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The Purloined Penguin

by Mary Haynes 9 months ago in Love
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Love on the Rocks

The Purloined Penguin
Photo by Jay Ruzesky on Unsplash

Fran hadn't asked where the penguin came from. She loved penguins. She loved Ross. Ross gave her the baby penguin for a one-year anniversary present. The following day he left town to work on an assignment. He told her that the penguin was to remind her of how much he loved her. Other guys gave their girlfriends stuffed animals, but Ross, well, Ross's love was exuberant.

But now the penguin was sick, and Fran called Ross to find out where she should take the little guy.

Ross hesitated, "Umm, you can't really take him to where I got him. I umm, sort of borrowed him from the zoo."

"What?" shrieked Fran. "Do you mean you stole him? No way, you can't be that stupid! THE stolen penguin? From Aquarium of Niagara? You committed a crime and transported a protected species across a national border?"

"Look, you know everything about penguins; that's all you talked about on our first date and many others. You're obsessed. Just calm down. We'll think of something." Ross's voice was raspy; his asthma always kicked in when he was stressed.

"If you wanted to give me hot property, why didn't you steal a Ferrari? You…moron!"

"Because you don't love Ferraris…wheeze, cough…Did it not occur to you that you can't just buy a penguin? You read the news! You're a bright girl; I assumed you were okay with it." Ross breathed deeply from his emergency inhaler.

"Okay with it?” Fran screamed. “Right, because I want to be shot. You know the public outrage about the missing penguin. And now the penguin is sick. We're going to jail. Well, actually, I'm going to jail. You're going to hell, Ross, because I'm going to kill you."

"Hostility is not going to help the situation. There must be something online on how to treat a sick penguin. If you remain calm, we can nurse it back to health. By the way, what did you call it?" Ross tried to sound cheerful.

"Tux…I called him Tux. Now you get your ass on the next plane and take this penguin back!

"Tux? Well, that's not very original," Ross stated.

Fran shouted into the phone. "Now is definitely NOT the time to critique my originality. What time can I expect you to be here?"

"Oh, sorry, no can do. I've got to present a high-profile ad campaign to a brand-new client. Big dollars. It could make my career."

"You're not listening to me! You get on the next plane and fix this. Do you understand? This isn't an option; I can't deal with this. You gave me a gift to prove your love. Well buster, you get back here and prove you love me by taking care of this before the shit hits the fan.

"Fran, I can't do that. My career is on the line, and well, it's complicated. Jennine, the head of the department, and I have worked hard on this. She needs me. I can't let her down."

"Let her down? Let HER down? Seriously?" She could hear Ross puffing on his inhaler again. She hoped it was empty. Ross taking his last breath was an appealing thought.

"Look, I have to meet her to go over the final designs on this. Good luck with your penguin. I'll see you in a couple of weeks when I can spare the time. We'll have a good talk and figure things out. Fran? You okay, Fran?"

Fran screamed and slammed the phone down. Startled, Tux opened his eyes and made a feeble grunt. Fran weighed her options. It was close to midnight; maybe she could drop Tux off in a basket in front of the gates. I should have named him Moses, she thought. No, there would be security cameras, that wouldn't work. She'd have to call the police and hope they understood she had nothing to do with the abduction.

By Cassidy Mills on Unsplash

The phone rang. She hoped it would be Ross saying he'd changed his mind and was coming back to fix this. "Hello?"

"Fran, glad you're home. We're on the Pizza Pizza patio at the Falls. Steve is amazing at Karaoke. Get your ass down here." Janice demanded, in her usual bossy tone.

"Janice, I can't. I've got a problem that I need to figure out." Fran heard Janice sigh on the other end of the phone.

"Let me guess, that idiot Ross has something to do with the problem. I was hoping now that he was out of town, we could start hanging out again."

"I'm sorry; I didn't mean to cut you out of things. It was just so intense with Ross. I thought he was the one. However, I think that's over. I promise I'll spend more time with you. Unless I'm in jail."

