It was always kinda weird in the aquarium, and nowhere was weirder than the octopus tank. People brought stuff and put it in the water, just to see how Big Orange reacted. Maria stood in the knee-deep mist and watched him sidle over to the strange statue the fat woman in Bermuda shorts had lowered into the water. She could tell – by the way the woman, and the group of people she came with, stared into the cool clear water – that this reaction was even more important than usual. And she was pretty sure it wasn’t going to end well.
It didn’t. Big Orange reared up and smashed the flimsy thing with one swipe of his massive tentacles. Then he moved away.
The fat woman spoke. “I guess that tells us then don’t it…”
One by one her companions nodded and as they filed out of the aquarium Maria got the feeling some sort of secret pact had been signed. For a moment she shivered, then she forgot the woman as Big Orange came to the glass to stare out at her with his impenetrable eyes.
“Why you smash the thing, big boy?” she asked idly. She almost fell to the ground when she felt his response like a wave of the salty water in his tank.
“Bad thing. Voodoo thing.”
Maria swallowed the bile that rose in her throat, but she was made of stern stuff and knew what to do about voodoo bitches on her patch.
“Okay, big guy, leave it me.”
The octopus regarded her pleadingly before dropping to the bottom of the tank and pulling his weedy nest tight about him. Maria dragged herself away and hurried about Big Orange’s business with her sandals slapping on the damp tiles. First she went to the keepers’ lodge.
“Broken crockery in da big orange man tank. Some crazies been throw a muppet in dere.”
“Dios Maria. You go for get a mambo…”
“I goin’ man.”
But first she had to beard the Director in his den. She tapped briefly on his office door.
She poked her head into the room, meeting the icy blue eyes of Doctor Magnus Thorssen. He was a tall, thin Swede who was noted for his acid tongue and his lack of respect for local traditions. Many of the local girls sighed after his chiselled cheekbones and sea blue eyes. Maria, who would have been ashamed to her bones to run after a broni, wouldn’t even admit to herself how this man made the blood sing in her veins – even if he did have a stick so far up his ass it shoulda come out of the top of his neatly barbered head.
“Trouble in octopus tank. People thrown bad stuff in there. I be going for help.”
Then she shut the door and ran before she could be caught drooling.
Maria went as fast as her sandalled feet would take her to the snug little home of her mother’s sister. She tapped respectfully on the door.
“Is Maria, tia Benita. There be trouble at the aquarium. Big Orange smells bokor magic.”
“You sure chile?”
“Then I’s coming.”
Benita was not at all what popular imagination thinks of a voodoo mambo as being – she was far from skinny, had all her own hair, and didn’t mumble one bit. She was, in fact, a tall handsome woman of some fifty summers with a round good natured face and a lot of gold teeth. She smiled easily, but right now looked far from pleased. She swept out of her house, followed by a positive river of acolytes carrying gourds and pouches and all manner of arcane goods.
“Maria. You just come along us now.”
As one person the acolytes glared at Maria, who laughed at their jealous malice, but Benita turned a wrathful face on them.
“Anybody wants to be questioning my decisions, now would be a good time to run…”
The sulky ones subsided and the whole group made good speed to the back entrance of the aquarium, where the director awaited them. Maria worried that he was there to bar their entry, but he actually held out his hands in welcome.
“My thanks. I don’t know what has been happening, but I do know that the air in here tastes bad and smells foul. And the pieces of pottery the keepers are pulling out of the cephalopod pool make my hair stand on end.”
Benita pursed her lips in thought. “That don’t be good. You gonna need to close off the area.”
The scientist and the voodoo woman eyed each other in silence for a moment, but the quiet was far from confrontational. In the end Benita spoke.
“How brave you be, skinny white guy?”
“Honestly, I don’t know. But this place is in my care so I will stand up to be counted.”
“That be good enough.” She turned a jaundiced eye on the small crowd that had already formed and addressed her acolytes firmly. “I gonna open da portal. You lot to guard. Nothin’ comes in. But I be sending stuff out. You gets that.”
The young ones nodded.
“Maria. You gets to go in the water with the big guy.”
Maria swallowed, but accepted her aunt’s words.
“Skinny white guy, you is with me.”
There will be more from Big Orange and the Mambo Woman next Sunday…