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Nina didn't believe him, not for a second.

"You were drinking. You opened your big fat mouth and somebody smacked you."

"No," Joe Winder said. "That's not what happened."

Well, the truth would only frighten her. He sat up and squinted brutally at the sunlight.

"I'm so disappointed in you," Nina said. She studied the bruises on his face, and not out of concern; she was looking for clues.

"I wasn't drinking," said Joe Winder. That much he had to assert, out of pride. "They were muggers, that's all."

Nina pointed to his wallet, which was on the dresser. "Muggers, Joe? Some muggers."

"A car scared them off."

She rolled her eyes. "You're only making it worse."

"What happened to trust?" Winder said. "What happened to true goddamn love?" He got out of bed and tested his legs. Nina watched reproachfully.

"I smell perfume," she said. "Did you bring a woman home last night?"

"No, a woman brought me. She saw me on Card Sound Road and wanted to go to the police. I told her to bring me here so I could be with the love of my life."

"Did you screw her?"

"Only six or seven times." He went to the bathroom and stuck his face under the shower and screamed at the top of his lungs, it hurt so bad. He screamed until his ears reverberated. Then he came out, dripping, and said: "Nina, be reasonable. Who'd make love with me, looking like this?"

"Not me."

"Not anybody. Besides, I was half blind. I probably would've stuck it in her ear by mistake."

Nina smiled. Finally.

Winder asked her who'd called so damn early. The phone is what woke him up.

"Your employer, Mr. Charles Chelsea. He wanted you to know there was a dead person hanging from the bridge this morning."

Joe Winder shuffled back to the shower. This time he stepped all the way in and braced his forehead against the tile. He made the water as hot as he could bear. Maybe the dead man was Angel, he thought, or maybe it was the big guy who'd saved him from Angel.

When Winder got out, Nina stood poised with a towel in her hand. She wore a white halter top and no panties. Winder took the towel and draped it over his head.

"Why do you do this to me," he mumbled.

"Did you hear what I said? About the dead man?" She peeled off the halter and climbed in the shower. "Did you save me some hot water? I've got to shave my legs." She turned the faucet handles and cursed the cold.

"Sorry," said Joe Winder. Raising his voice over the beating of the water: "So why is Chelsea calling me, just because there's some dead guy? The bridge is five miles from the Kingdom."

Nina didn't answer; just filed the question away and kept on shaving. Joe Winder sat down on the toilet and watched the fixtures fog up. Plenty of hot water, he thought; no problem.

When she came out, he remarked how beautiful she looked. "Like a sleek arctic seal."

"Oh stop it."

"Don't dry off, please. Don't ever dry off."

"Get your hand away from there." Nina slapped him sharply. "Put your clothes on. Chelsea's waiting at the office."

Joe Winder said, "I'm phoning in sick."

"No, you're not. You can't." She wrapped the towel around her hair and left the rest bare. "He wasn't calling about the dead person on the bridge, he was calling about the whale."


Nina opened the bathroom door to let out the steamy humidity. Joe Winder impulsively clutched her around the waist. He pressed his cheek against her damp thigh, and began to hum the tune of "Poor Pitiful Me." Nina pried him loose and said, "I'm glad you don't get beat up every day."

Something was out of alignment in Winder's brain. He blinked three or four times, slowly, but even as the steam cleared it didn't go away. Double vision! The bastards had pounded him that badly. Nina's bare bottom appeared to him as four gleaming porcelain orbs.

Distractedly, he said, "Go on. Something about the whale?"

"Yes," said Nina. She stood before the mirror, checking her armpits for stubble. "Chelsea said the whale is dead."

"Hmmm," said Joe Winder. Orky the Killer Whale.

"And?" he said.

"And, I don't know." Nina stepped into her panties. "He said for you to come right away. He said it was an emergency."

"First let's go to bed." Winder came up behind her. In the mirror he saw two pairs of hands cupping two pairs of nipples. He saw two faces that looked just like his – lumpy, lacerated, empurpled – nuzzling the tan silky slopes of two feminine necks.

