The day dawned dark and gloomy with a fine mist of drizzly rain that soaked the roads and made the commute to work a dreary and damp affair. Angela Michelle Watson parked her car in the lot, gathered her purse and umbrella up and made the short walk up to the main building. There weren’t as many cars in the lot as there used to be, so finding an up-front spot was easy.
Inside the building, Angie shook out the umbrella and set it by the door to dry. A month ago there would have been housekeeping to mop the front lobby. Not anymore. The housekeeping staff was among the first to walk when things started getting rough.
Angie shrugged out of her raincoat and hung it in the lobby closet. She took time to set the ‘caution-wet floor’ sign up. With the threat of rain hanging over their heads, she had taken a few extra minutes last night to get a mop and bucket from supply. She deftly ran the mop over the damp floor, getting up the water the remaining few employees had tracked in.
With that simple chore done, she grabbed up her purse and headed down the hall. The receptionist didn’t come in for another hour yet. Angie leaned over the desk and retrieved a thick stack of mail. She didn’t even glance through it. She’d have time enough for that later.
Once in her office, Angie paused, staring at the still coffee maker, fighting off the urge to make a pot of coffee. It was a pointless gesture. With the director’s office empty and no candidate to fill that position, Angie assumed that it would be a while before she bothered with the coffee maker. He always like his coffee and Angie had been known to make several pots throughout the day. Those days seemed to be over.
Angie spent the next half hour puttering in the office, rearranging folders, restacking files, counting sticky notes and generally just trying to keep busy. She had just settled in behind her desk when a knock on the frame of Angie’s open office door got her attention. The dark haired young woman looked up from her computer and smiled tiredly, seeing her friend and the two Styrofoam cups she carried in each hand.
“Can I buy you a cup of coffee?” Lola Hale asked as she sat one cup down on the edge of the desk. Angie retrieved the offering and sipped at the brew with appreciation.
“Just how I like it. Thanks. I didn’t have time to stop for anything and traffic was crazy. Seems like a waste to make a pot when I won’t drink the whole thing. So what’s going on downstairs?”
Lola was the main switchboard operator for the Center for Oceanic Studies of Southern California. Lola was one of a handful of staff left following the death of their director.
“A whole lot of nothing. Board’s been quiet all morning. I left Tish to answer the lines. Not like they’re going to ring or anything. Just who’s left anyhow?”
Angie sighed and hit a few buttons on the keyboard. “Less than a full dozen. Kenneth Marr, Daniel Whitestone, Patricia McCray, do you really want me to go on?
Lola shook her head. “Not really. Just wondering how many have jumped ship and who’s still rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.”
Angie shot her friend a raised eyebrow. “Lola, you and I are still here.”
“And we’re gluttons for punishment?” Lola suggested. Truth was she couldn’t have walked out, no matter how bad things got. Right now Angie needed all the help she could get. Lola couldn’t help but think how far they had fallen in just a few months.
At one time The Center for Oceanic Studies of Southern California had been a bustling, profitable place. Their main research vessel, the Pacific Venture, was the flagship of the center, a top-of-the line research vessel, one of the best on the west coast.
Six months ago the ‘Venture was lost when she founded in heavy seas and went down. Not only had they lost the ship, they had lost the whole crew of ten as well as the thirteen person research team, including their own center’s director, Dr, Keith Richardson. Everybody thought that insurance would cover their losses, until they found out the insurance company was a bogus front and long gone with thousands of dollars in insurance payments. The Center was left with a pile of commitments they couldn’t honor and contracts they couldn’t fulfill. The funds were slowly drying up but Angie had refused to bail, believing that someday, their new director was going to walk through the door and save the day. Honestly, Lola didn’t think that day was ever going to come but she had too much respect for her friend to walk out on her now.
Not everybody had Angie’s faith. One by one the staff and researchers walked out, cleaning out their offices as it became obvious that no one wanted the responsibility of dealing with facility on a downward spiral.
The dark haired young woman just rolled her eyes at Lola’s comment and began shifting through the day’s mail, tossing the junk into the trash, unopened.
“I don’t suppose there’s a nice fat grant offer in there? Lola asked. Angie forced a smile.
