wasn't going easily. Normally bold and inquisitive, the oceanic whitetip was a fairly dangerous predator when encountered in the open sea; though hardly aggressive, her species was known on occasions to drive experienced divers out of the water. This was however, was injured and frightened, and while cornered animals were often dangerous, her mangled jaw made it difficult for her to inflict a serious bite.
The oceanic whitetip was a pelagic shark, preferring warm, open ocean over the shallows. Housing one of them in captivity for any extended period of time would be harmful for the creature's health. Still, this shark would die if left to fend on its own, as its injury had left it unable to feed or even defend itself against other predators.
Despite her nasty injury, she was extremely lucky. A sportsfisherman who often helped the Institute tag sharks found the still living fish for sale on the dock with a nearly halved lower jaw. At first, her outlook wasn't good. The degree of damage she suffered was usually a death sentence. Thankfully, the surgery seemed to have kept the shark alive, and despite the need to hand feed her, her vigor had already started to return. Things looked positive for her.
That was, until the previous night, when the circulation pumps failed in four of the holding tanks. Now there was nothing to keep the water from stagnating. If left in the tank while awaiting repairs, the shark would suffocate.
"Dr. Carter, the shark is secure."
He was relieved, but they weren't out of the woods--the combined stress of being grabbed and shoved into the canvas would undoubtedly take a toll on her health. Compounding the issue was the wound, which Carter knew could very well reopen if she tried to fight back. Sadly, odds of the shark dying in transport were high.
But if a facility existed that could rehabilitate her, the Institute was it. Over the past two decades, it had saved many injured sharks and rays from the inevitable death they faced in the wild. Some would never be able to return to the wild; these sharks became the staples of the aquariums, their continued life being used to educate the ignorant public to plight of their kind.
"Get her into the transfer tank," he said. "Be careful, especially when you put the pump in. We can't risk that wound opening again.”
Slowly, the sound of the crane's engine screamed, and the eight foot shark slowly emerged from its canvas blanket. Carter held his breath, his hands clenching the railing and nails digging into the insulation. Quickly, the other team moved to place the shark in a large plexiglass tank, filled with saltwater. A thick hose was inserted into the thrashing shark's mouth, forcing a constant flow of water over its gills. It wasn't pretty, but without it the shark would drown.
"Easy with her mouth dammit!" he heard Carlton shout. Then, Carter watched as the tank was placed into the back of the transport truck. Carlton then shouted across the room to Carter, "Which holding tank should we put her in?"
"Three." Three seemed like the most logical choice--it was an ocean water enclosure, which should help mitigate the animal's stress.
"You heard him boys! Get moving!"
As the truck drove off, Carter gazed at his watch: eleven AM. "All things considered, this day is going smoothly," he said.