Puerto Rico, Ponce City
Back onshore Sylvia returned to Prinny’s house. Her father and brother were there and invited Sylvia to eat with them. She did so even though she had eaten well from fish near the Dolphin Home. Her unhuman body could always eat more, and Angelica was a good cook.
Sylvia refused to talk about what she had found out until they had all retired to the living room with drinks, wine and beer for the parents, soft drinks or juice for the teens, and well-sugared and -creamed coffee for Sylvia.
After her first sip of her coffee Sylvia set her cup in the saucer on the low table by her easy chair. The family faced her on a couch and an easy chair.
"You will be relieved to know that Miranda was not as badly injured as you may have feared. Her wound will heal with a bad scar but her dorsal fin will be intact.
"Prinny, it will help if you go to visit her, but wait till the day after tomorrow. This will let her and the other dolphins calm down. And it will let Miranda’s wound heal a bit more. She likes you and might get too energetic and tear her wound if you go tomorrow."
Sylvia took another, longer, sip of her coffee.
"I told the adults that these were bad two-legs, not like all the other two-legs. I also told them I would ensure they never hurt dolphins again."
Rodrigo gave her a considering look over his beer. "You can really talk to them? That’s not just something Prinny dreamed up?"
Sylvia returned his gaze, amusement in her eyes to let him know she saw through his ruse to edge Prinny back toward teenage normal.
"Yes. But my conversations are little more than baby talk. Or pidgin dolphinese. Underwater I can only make a few of the sounds adults make, and I can’t hear the infrasound and ultrasound parts of their speech."
She looked at each of them. "I am going to keep my promise to them. I am going to play a Great Trick on those fishermen."
"A trick?" The grownups were puzzled. The two teens were not. Prinny’s brother had talked with Prinny about dolphins often enough to know the word meant more than what humans meant by it.
"In plain language, sir, I’m going to kick their butts so hard they’ll never be able to sit down with remembering why their butts got kicked."
She took another sip, enjoyed it.
"Metaphorically, of course." Prinny’s brother got a gleam in his eyes. He knew that the Everglades Champ was not above physically kicking someone’s butt.
The next day Sylvia spent visiting the restaurants and bars on the seaside of Ponce. She went as herself, wearing well-tailored clothing and her fake-scholarly glasses, her hair up in a dignified chignon. She went mostly into the trashy bars along the seaside away from the nice restaurants and upscale bars fancied by tourists and the genteel.
She heard rumors and some details but not enough. By the second day the word had gotten around that she was looking and for what and Sylvia got more information. That night she settled in by the early evening at a table in a bar, Petarolo’s, that was a cut above the other trashy bar/restaurants on the waterfront. It had a cook, a huge Italian, who cooked well and was proud of it, truculently so. It was said, and might even be true, that he had once cut off a man’s little finger with a cleaver because the man insulted his cooking.
Her table was big and round and occupied one corner of the dining room. The maitre’d, such as he was, allowed her a table that could seat a dozen if they didn’t mind crowding. She had told him that she was expecting guests.
By mid-evening she had polished off a meal so large that Petarolo himself peeked out of the kitchen to see who so appreciated his cooking. Sylvia, sensing his regard, looked up at him, nodded slightly. He grunted and disappeared.
She had passed the word the day before where she would be and that she would pay for anyone’s drinks as long as he talked about the dolphin killing and its perpetrators, so she had plenty of guests — so many that everyone at the table had replaced other people and those other people still.
By 10:00 o’clock Sylvia had heard the stories several dozen times over. This had not bored her. She had absorbed enough of the dolphin ethos to require such duplication of gossip before accepting it as truth, at least when she was about dolphin business, as she was.
What she had learned had agreed with all particulars of the dolphin’s version. Except for the rumor, gotten from the teenagers who had talked to Prinny, that the fishermen had eaten the dolphin. They had instead cut up his body for fish bait.
The fishermen were rovers from Europe, which wasn’t that unusual in Puerto Rico and other Caribbean ports. They were Danes or Norwegians or Swedes or maybe even Germans. There were four of them, all tall, big, strong, blond, and with no desire to make friends. They had instead made plenty of enemies, for they expected everyone to step aside for them. They had put several people in the hospital, and were not above ganging up on someone if that person was winning a fight with one of them. They were liable to use knives or clubs if their fists weren’t enough to do the job. None had ever been known to use or even flourish a pistol.
The ganging up and use of weapons delighted Sylvia. The Blondies would play right into her hands.
"OK." She said. "I’ve heard enough. Pass the word that someone is going to meet them at their Friday night spot. Don’t tell anybody who is going to meet them. But it’s going to be me. And I’m going to kick their asses. And I don’t want any help. Understand me. No help at all."
The men all looked at her, then at each other. They knew she was "Jungle Jane" and the Everglades Champ, but those were only reputations, and Jane was a cartoon character, for God’s sake.