"All right, Joe," Nina said, turning around. "But I've got to be honest: I'm very disappointed in you – "

"It wasn't what you think."

" – and I'm only doing this because you're in pain." Mechanically Nina took his hand and led him toward the bed. She kicked off her underwear and unwrapped the towel from her hair. Winder was grinning like an idiot.

"I'm warning you," Nina said, "this isn't an act of passion, it's an act of pity."

"I'll take it," said Joe Winder. "But, please, no more talking for a while."

"All right," she said. "No more talking."

Orky the Killer Whale had come to the Amazing Kingdom of Thrills under clouded circumstances. His true name (or the name bestowed by his human captors off the coast of British Columbia) was Samson. Delivered in a drugged stupor to a north California marine park, he was measured at twenty-nine feet and seven inches, a robust male example of the species orca. Samson was larger than the other tame killer whales in the tank, and proved considerably more recalcitrant and unpredictable. In his first six months of captivity he mauled two trained porpoises and chomped the tail off a popular sea lion named Mr. Mugsy. Trainers worked overtime trying to teach their new star the most rudimentary of whale tricks – leaping through a plastic hoop, or snatching a dead mackerel from the fingers of a pretty model – with minimal success. One day he would perform like a champ, the next he would sink to the bottom of the tank and fart belligerently, launching balloon-sized bubbles of fishy gas to the surface. The audience seldom found this entertaining. Eventually most of the seasoned whale trainers refused to enter the water with Samson. Those who tried to ride his immense black dorsal were either whiplashed or pretzeled or corkscrewed into semi consciousness.

Quite by accident, it was discovered that Samson was enraged by the color green. This became evident on the day that the human trainers switched to vivid Kelly-green tank suits without telling the other performing mammals. Samson was supposed to open the first show by fetching an inflatable topless mermaid and gaily delivering it to a young man on a ladder, in exchange for a fistful of smelts. On this particular morning, Samson retrieved the toy, carried it across the water on his snout, flipped it into the bleachers, snatched the green-clad trainer off the ladder, flipped him into the bleachers, then dived to the bottom of the tank and began to pass gas relentlessly. Each time somebody tried to lure him up, Samson shot from the depths with his mouth open, the great black-and-white jaws clacking like a truck door. The crowd loved it. They thought it was part of the act.

Reluctantly the curators of the California marine park concluded that this whale was one dangerous rogue. They attempted to peddle him to another marine park, far away on the western coast of Florida, but first they changed his name to Ramu. The transaction took place at a time when ocean-theme parks around the country were reporting various troubles with trained killer whales, and animal-rights groups were seeking legislation to prevent capturing them for exhibit. Word of Samson's behavioral quirks had spread throughout the marine-park industry, which is why it was necessary to change his name before trying to sell him.

The day the deal was done, Samson was tranquilized, lashed to a canvas litter and placed aboard a chartered Sikorsky helicopter. There workers took turns sponging him with salt water during the arduous cross-country flight, which lasted seventeen hours, including stops for refueling. By the time Samson arrived in Sarasota, he was in a vile and vindictive mood. During his first fifteen minutes in the new tank, he savagely foreshortened a pectoral fin on another male orca and destroyed the floating basket through which he was supposed to slam-dunk beach balls. Weeks passed with little improvement in the new whale's temperament. One fateful Sunday, the animal abruptly awakened from its funk, tail-walked across the tank and did a dazzling double somersault before hundreds of delighted tourists. When a stubby woman in a green plaid sundress leaned too close with her Nikon, the whale seized her in his teeth, dragged her once around the tank, then spit her out like an olive pit.

It was then that Samson's new owners realized that they had been duped; they'd bought themselves a bum whale. Ramu was in fact the infamous and incorrigible Samson. Immediately the beast was quarantined as a repeat offender, while the Sarasota theme park made plans to resell him under the misleadingly gentle name of Orky.

