Chapter Five

The Souring Seas

Chapter Five

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

One afternoon almost a month after their first meeting, Tony sauntered up to Beth’s table in Cuppa Java. “Hey Beth, been a while. I’d hoped to see you sooner.”

She stood and kissed his cheek. “Tony! I’ve been willing you to show up.”

They both sat. “Do you always greet casual acquaintances with kisses?”

“Yeah, it’s something actors do. You’ll get used to it.”

He grinned. “Shouldn’t be hard. How’s it going?”

She looked skyward, spreading her arms. “Real busy. I finally snagged a part where my name will light up the opening credits.”

“Sounds great. Will I recognize the show?”

“Probably not. An episode of the Smugglers Cove adventure series for teens. It’s on Global. I’ll be a ‘guest star’ in the opening episode of their second season. Good omen after no starring roles since they cancelled my children’s show three years ago. Should jazz up my resume.”

“You didn’t tell me you did a children’s show.”

“I was Lizbet for three years on TV Ontario’s The Kiddies’ Corner.”

He smiled. “Like the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?”

“Lizbet with a zed and no aitch. Before that, I’d only done amateur stuff. The producer saw me in my grade twelve musical and offered me an audition. The rest, as they say, is history. I could have moved to Ontario and continued working in children’s programming, but my boyfriend was here…”

A frown replaced his smile when she mentioned her boyfriend, but it passed quickly. She was a beautiful woman with an interesting career, he couldn’t expect her to be unattached. “Was Smugglers Cove fun? Lots of steamy action with a sexy guy?”

“Not that sort of program—a G-rated adventure show for teenaged kids. My character is a mysterious older girl who distracts the male lead causing friction with his girlfriend. The closest we came to sexy was a coffee shop scene where he spills Coke down my front and makes a ham-fisted attempt to clean up the mess. After several takes, sticky Coke-soaked my clothes from my boobs to my thighs.”

Tony laughed. “I don’t suppose that rates high in the steamy sex scene category.”

“Hardly. I followed the wardrobe manager to the dressing room. Sydney insisted on doing everything. When we finished, and I was dressed for my next scene, he said ‘you’re a beautiful woman. Your boyfriend’s a lucky man.’ He hasn’t said another word.”

“So, a steamy after-the-scene scene,” Tony suggested.

Beth shook her head. “He showed no particular emotion. But I enjoyed his pampering.”

“How did your boyfriend react? It might make me angry.”

“Haven’t told him because he’d get mad. You’re the first person I’ve told, second actually. The director mentioned it during a scene break.”

She glanced about avoiding eye contact as she sipped her coffee. “The job’s been great, and it pays well. I had speaking parts in three different scenes, and I’m on camera for much of the episode. It may be a sign my career’s looking up. But what about you? You owe me lesson number three in your Oceanography 1000 private study course.”

“Okay, but your cup’s empty. Refill before I start?” She smiled and passed him her cup.

“We’ve also been busy,” Tony said after he returned. “As I told you last time, we’re studying the impact ocean acidification could have on phytoplankton. We employ a huge aquarium where we adjust the pH and measure the response. You need some marine biology to understand our results. That’ll be your next oceanography lesson.”

She sat upright with her shoulders back and breasts pushed forward. “I’m listening.”

“Marine biology is like terrestrial biology. On land, we have an enormous number and variety of plants. Plants turn carbon dioxide into living matter using light from the sun and chemicals from the water or soil. They grow rapidly when conditions are right and lie dormant when they’re not. The plants support a plethora of little animals, insects mostly, that live in intimate association with the plants and feed off them or each other. Smaller groups of larger animals—amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals—also depend on the plants for their food but lead more independent existences.”

“Hey, I knew all that. But no trees in the ocean.”

Tony proceeded, describing the oceanic structure in similarly broad terms. She furrowed her brow and wagged a finger. “Your biology professors would say that’s a gross oversimplification.”

“I’m an engineer and that’s all I must know. And you’re doing a lousy job of looking stern.”

She laughed. “Yeah, right. You don’t hack it as a girl-crazy engineering student who’s only interested in parties. I bet you know all the details.”

He shrugged his shoulders. “We’re looking at the effect of changing pH on the types and amounts of phytoplankton.”

“And what are you finding?”

“When the pH drops to 7.7, we get a huge and persistent month-long bloom of a mystery organism we can’t identify.”

She leaned forward placing her hand on his. “Wait a minute. Seawater has a pH of eight, so if it goes down to 7.7, that’s a change of zero-point-three units. Means you’ve doubled the amount of acid, doesn’t it?”

“Close. The current pH is 8.15, so at 7.7, we’re between twice and three times as much acid.”

She rolled her shoulders, drawing his attention to her chest. “I’m real glad I can remember this stuff.”

He hesitated wondering about her provocative behaviour. She’d mentioned a boyfriend several times, then proceeded to flirt. He continued, hoping something would clarify things. “It’s impressive. Anyway, we must figure out what the organism is and where it’s coming from because we hadn’t previously seen it in our coastal waters. We also need to understand how it can be so tolerant of low pH because it’s still growing at 7.3. That’s almost ten times as much acid as normal.”

“Neat, like a detective story. What’s next?”

“Tomorrow, Rosie Parker and I will visit Porters Lake, an environment with low pH water from acid river run-off and saline water that floods in from the sea. We might find unusual plankton tolerant of both low pH and salt, maybe even our mystery organism.”

“Hey, is this Rosie your girlfriend?”

He smirked. Would suggesting he had something going with Rosie provoke an interesting reaction? “A sexy undergraduate working with us for the summer.”

Beth refused to take the bait. “Sounds like fun. Wish I could come along. Better than the audition on my plate for tomorrow.”

“Funny, I was thinking how much more glamorous and exciting your job seemed. No matter how cold and wet Rosie and I get, we can’t anticipate intimate sponge baths from a personal dresser.”

Beth shook her head as she prepared to leave. “That’s so wrong, it’s comical. All I said was Sydney helped me clean up after the spilled Coke scene. Everything else is your overactive imagination.”

She prolonged the now obligatory kiss before leaving. Her flirting on their first meeting seemed innocent enough, but this time she’d upped the intensity. Odd behaviour for someone with a live-in boyfriend that could be linked to her strange moments of supressed melancholy. He needed to dial down the intensity until he understood her intentions. But god, her flirtatiousness and barely hidden melancholy were intriguing.


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