It was vital for her plans that no one tried to help her. She had to reveal a little of what she could do.
"Slide away from the table. Nobody touch it."
She got up from her seat, spread her arms wide, crouched, and took the table edge in her hands. Then she slowly lifted it. It seemed to levitate, moving perfectly smoothly.
She looked around at them. People all over the restaurant caught sight of what she was doing. Heads turned. Silence fell.
The sea monster carefully and smoothly set the table back in place.
She stepped back, went into a martial arts stance, and froze for a moment. Suddenly her arms whirled in intricate patterns ending in punches faster than the eye could see. Another step back and she kicked the air head height twice with equal speed.
Then she sat back down and took a sip of her wine.
"Actually kicking that high is really stupid in a real fight. That kind of stuff is just for the movies. Break their knees. Then when they fall down, break their faces."
Many were dumbfounded. "You didn’t think I’d go into those jungles alone without being able to take care of myself? I’ve been doing this stuff for years.
"So, I say again, nobody help me. If you try I may break your faces. When they pull knives or clubs — AND I WANT THEM TO — warn me, but don’t interfere otherwise."
She waved over the woman who had been waiting on the table and signed the credit card slip for her meal and the drinks served at her table that evening.
"Captain Cortez, walk out with me, would you?"
"Anything, Champ, as long as you don’t beat me up!" He chuckled, finished his beer in one long swallow, and followed her out.
They had known each other, off and on, since she was a little girl and he had fished off the shore of San Luisita. She called him Tio, Uncle, and he called her ‘Brina, short for Sobrina, niece. She trusted him more than just about anybody.
"Uncle, Friday night there’ll be somebody who won’t get the word and when the Danes or whatever gang up on me and when they pull weapons they’re going to try to help. My plan won’t work if anyone mixes in. So I want you and your crew ready to stop them and quietly tell them that I want them to do nothing but yell warnings. Tell them you’ve seen me fight and I’m going to surprise the dolphin killers."
"Niece, you could get hurt bad. Or killed."
"If I do get hurt bad, then you can kick their asses for me. But use something more than your fists, OK? I think they’re too damned dangerous for anyone but me to handle otherwise."
"You’ve become something else, haven’t you, little girl?"
She nodded. "But I’m still your ‘Brina."
"Yes, you are." He hugged her and walked away shaking his head.
The next day, Thursday, Sylvia made several phone calls, including one to her lawyer and one to a newspaper reporter with whom she’d interviewed several times.
Prinny called her and told her that she had visited Miranda.
"When I got there she was making little whistles. She crying, wasn’t she."
Sylvia said yes, her heart breaking for Miranda.
The two had swum together, very carefully because of the dolphin’s wounds. Miranda had also told Prinny, after much back and forth to build the extra vocabulary into the keyboard translator, that she had had nightmares the last two nights.
That night Sylvia slept with Miranda, the dolphin afloat and she on the ocean bottom. Her mother was also there, afloat on one side and with an uncle on the other.
The little dolphin had not had nightmares. How could she, with the Shark Eater on guard below her?
Friday Sylvia spent the afternoon with Prinny as she had planned earlier in the week. The finished mockup looked very good. They happily perused it and put it aside to look at again in a few days. This would let them see the book with some objectivity and they could find and fix any problems needed before sending the book off to Sylvia’s, and now Prinny’s, agent to shop around. The agent had been optimistic a month ago when they had sent her the work done up to that time.
The werecreature dined with Prinny and her family before going off to her hotel room to change into the clothing she would wear to war with the four dolphin killers. Then she called a water cab to take her to Ponce’s oceanside bars and restaurants.
When Sylvia stepped ashore at the Ponce waterfront only a pink cast to the western sky spoke of the now-gone day. The stores and restaurants facing the water were those that catered to upscale tourists. The werecreature set out briskly toward a less-well-off section that tourists would call picturesque and Boriquen call cheap. Further along the businesses catered to the poor; tourists with the slightest sense would never get that far.
Furthest along the waterfront businesses became frankly trashy, some boarded up, and unemployed men lounged on street corners, smoking, drinking, and eyeing the woman in a business suit who wore glasses and her hair up. Sylvia wondered if she would have to beat up a few of them, but they muttered among themselves and began a slow movement toward the restaurant and bar which was her destination. They had heard there was going to be entertainment and guessed she was part of it.
They would be disappointed at not being able to see it. For at the entrance to Quinn’s two tall burly men stood on each side of the entrance, massive arms crossed in front of them. As she passed between them, seemingly ignored, she wondered where the two had hidden their clubs, for they surely had them in case the disappointed non-paying voyeurs objected to being barred from entrance. She heard grumbling behind her as the first of her followers were turned away.
