All day there had been a buzz at the Whale Watch Society workshop about the last session. Very few recognised the presenter’s name or photo in the program, but he was described as an expert in communication by aquatic mammals.
When Ralph Fly was introduced at the start of the final session, Sky Crystal was surprised to find it was the same young man who had bought a pyramid helmet in her shop several months earlier. He wasn’t dressed in a suit this time, but his casual clothes were tailored and expensive.
Ralph stood in front of a large screen with ever changing, ever more spectacular, images of whales, as he delivered an authoritative, well-researched paper on how these monsters of the deep communicate. While Ralph didn’t look like a tree-hugger or talk in the language of a hard-core environmental activist, it was clear to all that listened he knew his whales and was committed to the preservation of the ocean ecology. Sky was impressed.
While the sound of a recent recording of whale songs echoed around the room, Ralph surveyed the audience and spotted Sky listening with her eyes closed.
“As people concerned with the welfare of whales, we need to be aware that in our eagerness to learn more about our friends we can sometimes cause them problems,” Ralph said, flicking to the last series of slides in his presentation.
“Last year, I was in the spotter plan during a combined survey and saw a female humpback showing all the signs of giving birth. Her behaviour began to change as our two research boats approached, even though they were 4 or 5 miles away. As the boats got closer, the whale became increasingly distressed so we radioed the boats and asked them to stop. Within 30 seconds of doing so, the whale calmed down. And, an hour later, she gave birth to this beautiful calf,” Ralph concluded as he changed the image on the screen.
The audience applauded vigorously as Ralph assembled his papers.
After questions, Ralph was thanked and the session declared closed. Politely fending off people wanting more information, Ralph made his way across the room to where Sky was sitting. “I’ve got to speak to you, it’s very important.”
“Not a customer complaint, I hope,” Sky said with a gentle laughing smile.
“Eh?” Ralph said, oblivious to the attempted joke.
“The helmet,” Sky prompted.
“No nothing like that,” Ralph replied. Let’s go outside to talk, it’s quieter.”
It was the end of the day, and Thomas Delicatessen and Fine Foods was closed. Inside, Dean Thomas was cleaning the slicer as Madge took the meats and cheeses out the display fridge and put them on large steel trays for storing in the coolroom over night. As usual they worked in silence, listening to PM, the evening current affairs program on the radio.
The PM presenter segued from a story of one corporate financial disaster to another as Jane Thomas, returning late from school, entered the shop.
“Sensational allegations were made in parliament today about the collapse of Regal Mortgage,” the radio proclaimed, causing Jane her parents to stop and listen. “The Member for Twin Rivers, Tom Quirky, outlined how a secret ten million dollar commission had been paid to Elliott Price for organising the rescue bid for the failed financial company. Neither Elliot Price, nor Regal Mortgage’s managing director, Sir Murray St Clair, was available for comment.”
“I bet they weren’t,” Dean snorted.
Madge turned off the radio and passed the loaded tray of cheese and meat to her daughter. “Here, put that in the coolroom for me dear.”
“Tell you what love,” Dean said to his wife as Jane carried the tray through the door at the back of the shop. “In the new shop we’ll have fridges you can leave stuff in overnight. No more of this packing up every evening.”
But before Madge could reply, Sky Crystal burst into the shop, out of breath and agitated. “You’ll never guess what that snake Purvis is trying to do,” Sky shouted. “He’s selling out to the Japanese!”
Rather than the shock and horror she was expecting, Sky found her news greeted with carefree good spirit.
“Sorry Sky,” Madge said stifling a laugh. “You look like you’ve just escaped from the devil.”
“We already know,” Dean offered. “But what’s it matter who owns the shopping centre.
Jane Thomas walked back into the shop as Sky’s next piece of news turned her parents’ levity to instant solemnity.
In the next episode, “Time for Merlin”, the Thomas family hear the bad news and look to an old friend for retribution.