"Jail? Did you finally kill him?" Janice's voice sounded a bit too cheerful.

"No, of course, I didn't kill him, don't be stupid. It's just a problem I have with a gift he gave me. You might say it's hot." Fran smacked her forehead. That was too much information she thought.

"I'll be right over. We'll fix this."

When Janice arrived at Fran's restored Victorian on Drummond, she walked right in. Steve followed Janice inside.

Fran grabbed her elbow and pulled her into the kitchen. "Why is he here?"

"You talked about jail; I thought consulting a cop was a good thing to do." She grabbed Fran's hand and looked at her fingers. "So, where's the ring?"

"What ring? Oh, you thought he'd given me hot jewelry. I wish it were that simple."

Janice looked around the small apartment, looking for anything new. "So, what is it?"

Steve coughed. They turned to find him still standing in the foyer. Fran walked up with arms opened. He bent, and she kissed him on the cheek.

"Sorry about that. Girl talk. Come on in. Can I get you a glass of wine or a beer?"

Steve took off his coat and hung it on the hall tree. He kicked off his boots. His eyes scanned the room and noticed a half-empty bottle of wine. "I'll have whatever you're having. But to be honest, I'm here to prevent you from getting in trouble for something that jackass Ross did."

Fran glared at Janice.

"Sorry, I told him I was going to see you because you had a problem. He wanted to help."

"How can a person who has sworn to uphold the law possibly help me when I have something in my possession that breaks the law? A lawyer might have been good, perhaps an official from the agriculture department, but a cop?"

"I'm here because I want to help. I know you're not a bad person, so whatever that idiot got you into, I'm here to get you out of it. Now, you mentioned the Department of Agriculture. Did he leave some pot plants?"

"No, those I could use at this point, besides a few are legal anyway. Follow me."

They walked into the glass solarium off the living room. In the corner of the room was a little wooden box with a blanket in it. The blanket moved, and Steve pulled back the tiny blanket. The small penguin looked up and sighed.

Steve smiled, "Let me guess, you're the little guy missing from the Aquarium in Niagara, New York?" The penguin blinked.

"Yes, that's him... I can't believe I was so stupid I didn't realize I had the missing penguin. I thought it was the ultimate gift of love. Now he's sick, and I'm going to jail."

"Well, of course, he's sick. Shouldn't he be kept in the fridge or something?" Janice asked.

"He's a Humboldt penguin. They come from Peru, and they like it warm. He's been great, but he's refused to eat his fish the last two days, and he's wheezing." Tears formed in Fran's eyes, and she excused herself. They followed her out and found her sitting on the couch crying into a pile of serviettes.

Steve picked up her wine glass and pushed it toward her.

"Here, drink this. Don't worry; we'll figure this out. The most important thing is to get the little guy back to his home so that he can get medical attention."

"But how are we going to do that?" First, we need to cross the border with an illegally obtained penguin. Then we will have to somehow smuggle him into the aquarium. "We'll be caught, and I can't let you put your career on the line for me." Fran blew her nose loudly into the serviettes.

"Not a problem. I have an idea. I can take the penguin to a warehouse on the Niagara River that's often part of the illegal drug and arms trade. Then, my partner and I can find him in a routine check of the place."

"No, I can't put him in that danger. What if the drug runners are there? They could kill it. They could kill you. Can't we just say I found him somewhere and then phoned my friend the cop for help? Then we can turn him in, and the authorities can take it from there." Fran looked at Steve with pleading eyes.

"Well, at least you consider me a friend, even if I ranked second in your concern after the penguin." Steve grinned.

"I assumed you and your gun could take better care of yourself than a penguin. Besides, I wasn't sure we were friends. We just hang out in the same crowd."

"Ouch!" Steve placed his hand over his heart. "Despite your harsh words, I will help you with this, but afterward, you and I need to go out for dinner. Clearly, we need to get to know each other better."