They could not have found anything but standing room inside, for the place was packed, every table full or over-full. A back room with pool tables and such contained a crowd and the sound of pool balls striking balls could be heard from the room However, two or three men leaned on the door jamb to the dining room/bar area ready to give the others warning when the fun started.
In one corner sitting at a round table were her quarry: four big blond men with a brutal look to their faces. The biologist in Sylvia wondered which came first: the brutal look or the brutality. They were drinking and playing cards even though this was not a gaming area.
Did they know they were targets? From an informant, or from reading the looks given them for the last hour or two, the unrest among the men around them? If so, they were pretending to ignore it.
Sylvia marched up to the table, her best prissy look on her face. She pointed a finger at a man who wore a hat with a small bill.
"You! You captain this sorry crew?" She spoke in English, the official language of Puerto Rico, not Spanish, which most P’Ricans spoke in preference to English even though Puerto Rico had been a state for several decades now. The Blondies being North Europeans would more likely understand her in English.
He slowly looked up at her, ran his eyes insultingly over her figure.
"Yes. What of it?"
"You murdered a dolphin!"
"You can’t murder an animal. And they were eating our catch."
"That’s a lie! Dolphins can catch their own fish, better than humans. That first dolphin was just saying hello. It was a child! You tried to kill a child."
He showed the first sign of temper. "Get out of here, you crazy bitch. You’re interrupting our game." He lowered his gaze to his cards and brought them up before his face.
Sylvia snatched the cards and threw them ten or fifteen feet away where they skidded under a table.
"Don’t you turn your face away from me, dick face. I’m talking to you."
"Pick those up."
"Nobody is going to pick them up until you swear you will never again hurt a dolphin."
"Pick them up! Or else."
He stood up, slowly, milking the moment as his body unfolded, up, and up some more. He stood looking down at her 5’10" from 6’4" or more, his body bulky, apparently twice her weight.
"Pick … them … up. Or I’ll spank you."
She sped up her metabolism so that the world seemed to slow down. She shook a finger in his face. "You wouldn’t dare touch me. I’d have the police arrest you for assault."
He grabbed her wrist as she had hoped and turned to drag her over toward the table under which the cards had slid. The occupants of the table rose, uncertain what to do. Except for Captain Cortez. He was there as she had instructed to insure Sylvia was let to fight the men by herself.
"Oww! You’re hurting me! Let me go."
Suddenly she stopped digging in her heels, closed the gap between them, and slapped him. She put enough force into it to be very painful.
He yelled, slapped her back. She screamed and fell backward, pushing hard enough on one of his ankles with a foot to make him lose his balance. As she fell she directed his body to fall atop her.
He let loose of her and put both his hands out to catch himself.
She screamed again, twisted her head to the side as if avoiding a kiss. "Get your mouth off me!"
Everyone nearby could plainly see he had not brought his face closer to hers, but she knew her scream and her words would have them remembering otherwise. Especially with what came next.
She raised her head a few inches and bit a thin slice of skin off the tip of his nose. She had shapechanged her teeth to razor sharpness. He may not even have felt the bite. But the burn of air touching the bleeding tip he felt. He also felt the scrape of her clothing on his nose as she lunged up to match his rise to his knees, smearing a liberal amount of his blood on her blouse.
He bellowed and scooted back on his haunches. She let him go and stood, looking down at him. He was sitting, trying both to touch and not to touch his nose. It was dripping blood on the floor.
"You deserve that for slobbering all over me!"
She turned to the three crewmen, who were looking on, unsure what had just happened because of the fast pace of events. She stepped up to them.
"What a coward you’ve got for a captain. A little pain and he cries like a baby.
"But then that’s what I’d expect for a bunch of bend-over boys." She mentally crossed her fingers for insulting the good homosexuals she knew.
"Which of you peanut-balled idiots shot the dolphins?"
Whatever inhibitions the nearest man had about hitting a woman in public disappeared in the alcohol haze and the barrage of insults. He struck out with a huge fist.
The monster dodged just enough to let the fist graze her cheek. She fell as if hit dead on, wishing her tough skin was not quite so tough. A nice bruise or, better, bleeding split lip would make a pretty picture when the police arrived.
She let her head hit the floor with a loud crack. She lay as if stunned. Her lip had split and seeped blood.
She probed inside her body and saw/felt a precise cut on her lip that grew ragged at the surface. Blood vessels around the self-made wound delivered just enough bleeding to be impressive, then instantly healed except at the very last fraction of an inch.
Wow! Yet another surprise from her shapechanger body. Now if she could only get a bruise on the wrist the captain had grabbed. With delight she saw/felt her body deliver blood to the skin of her wrist and clot. It would look like a bruise.
The man who had struck her grasped her by her shoulders and hauled her upright. She looked up into his face, putting a dazed, fearful look on it.
Just at the edge of her view she saw a couple of men step forward to rescue her. Captain Cortez grabbed them and spoke quietly to them.
