TIP OF THE ICEBERG
New York City
Lucy would not have learned about the beached yearling whale had she not gone up to say a quick goodbye to Townes. Instead, she would have sailed through her second year at The World Academy in Iceland and returned home ten months later, an expert on global warming, the migration patterns of whales and puffins, and geothermal energy.
But that’s not what happened.
Three hours before she was to board her flight on Icelandair, she took the long, slow elevator ride up five floors to where Townes lived. Best friends since she was four and he was six, he’d always been there for her: a computer geek, he loved deep-diving into the web to research and help solve any mystery or puzzle she brought to him.
If Lucy was a 007 agent, Townes was her brilliant tech assis- tant—her ‘Q’.
She knocked, waited half a minute in the dark silent hallway, then knocked again, using their secret code they’d used for years—tap... tap tap... tap tap tap. She felt eight.
The door swung open with a loud swoosh and there was Townes, nearly filling the doorway. He’d turned sixteen and grown two inches in the last six months, lost most of his baby fat, and changed his style. His black curly hair was now a jumbled pile on top of his head, the sides cut short, and he had new glasses. He held a half-eaten apple by the thumb and middle finger of one hand.
“Hey, Lucy... uh, Luce! Sorry.”
She smirked. “Rrrrrright, and don’t you forget it, T.”
Lucy’s new nickname, Luce, was acquired last year, thanks to
her friend James. She’d met James Carrera, a boy from San Fran- cisco, in China, where they were both attending their first year at a boarding school on an island off the coast of Hong Kong. From the first moment they met, they formed a close bond, and during that year, teamed up on a mission that took them on a wild adventure through China.
Townes opened the door wider and stepped back to let her in. The windows in his apartment were open, and the white noise of the city filled the room.
“Uhh, do come in, but ’scuse the mess, uh, actually, do not look!”
He was trying to block the view of the living room with his bony body.
“Dude, I already know you’re a total slob, so let’s not pretend, but okay.” For a second, she kept her eyes locked on his black and half-Japanese eyes, then sneaked a peek. The room was a disaster. Townes lived with his father, who was always away on long busi- ness trips. His mother had died when he was ten, so most of the time he was living the life of a young bachelor. To keep the peace, he hired a cleaning service to come in the day before his father was due back.
“So, Lucy-Luce, before you start to try to say goodbye, which I imagine you’re about to do, I want you to take a look at this post on a blog I’ve been following for the last couple of days. This one came up this morning and is fairly bizarre, which means, of course, that it’s totally compelling. It’s about a whale.”
Knowing she’d finally get to see a real one, Lucy had been talking about whales all summer and gotten Townes into them. They’d taken the short walk from their building on the upper west side to the American Museum of Natural History, where they’d been a hundred times before, to stare up at the gigantic model of a blue whale. Since then he’d been following blogs reporting on whales near Iceland.
He took a last bite of the apple then lobbed the core in the direction of the kitchen where it hit something—not the garbage can—with a slushy ‘whump’.
“Oops!” he said, eyebrows raised in mock alarm.
He led Lucy through the main room of the apartment, then down a dark hallway into his even darker room. The shades were drawn, and the only light came from a row of computers lined up along one wall and a single light over a cage, home of Watson, a parrotlet.
Townes had only had him a few weeks, and they were still get- ting used to one another. He went through a rescue organization in the city to find him. He had an intense turquoise head, gray body, and purple feathers peeking out below his wings. Townes named him Watson because of his obsession with Sherlock Holmes.
“Hey Watson, what’s happenin’?” Lucy opened the cage and put her hand in. He hopped on her finger, and she transferred him to her shoulder.
“Watch your earlobes!” Townes said. “That little dude is still figuring people out, or maybe he had a mean prior owner.”
Lucy giggled as Watson made his way around her collar and under her hair. “So, who are these bloggers?”
“Just four people up in the very northern part of Iceland who call themselves the Flukes. It looks like there’s a photographer and one with a boat—a sailor or maybe a fisherman. One of them is named Fridfinnur, so might be a girl. It’s hard to tell gender with those funny Icelandic names.”
“Sounds female to me,” Lucy offered.
“Anyway, they report on everything having to do with your, and now my, favorite mammal—whales—like sightings all around Iceland, which ones are beginning to migrate right now or any- thing unusual, and this latest development is definitely unusual.”
Lucy leaned over him. His usual ‘scruffy smell’, so familiar and comforting to her all these years, was gone now, and he just smelled like soap. Was Townes cleaning up?
He opened the blog post, and she studied a grainy photo. A small humpback whale, probably a yearling, was lying half in the water, half on a short strip of beach. It looked like it had just swum up and beached itself on the sand.
“It’s odd that a whale that young would be away from its mother,” Lucy said. She’d been studying humpbacks and knew calves stayed with their mothers for at least a year. “I think I see something. Could you zoom in on that photo?”