Janice waved her arms in the air. "Hello? We have a crisis here. What plan are we going to use to get this sick penguin back to the aquarium? Wait a minute; I remember seeing something on the news about a hotline. What if we called it? There are supposed to be no questions asked if the penguin is safely returned."

Steve rolled his eyes, "Please, we don't mean it when we say that. We really want to get the property or person back and then haul the bad guys away in handcuffs and hope they resist arrest!"

"Still, if we called and said we found Tux and wanted to return him, it might be okay." Fran had her laptop out and was searching for the number.

Steve laughed, "Tux? You're kidding, right?".

Fran glared at him. "Tux is a perfectly good name for a penguin. Since when have men become obsessed with originality?"

"I'm just saying his name on the news was Chaqueta."

"And that means?" Fran asked.

"I don't know, but it sounds a lot better than Tux."

Janice flicked the lights on and off. The two stopped and stared at her. "That's what I do when my kindergarten students get out of control. Now that I have your attention, can I get the two of you to stop sparring and focus on the problem, please! The hotline, yes, or no?"

"Yes, but where are we going to say we found him? I don't want to get anyone in trouble if there is an investigation. Or do we?" Steve pointed at the framed picture of Ross on the wall.

Fran looked at the picture and shook her head. "I can't do that, he thought it would be a perfect present. It doesn't seem right to sell him out."

"Did he have any suggestions as to what to do with the bird?"

"No, he said he was too busy working to help right now and that I would think of something."

"Too busy for an emergency like this? What did you ever see in the little weasel?" Steve shook his head.

"I should give him another call. Maybe he's thought of something by now.” Fran looked at her watch, it was two-thirty in the morning. “He said he had a late meeting, but surely he can't sleep knowing that the penguin is sick."

She pushed the number one on the speed dial. It rang a few times before there was the sound of a dropped phone and a rustle of material.

"Hello?" Said a woman, her voice thick with sleep.

"Hello? Who's this?" Fran asked.

"This is Jennine. If you're looking for Ross, he must be around here somewhere. Ah, here he is, he just came out of the bathroom. Ross, honey, the phones for you. Please tell whoever it is how rude they are to phone so late."

"Um…Hello?" Ross answered.

Fran kept her voice even, although she squeezed the phone tightly in her hand. "Hi, Ross, I hope I didn't wake you, but I'm still trying to deal with the little mess you left me with. And Steve, why is your boss answering your phone this late?"

"Fran, I really can't talk right now. I know I have a lot to explain, but it's going to have to wait for a better time. I'll phone you tomorrow when I have a free moment."

Fran put the phone back in its cradle and sat down hard on the couch.

"Geez, you look so pale, honey. What did that idiot say to you?" Janice held the wine glass out to her, but Fran turned up her nose and shook it away.

Fran stood up, went to the hall closet, and pulled out a box. She put Ross's photo in the box and a pile of CDs. Janice and Steve followed her into the bedroom. She opened a drawer and pulled out a couple of shirts, some jeans, and boxers. In the bathroom, she added a toothbrush, a razor, and shaving cream. She handed the box to Janice.

She went into the solarium and came out with the wooden box with Tux in it. She turned to Steve. "If you don't mind driving me, I have some things to return to Ross's condo."

"Are you sure?" He asked.

Fran nodded. She sat in the back of the car, crying quietly, nuzzling Tux to her chest.

Janice and Steve spoke quietly about the plan. When they arrived, Fran handed her key to Steve, who was all business now. First, he called his detachment and reported finding the penguin and told them he would call the hotline. He called it and explained that he was a police officer and that he was driving a friend to return some items to the condo, where they found the abandoned bird.

Half an hour later, Tux, or rather Chaqueta, was on his way across the bridge to his home in Niagara Falls, New York.

Janice and Steve stayed with Fran until Steve had to go to work the next day. After his shift, he knocked on her door and held up the takeout bag in his hand. In it were two orders of Penne Pasta Pollo from Mama Mia's, tiramisu, and a bottle of Chianti. He threatened to force Fran to eat at gunpoint if he had to. She realized how hungry she was and was thankful for the food.