"Now pick up the cards!" He shoved her toward the table to which his captain had tried to drag her.
She staggered toward it, giving the men still standing around it a grin and a wink the Blondies could not see. Sudden understanding bloomed on their faces.
Turning toward the three crewmen she shook her head as if clearing it. She put a furious her face.
"Now you whores’sons have pissed me off!"
She ripped off her suit coat and threw it on the floor behind her. Reaching down to first one the other shoe, she jerked them off and dropped them behind her.
A seamen at the back of the room whooped.
"Now you’ve done it, dick faces! This is the Everglades Champ! She’ll grind you up."
She increased her metabolic rate again, further slowing the action, and ran at the man who had struck her. He automatically raised his arms in a boxer’s shield.
She feinted at his face and when he raised arms to deflect the strike she struck his belly with a punch delivered at blinding speed just under his guard. The sound made a meaty CHUNK heard all over the room.
His mouth opened in surprise and shock. It must have felt like a pile driver hitting but he did not know she had been gentle with him. At full strength her fist would have gone entirely through his body.
As it was he was dazed and his guard slumped. The monster rained punches on his belly, then pivoted and backfisted the side of his head. His eyes rolled up and knees gave way.
One of the other crewmen had gotten behind her. He grabbed both her arms and pulled back on them, leaving her front open to his mate. That man moved into position and drew back a fist.
Like snake striking Sylvia bent her lower body double raising her bent legs upward and, even as the crewman’s grasp on her arms loosened, her thighs grasped his head in a vise’s grip. Straightening her body catapulted her torso forward so that she was for a moment face down. Momentum pivoted her torso backward, her thighs loosened repositioned grasped again, and suddenly she was riding the man’s shoulders, her skirt split in two ways along stress lines she had put in it earlier today.
She struck down at his head with both hands, knocking him out. As he collapsed she lithely dismounted in a backward somersault she had copied straight out of one of the recent popular martial arts movies.
The remaining crewman had snatched a long knife from a scabbard on the back of his belt.
"Knife!" "Knife!" "Watch it, Champ!"
He advanced slowly toward her, caution learned from the fate of the other’s, waving the knife from side to side.
Shouted warnings about another threat were completely unneeded. Sylvia had heard the sounds of the captain getting to his feet, indeed had expected it. She whipped her head around toward him as if surprised, then back toward the crewman.
She was between the two men, and the captain had acquired a club from somewhere. She sidled away from them, glancing back and forth between them, forming a triangle with the two men. Men in the audience began protesting the weapons. Several moved as if to intercede and Cortez and his crew could not stop all of them.
"Back!" she yelled at her would-be-rescuers. "They’re all mine!"
She snapped her head back toward the two men and snarled at them, a loud growl that could have come from a panther’s throat.
"I was going to be gentle with you. But now I’m going to break your bones."
She jerked off the last rags of her light-blue wrap-around skirt. A quick jerk tore open the front of her white silk blouse and she ripped it completely off. Now she faced the two blond men barefoot and clad only in bra and panties.
The crowd began chanting, "Jungle Jane!" "Jane!" "Get them, Jane!"
Over the noise she could hear sirens in the distance. She would have to wrap this up quickly.
Now if she could only acquire a nice, bloody stab wound in the process …
The captain made his move, darting forward, club raised. Sylvia was faster still, closing with him, under his arm, grasping it, leaning forward, pulling him off balance, grasping behind her at his neck, bending more. She threw him over her back and, keeping hold of his weapon arm, lifted a knee to his arm and broke it back of his biceps as he slammed onto the floor.
He screamed and fainted.
Sylvia pivoted away from him and the onrushing crewman, time slowed still more, spinning just so that he could bring his knife down to stab her in the back.
She was pivoting still so that the knife struck at an angle. She let the blade penetrate a half inch and skid along a backbone, making a beautifully ragged and very bloody wound before she quick-healed all but the last outward fraction of an inch.
Continuing her spin she caught him up as if he were a baby and dropped him back first onto a table. It collapsed with him.
As he lay stunned she deliberately grabbed his knife arm, now knifeless, put a foot on his chest, and broke his arm halfway between elbow and wrist.
She had timed it just right. The police, four or more of them, pushed into the room, clearing their way with long night sticks. Behind them came several photographers. Flash bulbs fired, a flurry, then fewer but better aimed.
Sylvia stood swaying as police and photographers advanced, two policemen trying to quell the photographers. Then she slowly pivoted and let her knees go loose as if losing consciousness, affording the alert photographers with good shots of her bleeding back.
She went to one knee, then both. Spectators rushed to cushion her fall.
"It’s OK. Just let me lay down for a moment."
Gently a dozen men eased her down while several jerked off coats and shirts and even a cap to make a crude mattress. She sighed and let herself seem to fall into sleep.