“Don’t I wish? I’d have smelled that the second I walked in the door. Just the regular stuff: repair bill for the air conditioning. Samuels Aquatics. Jefferson Engineering. Another letter from Bellmen Hydraulics. Bergman Construction. I would imagine it concerns the new-as of yet unfinished-medial facility.”
Lola sipped at her coffee as she wandered around the small outer office. The double doors to what used to be Dr. Richardson’s office where closed. She knew without checking the doors were locked and likely to remain that way until a new director stepped in to take over. If that ever happened.
“I suppose whoever takes over will have to finish it now. Angie, do you really think anybody’s interested in a seen-better-days-research facility with no research fleet? I mean really, whoever gets stuck with this place is going to have to drop a lot of money to see a profit.”
Angie sighed. She didn’t really want to mention it but she figured Lola deserved to know. “I didn’t want to worry you, but somebody’s been buying up tracks of land. Just last week, that three-mile stretch of beach from the cliff on down to the edge of the center’s property was bought in a private, closed sale. The same buyer purchased that apartment complex just down the road. You know the ones, Cliffhaven Apartments? I did some checking and purchaser is now buying up any remaining leases and helping the current tenants find other places.”
Lola stared. “Developers?” she guessed. “I suppose they’ll buy us up and put in a bunch of high class, beach front condos. Such a shame. Dr. Richardson wanted to turn that stretch into a wildlife preserve. So much for trying to protect the environment. But that doesn’t explain why the buyer wants an apartment complex,” the young woman lamented.
Angie shrugged as she started opening the day’s mail. “It’s a thirty unit complex, double and single bedrooms. Who knows? Quite frankly, I’m not worried about it. I’m more concerned about this job. If we don’t get some interest soon, payroll is going to completely dry up. You and I can take our high heels and stand in the unemployment line with the rest of the staff. “
The phone trilled shrilly and Angie grabbed the receiver after a quick glance at the I.D. “Yes, Tish?”
On the other end of the phone the slightly breathless voice of Patricia Sweetly chimed up. “He’s here.
With a puzzled glanced at Lola, she put the call on speaker and tried to get more information. “Who’s here, Tish?”
“The new director. He’s taking over, as of today!”
Lola and Angie stared at each other. “Tish, are you sure? We were never notified,” Lola asked.
“Positive. He said the takeover was just made official this morning. Angie, he wants to see you, ASAP. He said he wants to inspect his acquisition. Unquote.”
Angie got to her feet, still casting puzzled glances a Lola. “Okay, Tish. Tell our new director I’ll be right down.”
With Lola hot on her heels, Angie fairly danced down to the main lobby, her heart hammering with excitement and a touch of apprehension. What if the new director wanted all new stuff? Maybe he had plans to bring his own people in? Were they destined for the unemployment line despite all their hard work to hold this place together? Angie swore that if even look like firing anyone, she’d give him what for!
Angie was expecting a scientist, someone reminiscent of Dr. Richardson, tall and thin, maybe a pair of wire-rimmed glasses. Gray hair, going thin on top. White lab coat. Dr. Richardson seldom went anywhere without a lab coat. He said he couldn’t function without his pockets. There was no telling what was in his pockets either. Pens and pencils. Test tubes. A Zippo lighter and he never even smoked. In Angie’s mind, that was a scientist.
Angie felt her throat closing up and she blinked back threatening tears. She missed her boss more than she cared to admit to anyone, including Lola and Tish. All she could do was hope that if the new director chose to kept them on she could at least get along with him without comparing him to Dr. Richardson every time she turned around. What she found waiting for her was about as removed from her departed employer as she could get.
Standing in the lobby was a stocky, barrel-chested figure of a man in a military khaki uniform with his hat tucked under one arm. He had one of those faces that made it hard to guess age. If she had to, Angie calculated he could be anywhere in his mid-forties to early sixties. He wasn’t bad looking either, handsome in a rugged, chiseled kind of way. She saw no wedding ring. Something about him tickled the back of her mind, teasing her with a memory. Had she met this man before? Had Dr. Richardson perhaps known him?