Townes dragged the photo off the blog onto his desktop, opened it in ‘preview’ and zoomed in. Lucy squinted at it. She could make out a line along the side of its head she knew wasn’t part of its natural anatomy and could see faint footprints in the sand around the whale.
“Could you zoom in on just his head where you see that long streak?”
When the whale’s head filled the screen, she could see a slash or a cut with puncture marks all around it. She sucked in a breath and held it. As always, when she saw a wounded animal, a wave of pain traveled down to her bones. It was a sympathetic reaction and had been diagnosed as mirror-touch synesthesia. But Lucy’s was peculiar—it was specific to the animal kingdom only. She closed her eyes and willed it to pass.
Townes looked up at her. He was so familiar with her reac- tions to things involving animals that he stayed quiet until she came out of it. He knew she had the gift, or burden, depending on how you looked at it, to literally ‘feel their pain’, both physically and emotionally. Sometimes he wished he could follow her there.
She let out her breath, nodded at him, then pulled a chair up next to his and focused on the screen. She read the post.
YOUNG HUMPBACK WHALE FOUND BEACHED
Sept 4 – Husavik, Iceland: A yearling humpback whale was found stranded on a beach bordering the Tjornes peninsula. A fisherman spotted the whale from his boat early this morning and called the Flukes hotline. He described the whale as laying half on the beach with its tail still in the water and said it didn’t appear to be moving.
Olafur Halldorson, one of our members, drove thirty-five kilometers to the site to inspect the whale, estimated it to be a male, around sixteen months old. It was still breathing and appeared to be in good health, but when he took a closer look, saw a long cut, partially scarred over, on the side of its head, above the front flipper, about a foot behind the eye. At first, he thought it was a natural injury, then noticed stitch marks around the scar, as if someone had cut into the whale then closed the incision up. There was a lump under the scar.
Olafur took a few photos with his phone, then marked the spot on the beach with a yellow flag and drove back to Husa- vik, where he acquired a large boat, transport sling and a crew of volunteers to drag the whale back into the sea. When they returned to the site, the whale was gone. The yellow flag mark- ing the spot had been taken as well.
They sailed north along the Oxarfjordur coast as far as the village of Kopasker and back, but did not see any signs of the whale or other boats. They reasoned the whale must have been able to move back into the water, so left the scene.
F. S. Flukes
There was a long silence as Lucy struggled to wrap her mind around what she’d just read. She reread it, slowly.
“Husavik... that town isn’t far from the Academy campus,” she muttered. “T, I have to talk to these guys. Maybe I can go up and meet them. Can you shoot them an email?”
“Already did, but it’s four hours later there, so we might have to wait till morning for their answer. I can just forward it to you, then you’ll have their address, and by morning you’ll be in their time zone. Will you have internet up there on the old fjord?”
“Fjord? Um, you’re right, I think the Academy is on the banks of a fjord. It’s on the water, so most likely. Of course, they’ll have wi-fi, I’m not going to the moon!”
“Well, not far from it. I know The World Academy locates its schools in all those far-flung places to—how did you put it?” He looked over at her and smiled.
“Expand our horizons.” She smiled back. “It did mine.”
The World Academy campuses were located in different countries, usually in remote areas; the first year in China, the sec- ond in both Iceland and Finland (the student body was divided between them), and a third year in Africa. The main focus of stud- ies was concerning planet Earth, the second and third year specif- ically looking at the effects of climate change.
Lucy looked at her watch, a going-away present from her twin brothers. It was not really her style with its iridescent green face, space gray hands, and a clear wristband, but she liked it anyway. “Have to get going. By now Mom is pacing around saying...”
“Where is that little scamp?” Townes finished her sentence knowing exactly what Megan, her mother, would say. They laughed. Lucy made her ‘little scamp’ face—eyes of a lemur, smile of a sloth—then jumped up to go.
“Oh wait, I have a going-away present for you.” Townes fished around in a box next to his desk and held up a slim silver elec- tronic device.
“So, what’s this?” Lucy looked at it warily.
“I know the Academy has strict rules about cellphones...”
“Like, we only get to use ours on Saturdays and Sundays. Lap- tops, too.”
“Yeah, so, I thought this humble piece of technology would be useful. It’s a digital recorder so you can keep track of things you see and hear, especially if it involves those little people.”
“You mean, the Huldrefolk?”
“Is that what they call the elves? Yes, I’m very keen to hear them talk. But seriously, Luce, I think it might be a great compan- ion. Just remember to keep it with you at all times so you won’t miss anything.”
“Thanks, T, but you know how bad I am with electronics. I’ll probably just lose it or bust it or...”
“No! This one is dead simple and has an insanely long bat- tery life, like fourteen hundred hours. And everything it records, you can download wirelessly to your laptop then send your voice memos to someone who cares—like me. And don’t forget the charging cable.”
He handed her a white spaghetti-tangle of cord, then gave her a quick lesson on how to turn it on, make a folder and start recording. They did a few test runs, and in a few minutes, she had it.