At ten o'clock, Steve got up and turned on the news. The news anchor reported, “In Niagara Falls, Canada, last night, there was a surprise recovery of the Humboldt penguin that had been missing for more than two weeks. It was found by a police officer, Steve Volt, in a condo. The owner of the condo, Ross Vandercamp, said he had no idea of how the penguin got into his home. He said it could be someone looking at the place since it is up for sale. Police are investigating. Meanwhile, the penguin, Chaqueta, is doing well despite a slight respiratory infection."

By Jonas Leupe on Unsplash

Steve turned off the television. "Feel better now?"

"Yes, but I miss him." Fran wiped her eyes.

"Which one of them do you miss?"

"That's just it. I miss them both. I love penguins, and I loved Ross. It's like a huge hole in my heart. And this sounds stupid, but if I can't keep a man and look after a bird, then what chance do I have for getting married and having a family."

She looked at him. "Stop laughing at me. I said it sounded stupid."

"Steve wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. "I'm sorry, but Ross was not a good candidate for marriage, and a penguin is exotic. There are reasons why people don't often keep them for pets. Children, on the other hand, are simpler. I look after my sister's kids when she needs a break, I love taking them to their games and music lessons. There are lots of resources for people to get help raising kids. And providing you weren't planning on dating someone who would steal a child for you, I think you will do quite well."

He handed her a tissue and smoothed some blonde curls out of her eyes. "Tomorrow, I want to take you to dinner. Since you didn't consider us friends, I'd like the opportunity to change that. Now finish your tiramisu and your wine and get a good night's sleep."

"I do consider you a friend. I'm sorry, I never really thought about it before. You were just part of the gang. Janice is really the only one I know well here. We went to teacher's college together before I specialized in education software. Her group is just fun to hang out with, so I tag along.

"I understand, but I would like a little time with you all to myself. Dinner tomorrow, pick you up at six." Steve gave her a peck on the cheek and let himself out the door.

The next evening Steve picked her up, and they drove across the Rainbow Bridge to the US. Steve turned onto Whirlpool Street and pulled into The Aquarium of Niagara. "I'm guessing you know why we're here?"

"I have a good idea. Thank you so much. It will be great to see Tux again. I mean Chaqueta."

The keeper was waiting for them and let them in the staff door. He told them that the penguin would be fine and thanked them for returning him. The penguin wobbled up to Fran, and she fed him a fish the keeper had given her. He gave a little squawk and waddled off. He picked up a pebble and Fran saw him drop it in front of another penguin.

"Oh, my goodness!" Fran jumped up and down. "He has a mate that he's trying to impress. I'm so glad he's back with her!"

Steve looked confused. The keeper grinned and explained, "Yup, he's smitten! Penguins present their potential mate with a pebble. If the female accepts it, she adds it to her nest, and they are bonded!"

By Matt Gross on Unsplash

"Goodbye, little Chaqueta. I'm so glad you found your true love!" Fran asked the keeper. "By the way, why is he named Chaqueta?"

"The species is from Peru, so we wanted a Spanish name for him. Chaqueta is Spanish for jacket."

Fran grinned at Steve, who rolled his eyes and shook his head. "Fine! If we ever get a dog, you can name him Spot or Rover."

"Whoa now. Let's just slow down a little. Let's see how dinner goes first. I think fish would be good."

Steve bent down in the parking lot and picked up a pebble and dropped it into her hand. "Hey, just hang on to it, no pressure!'

Fran smacked him in the arm but she slipped the pebble inside her pocket as they walked back to the car.

By Error 420 📷 on Unsplash


About the author

Mary Haynes

Mary Haynes splits her time between a romantic old sailboat in tropical waters and a beach home in Ontario. A wanderer, by fate, she embraces wherever she roams! Mary recently completed her first children’s book, “Who Ate My Peppers?”

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