He stood less than six feet tall; Angie estimated around 5’9” or so. He had auburn red hair and a pair of the most brilliant blue eyes she had ever seen. They seemed to almost glow, as if lit from within by some magnetic fire. She noticed the flash of silver on his collar and felt her breath hitch as she caught the glint of silver stars. Desperately Angie tried to remember ranks, how many stars equated to what but she wasn’t sure what branch of the service this man was from. The man saw her and smiled warmly. Angie felt herself relaxing before she even extended her hand in greeting. He exuded a sense of power and confidence that Angie never saw in Dr. Richardson. “Hello. I’m Angela Watson. I was Dr. Richardson’s personal assistant.”
“Admiral Harriman Nelson,” he said. Angie swallowed back her surprised. Now she remembered why he looked familiar. Admiral Harriman Nelson. Biologist. Engineer. Genius. Nelson probably had more doctorates than they had staff left. Dr. Richardson spoke of Nelson’s work often. And now he was here, the center’s new director. She was still processing the information in awe when she realized that Nelson was still speaking to her.
“Ms. Sweetly tells me you’re responsible for holding the place together. I’m quite impressed,” he said to her as he shook her hand. His grip was strong and sure, his voice was like velvet. His sheer force of his personality made Angie sit up and take notice. Right away she recognized this was a man who was used to getting his way, who wasn’t going to take ‘no’ for an answer. There might be hope for the center after all.
“Thank you, sir. It’s nice to meet you as well. If I may ask, what are you plans concerning the center? It’s going to take a lot of time and quite frankly, a lot of money to turn a profit once more,” Angie said. Somewhere along the line she had lost track of Lola. It was just as well, it made it easier to focus on the admiral.
The auburn haired gentleman scratched the back of his right ear with a finger, adjusting the cap under his arm. His gaze never wavered and Angie saw the first spark of what could be a volatile temper if the man was ever riled.
“I’m well aware of that, Ms. Watson. Simply put, this facility is precisely what I’ve been looking for. I couldn’t have designed a more perfect facility myself, and believe me, I’ve considered it. Everything is exactly what I need. Well, almost.”
Angie turned her head curiously. “Almost?”
“I need staff. I know perfectly well most everyone has walked out. I need someone who know this place inside and out, who knows the staff and who’s going to be loyal to this Institute. I don’t know what your plans are Ms. Watson, but I’m going to need you. Can I persuade you to stay on?”
Angie could have cried and given her new boss a hug but she didn’t think that would start them off on the right foot. Here she’d been worrying that they’d be out of a job and here he was practically begging them to stay! She swallowed down her excitement and tried to maintain some level of dignity. “Sir, it would be a pleasure. You’re gonna need all the help you can get. Would you like to see your office?”
“Lead the way.”
“One question, sir,” Angie inquired as she led the admiral on. “As I’m sure your aware, the Center no longer as a research vessel. How do you plan to work around that? And then there is the matter of the still under-construction medical center. Will you be interested in seeing that finished?”
Nelson chuckled warmly as if he were the perpetrator of the world’s greatest joke. “I assure you Ms. Watson, we’ll have a research ship. She’ll be unlike anything else in the water but trust me, we’ll have a ship. As far as the medical center, that’s going to be finished as soon as I can get with the construction company and work out a new time line. That Med Bay is going to be instrumental to the Institution’s operations.”
Angie led the way to the Director’s office and unlocked the doors. She pushed them open then motioned for Nelson to enter. The older man glanced around the wall and furniture, nodding as he went. Finally he walked over to the windows and threw back the curtains.
As if suddenly given permission to shine, the sun broke free of its gray cloak and poured across the landscape like golden balm. It ripped across the water like diamonds scattering across a tabletop, dancing and twinkling. Almost like an omen, the start of a new day.
Almost as if reading her mind Nelson turned to Angie with the crooked smile she would grow to recognize.
“A new name for a new day, I think. Ms. Watson, how does the Nelson Institute for Marine Research sound to you?”
Angie returned the smile. She liked the sound of that. It sounded permanent and stable. It sounded like a place Richardson had wanted for his people. It sounded wonderful.
“It sounds like a place I would be proud to be a part of, sir. Where do we start?”