Francis X. Kingsbury was the ideal chump. The soon-to-be-opened Amazing Kingdom of Thrills was shopping for a major ocean attraction to compete with Disney World's "living reef." Kingsbury saw the Orky offer as a bargain of a lifetime – a trained killer whale for only nine hundred bucks, plus freight! Kingsbury snapped at it.

Orky was more than a disappointment, he was a dud. No one at the Amazing Kingdom could train the whale to do a single trick on cue; capable of wondrous gymnastic feats, the animal remained oblivious of regimen and performed only when he damn well felt like it. Often he did his best work in the middle of the night, when the stadium was empty. But on those nocturnal occasions, when the park was closed and there was no one to reward him with buckets of dead mullet, Orky furiously would ram the sides of the whale tank until the Plexiglas cracked and the plaster buckled.

Because it was impossible to predict his moods, Orky's shows were not posted in a regular schedule. Tourists paid their money, took their seats and hoped for the best. Once in a great while, the killer whale would explode in exuberant ballet, but more often he just sulked or blew water aimlessly.

One time Francis X. Kingsbury had suggested punishing the mammoth creature by withholding supper. Orky retaliated by breaking into the pelican pool and wolfing down nine of the slow-moving birds. After that, Kingsbury said to hell with the goddamn whale and gave up on training the beast. He knew he'd been scammed but was too proud to admit it. Kingsbury's corporate underlings sensed that Orky was a sore spot with the boss, and avoided mentioning the whale exhibit in his presence.

Until today.

With Orky unexpectedly dead, the subject was bound to come up. Charles Chelsea decided on a pre-emptive strike. He broke the news as Francis Kingsbury was munching his regular breakfast bagel. "Good," Kingsbury said, spraying crumbs. "Hated that fucking load."

"Sir, it's not good," said Charles Chelsea, "publicity-wise."

"How do you figure," Kingsbury said. "I mean, shit, what's a lousy whale to these people. You know who I mean – the media."

Charles Chelsea said he would try to explain it on the way to the autopsy.

Joe Winder's vision returned to normal after making love to Nina; he regarded this as providential. He took a cab to Card Sound Road and retrieved his car. When he got back to the apartment, he changed to a long-sleeved shirt, charcoal trousers and a navy necktie, in the hope that high fashion would divert attention from his pulverized face. When he got to the Amazing Kingdom, he saw he had nothing to worry about. Everybody was staring at the dead killer whale.

They had hauled the remains to one of the parking lots, and roped a perimeter to keep out nosy customers. To conceal Orky's corpse, which was as large as a boxcar, Charles Chelsea had rented an immense tent from an auto dealership in Homestead. The tent was brilliantly striped and decorated with the legend "SOUTH FLORIDA TOYOTA-THON." A dozen or so electric fans had been requisitioned to circulate the air, which had grown heavy with the tang of dead whale. The staff veterinarian, a man named Kukor, was up to his knees in Orky's abdomen when Joe Winder arrived.

"Joe, thank God," said Chelsea, with an air of grave urgency. He led Winder to a corner and said, "Mr. X is here, to give you some idea."

"Some idea of what?"

"Of how serious this is."

Joe Winder said, "Charlie, I don't mean to be disrespectful but I'm not sure why I'm needed." Over his shoulder, he heard somebody crank up a chain saw.

"Joey, think! First the damn mango voles and now Orky. It's gonna look like we're neglecting the wildlife. And this whole killer-whale thing, it's gotten very controversial. There was a piece in Newsweek three weeks ago." Charles Chelsea was sweating extravagantly, and Winder assumed it had something to do with the presence of Francis X. Kingsbury.

Chelsea went on, "I know it's unpleasant, Joe, but you can leave as soon as Doc Kukor gives us a cause of death."

Joe Winder nodded. "How many words?"

"Three hundred. And I need it for the early news."

"Fine, Charlie. Later you and I need to talk."

Chelsea was peering through the flaps in the tent, making sure that no gawkers had sneaked past the security men.