“Also, I was worried about you going to that wild frozen country, so I kind of added something...” Suddenly he knew he couldn’t tell her about the GPS tracking chip he’d buried inside the recorder. She’d ditch it as soon as possible and probably never trust him again—and rightfully so. He had to think fast.
“You added something?” She looked at the flip side.
He dug around in the box and came up with a simple fake leather bag and handed it to her. “This cool case! The recorder should fit in it, you know, like a little extra present... thing,” he laughed nervously. He suddenly felt awful about the tracking device, that it totally intruded on her privacy, and at that moment decided he would never check it unless it was an emergency.
She gave him a funny look then shrugged. “Okay, I think I’m going to like this Olympus.” She ran her finger over the name on the front of the recorder.
“You will. You can tell it all your deep, dark secrets.”
She wrinkled her nose in a frown.
“Hey, I know you have them, Luce, like, what about that guy
James?” Townes smiled teasingly with a particular squint that made his eyeballs completely disappear.
“You’re a weirdo, T.” She blushed. As close as they were, she and Townes very rarely talked about their love lives. She suspected he was getting into girls, or maybe boys, but he never let on.
She leaned over and scanned the blog post again. “T, I know this is so old-school, but could you print that out for me? I might not be able to find it again.”
“No problem. But with computer stuff, just practice more and you’ll get good at it, I promise.”
“Umm, sure... practice... more.”
He converted the file to a PDF, printed it out and handed it to her.
He stood up and walked her to the elevator.
“Oh, I almost took your bird for a ride!” She transferred Wat-
son to his shoulder. “So, I’ll see you at Christmas and, well, study hard and stay out of trouble.”
“You’re telling me to stay out of trouble?” He laughed, remem- bering her stories of being chased by a madman all over Shanghai. “Okay, so, go do what you do best, rescuing animals large or small, endangered or not. And Luce, come back with a few plans of how we’re going to slow down Arctic melting, okay?”
She gave him a thumbs-up and stepped into the elevator.
He waved one last time between the closing doors, turned, and walked back down the hall to his apartment.
Lucy folded the printout and tucked it under her shirt then walked into her apartment. She tried not to think about the sol- emn promise she’d made her parents after China last year, where she’d almost gotten herself and James killed saving endangered tortoises. The only way her parents were allowing her to leave home for the second year of The World Academy was her pledge not to go on another personal quest—not for any reason.
Her family’s apartment, usually buzzing with activity, was quiet. Too quiet. Her dad was on a guys’ rafting trip until later that day; Amado, their beloved Filipino cook, had left to take care of his elderly parents; Agnes, her nanny, tutor, and best girlfriend, had moved back to Paris to be with her boyfriend; her twin brothers, Roland and Dexter, were now six and off to school.
Lucy’s mom was the only one home. After a quick conversation with her—”yes yes, I’m almost packed”—she stopped by her brothers’ room to say goodbye to Ray, her bearded dragon who was now bunked in with them for the winter. She knelt by his terrarium.
“Ray, hey there, dear little friend. Are you all settled here with team Rola-Dex? You must be so confused! All last winter upstairs with Townes while I was in China, and now with two loud, farty boys. Well, they’ll play with you and hopefully not feed you cheese or anything gross.”
She reached down and rubbed him under his chin with one finger. Ray raised his head and looked up at her with wise yellow eyes.
Lucy’s room was still that of her younger self. Bird kites swooped overhead and skateboards stood up against the wall. But there were a few changes, and new posters—one of red wolf pups and another of a handsome gopher tortoise peeking out of its burrow. She’d been working all summer with a group trying to save the habitat of this endangered tortoise, and had even written an arti- cle about it and sent the finished piece to her favorite magazine, Whistle Blowers of the Wild. She hadn’t heard back yet but was still hopeful they would publish it.
Tacked on the wall over her desk was a group photo of her best friends from school last year—James, Ryan and Jasmin— hanging out next to the funky old bikes at the entrance of the Academy, ready to take a ride down to Tai O, the little fishing vil- lage on the coast. Under that photo was one of James she’d taken with her phone when they were packing to go to Shanghai. He was kneeling next to his Ultimate Pack, grinning crazily and giving her a two-thumbs-up.
She pawed through the pile of fleece tops, thick jeans, wool socks, and hats, to find a hooded down vest, her favorite new thing, which she would wear on the plane today. She put it on over her t-shirt and studied herself in the full-length mirror.
She’d gained an inch over the summer, which made her long- limbed body more gangly than ever. Her hair, longer now, fell in soft layers past her shoulders.
“Thirty minutes, Lucy!” her mom shouted down the hall. “On it,” she called back.
She stacked the clothes neatly in her duffel, zipped it up, then
sat cross-legged in front of her backpack—the same one she’d dragged across China last year. It was now stained, battered and missing a snap on one of the flaps, but she would never give it up. It was a present from James. It was already full of books, maga- zines, notepads, and a zippered wallet. She pulled out a book on whales, stuck the blog printout inside the pages and slid it back.
I have to text James about the missing whale. She got out her phone and tapped out a message.