Updated: Oct 31, 2020
The golden centaur feels strangely inert in my hands as I push open the door to the Cape Cod Museum of Nautical Peculiarities and Fascinations, for what I’m hoping will be the last time. Until recently, it was buzzing with a certain energy, even during its quietest moments. Now it’s just cold, heavy.
I hope they don’t notice the difference.
Gabe is with me. He didn’t want to be, but I told him that if I had to do this, then so did he. After all, he stole this thing just as much as I did.
The string of bells on the door jingles behind us, taps on the glass, presumably making the only noise that’s been made in this dusty place all day. It looks the same as the last time we were here—stacks of random crap in every corner, against every wall, collecting salty dust. I’m thinking about just dropping the centaur on the floor and making a run for it, but—no. I have to set a good example. For the kid.
“Excuse me?” I call out toward the desk.
“Aw crap,” I mutter.
“What?” Gabe mutters back.
“It’s her again.”
“The one who was—?”
“Yeah. The exact same.”
“What do you think she’s going to say?”
“I guess we’ll have to find out,” I sigh. “Uh—excuse me—”
“Eight dollars,” she says again, not looking up from the solitaire game on her computer screen.
Gabe’s at my elbow now, mildly fascinated by the receptionist’s continued apathy.
“Listen,” I say, “we’re not really here to—”
“Buddy, I’ll tell you what I’ve been telling everyone else, which is that the tote bags are sold out.”
“Yeah, they were a surprise bestseller. Everyone wants a piece of our tote bags. I can still sell you a membership, obviously, but—” she looks up, finally—“say, you look familiar.”
“Uh—” I say.
“Uh—” Gabe says.
I nudge him forward. “He has something to say to you.”
“I—what?” he says. “Uh—listen. We took something from here, a while ago, and—”
“—and we’re bringing it back.” I’m embarrassed at how big the shit-eating grin on my face is right now. But there it is.
I wince as I reach out, stupidly, with the dead, hand-warmed centaur. It clunks inertly on the worn countertop, and the receptionist raises her eyebrow at it.
“Oh,” she says. “Yeah, okay, I remember this. What a weird-looking thing.” She shrugs. “Well, anyway, thanks for bringing it back.”
“Wait—” Gabe says—“that’s it—?”
“Gabe,” I grunt at him. “Let’s go.”
“Right, right,” he says. “Okay, have a good—”
“We know you’re upset!” Ted yells, bursting through the door.
“Oh no—” I’m saying, but Ted pushes past me, dragging a bound-and-gagged Walter Theseus behind him.
“Which is why we’re offering, as a token of our regret—”
“Ted, I told you not to do this—”
Sunny pushes her way in, holding the other end of Theseus’s ropes, and finishes Ted’s sentence for him: “—the authentic, living, Walter Theseus.”
“Guys, I told you this was the worst idea in the history of ideas.”
We all stare at each other. Theseus coughs awkwardly. Finally the receptionist breaks the silence.
“What the hell is a Waldo Perseus?”
“OH MY GOD,” we all sigh.
Theseus spits out his gag. “I founded this bloody museum,” he grunts. “Not that I’m at all impressed with what you all have done to it. Honestly, I’d prefer you all kill me rather than hand me over to this embarrassment of a—”
“Is everything going all right in here?” That was Jacinta, poking her head in, because sure, we might as well crowd a bunch more unnecessary people in here.
I snap at her. “I told you to keep them and the murderous privateer on the ship—”
She shrugs, sheepishly. “Look, I agree this is a terrible idea, but do you want to be responsible for this guy? In perpetuity?”
“What’s taking so long?” That, of course, was Alice, who for some reason has also felt the need to stick her head in here. All we need is—
“Oh my God, can’t we just return the damn centaur in peace?” I say.
Oh great, now everyone’s staring at me.
“Sorry,” Manny says. “It’s just that I don’t think we tied the boat up properly, and it’s—”
“This is why I wanted to drive!”
“I’m sorry,” says the receptionist, “does any of this have anything to do with me, or—?” She turns to Walter. “Sir, do you want me to call the cops?”
“Look—no. No,” I say. “This man does not legally exist. And to the extent that he does exist, he’s a 200-year-old murderer.”
“And you brought him to me because—?”
“I DON’T KNOW! Why did we bring him here, Ted?”
“I just thought that, since he’s—y’know—”
“Since this is my museum, you mean?”
“Who even are you?” says the receptionist.
“My portrait is hung in the entrance!” yells the exasperated murderer.
She squints at him. “Oh.” Looks closer. “Oh yeah. It’s you.” She shrugs. “I still don’t know what you want me to do with him.”
“Give him away instead of a tote bag,” I mumble.
“Doug,” says Sunny, “that makes no sense.”
I beat my head against the wall.
“Look,” I finally say. “I have to go save my ship that’s drifting away. I do not want this man. I am perfectly fine with making him your problem, because it seems like you desperately need something to break up the monotony of your life. So I’m leaving him here. You can do whatever you want with him. Anyone who doesn’t want to become a museum exhibit can help me grab the ship before I owe O.C.E.A.N. several hundred thousand dollars.”
“No, wait,” says the receptionist. “This could work.”
“Oh, uh, nothing,” she says. “Leave the privateer. Come back in a month.”
“Really? Okay.” I shrug and chase after my ship.
It’s been a month now since that bizarre moment at the museum. About twenty-eight days since I realized we’d left Alice behind. About three weeks since I started hearing the bizarre rumors, two since I started seeing the fliers. One since I asked Jacinta to be my date. It’ll be fun, I told her. Hilarious.
It’s been twenty years since I last dated. I’m in way over my head.
She’d read the fliers. Agreed it would be hilarious. Introducing the CCMNC&F Ska Ensemble, they had said. Featuring the REAL Walter Theseus and Black Alice. I have no idea if anyone at the museum actually believes they have the real Theseus and Alice on their hands, but I suspect not. I’m sure it was just an opportunity to scare up some publicity for them. But whatever it takes to keep those two off the streets (or the seas), I guess.
There’s nobody at O.C.E.A.N. who isn’t going. Their flights don’t leave for another week, and—well—would you miss this? This could turn out to be the shitshow of the century, and there’s no way I’m going to turn that down. We’re driving to the museum now, and I’m super annoyed by my inability to carry on a conversation. It’s too quiet in here, and I can tell she’s judging me for my beater and the Uber sticker. But the foliage is pretty against the sunset.
Finally, she talks. Thank God. “Why ska?” she laughs. “I mean, the rest of this makes perfect sense—”
“—but why ska?”
“I’m sure they just went with the most humiliating genre they could think of.”
She laughs. Then the car is silent again, and all I can think is Damn.
Finally, she says, “What are you going to do now?”
“What do you mean?”
“Now that it’s—all over. You were only working here because of Ted, right?”
“Are you going to stay on? Keep doing the captain thing?”
“I don’t know.” I sigh. “I feel like I’m suddenly a single dad, or something. Still dealing with that reality.”
“Ted, obviously. Like, he’s technically my age, I guess—a few years younger—but he still looks like a teen. Still thinks like a teen. I’m still going to have to—I don’t know. Get him started on life, at least.”
“Yeah, I’m in a similar spot with Manny.”
She shrugs as I park the car. “Maybe we could figure it out together?”
I nod. “I’d like that.”
“Hey, look who it is,” she says.
I look. Gabe and Sunny are walking into the museum’s courtyard together, laughing.
“What do you think they’re talking about?” she says.
“Dumb stuff. The same dumb stuff kids always talk about.” I get out of the car, button my suit jacket, open her door for her. “Are we doing this?”
She laughs. “What choice do I have?”
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