"Listen to me," Joe Winder said. "There's some big trouble in this park. I got the shit kicked out of me last night because of it."

For the first time Chelsea noticed the battered condition of Joe Winder's face. He said, "What the hell happened? No, wait, not now. Not with Mr. X around. We'll chat later, I promise."

Winder grabbed his elbow. "I need to know everything about the dead man at the bridge."

Chelsea shook free and said, "Later, Joe, for heaven's sake. Let's tackle the crisis at hand, shall we?"

Together they returned to the autopsy. Instead of concentrating on Orky's entrails, Joe Winder scanned the small group of official observers: a state wildlife officer, taking notes; the tow-truck drivers who had hauled the whale corpse to the tent; three of Uncle Ely's Elves, apparently recruited as extra manpower; and Francis X. Kingsbury himself, mouthing obscenities over the gruesome ceremony.

Nervously Chelsea directed Joe Winder to Kingsbury's side and introduced him. "This is the fellow I told you about," said the PR man.. "Our ace in the hole."

Kingsbury chuckled darkly. "Blame us for this? Some fucking fish croaks, how can they blame us?"

Joe Winder shrugged. "Why not?" he said.

Cutting in quickly, Chelsea said: "Don't worry, sir, it'll die down. It's just the crazy pro-animal types, that's all." He planted a moist hand on Winder's shoulder. "Joe's got the perfect touch for this."

"Hope so," said Francis X. Kingsbury. "Meanwhile, the stink, holy Christ! Don't we have some Glade. I mean, this is fucking rank."

"Right away," said Chelsea, dashing off in search of air freshener.

Kingsbury gestured at the billowing tent, the murmuring onlookers, the husk of deceased behemoth. "You believe this shit?" he said to Joe Winder. "I'm a goddamn real-estate man is all. I don't know from animals."

"It's a tricky business," Winder agreed.

"Who'd believe it, I mean, looking at this thing."

It was quite a strange scene, Joe Winder had to admit. "I'm sure they can find a new whale for the show."

"This time mechanical," Kingsbury said, jabbing a finger at Orky's lifeless form. "No more real ones. Computerized, that'd be the way to go. That's how Disney would handle it, eh?"

"Either that or a hologram," said Joe Winder with a wink. "Think of all the money you'd save on whale food."

Just then Dr. Kukor, the veterinarian, tripped on something and fell down inside Orky's closet-sized stomach cavity. Two of Uncle Ely's Elves bravely charged forward to help, hoisting the doctor to his feet.

"Oh my," Kukor said, pointing. The elves ran away frantically, their huge curly-toed shoes slapping noisily on the blood-slickened asphalt.

"What?" barked Francis X. Kingsbury. "What is it?"

"I don't believe this," said the veterinarian.

Kingsbury stepped forward to see for himself and Joe Winder followed, though he was sorry he did.

"Call somebody," wheezed Dr. Kukor.

"Looks like a human," Kingsbury remarked. He turned to stare at Winder because Winder was clinging to his arm. "Don't puke on me or you're fired," said Kingsbury.

Joe Winder was trying not to pass out. The corpse wasn't in perfect condition, but you could tell who it was.

A wan and shaky Dr. Kukor stepped out of Orky's excavated carcass. "Asphyxiation," he declared numbly. "The whale choked to death."

"Well, damn," said Francis X. Kingsbury.

Joe Winder thought: Choked to death on Will Koocher. Koocher, in a mint-green golf shirt.

"Somebody call somebody," Kukor said. "This is way out of my field."

Winder reeled away from the scene. In a croaky voice he said, "That's the worst thing I ever saw."

"You?" Kingsbury laughed harshly. Three fucking tons of whale meat, talk about a nightmare."

"Yes," Joe Winder said, gasping for fresh air.

"I'm thinking South Korea or maybe the Sudan," Kingsbury was saying. "Stamp it 'Tuna,' who the hell would ever know? Those little fuckers are starving."

"What?" said Winder. "What did you say?"

"Providing I can get some goddamn ice, pronto."

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