Day 15 in my novel-in-a-month effort:

Chapter 16: Pests of the Sea

For the purposes of conserving and protecting the fish and shellfish resources in the coastal waters of the United States and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and promoting and safeguarding water-based recreation for present and future generations in these waters, the Secretary of Commerce is authorized to cooperate with, and provide assistance to, the States in controlling and eliminating jellyfish, commonly referred to as “sea nettles,” and other such pests.

—Title 16, United States Code, Conservation, Declaration of purposes; Secretary’s cooperation with and assistance to States

“Call me Theodore.”

Thus spoke Ted Castro, smiling to himself as he stood in the boat’s bow. It was a testament to his age and education that his first thought in that instance was Herman Melville, not the movie Titanic. Despite what had so far transpired and despite the presence of some colleagues he could barely tolerate, he smiled as he looked forward.

And that is the nature of man (or woman) and the sea (or the lake, gulf, aquifer, reservoir or harbor). There is something about an expanse of water, once it reaches a certain volume, that resurrects a person’s soulful nature. Bodies of water, never completely still, stir something within even the most placid of people. The sea, the lake or the pond dare the most curmudgeonly among us to remain mundane and trapped in the here and now. Most find it impossible to do, and instead sink inside into their thoughts and memories, carried away with the tides.

That sinking was a pleasant release for Ted, who had found the managing partner Claude Dedrick more and more insufferable as time went on. The past two weeks had cemented his feelings.

After the State Fair, Ted Castro had thrown himself headlong into the creation of mini modern houses. Constructed of high quality wood veneer, each one took him weeks of effort. His initial results were uninspired, but after a time he was fashioning scale model replicas of the best ever offered by Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe and, more locally, Al Beadle.

His grandchildren found the creations amazing, and would stare for hours at the detail – the one and a half inch dining table set with food, the tricycle fallen on its side in the back yard, the dog asleep on the couch, even the trousers casually tossed over the back of a bedroom chair.

Though he reveled in the praise of his grandkids, he yearned for a wider reaction. He initially had thought he would bide his time until the next year’s State Fair, but he soon realized that he wanted to display his work sooner. And that’s when he thought of the firm lobby.

Like most law firms around the country, the Dedrick law firm offered those who awaited its services a view of some select art pieces. Often, such work fell into a category one could call “Law Firm Contemporary.” Indeed, anyone who has visited, say, half a dozen firms begins to imagine that there is a consignment shop someplace, maybe online, that provides all of these pieces.

The pieces at Dedrick, Duckworth, Castro & Paine clearly came from that shop. They were the approved law firm size – massive. They were the approved law firm composition – abstract, but not too. They were in the approved law firm hues – mostly monochrome but with a few conservative splashes of color, never pastel. They fulfilled the approved law firm mission – convey wealth and stature, and just a touch of superiority, without indicating anything too cutting edge or “out there.” They had not been the first choice of Office Administrator Bernie Galvez, but Claude Dedrick loved them, so that was the end of the conversation.

Ted Castro did not love them. Though he was pleasantly surprised that Dedrick hadn’t selected works that were composed of bucolic farmhouses, or cavorting kittens, they still did little to stir his soul or say much about the modern viewpoint. And so he had begun to bring in his house models.

At first, he had simply set a model or two on lobby tables. But then he began to believe that the venue, as decorated, did not do justice to his work. Looking back now, though, he decided it may have been unwise for him also to replace Dedrick’s colonial furnishings at the same time. That may have been too much for the managing partner.

So in pretty rapid fashion, the lobby was transformed into an IKEA showroom with beautiful but oddly sited little model homes. The staff were transfixed by the new items, which materialized overnight without explanation. Visitors to the firm couldn’t stare at them enough, believing that the firm had engaged the services of an area artist or architect to provide a new vision. Even delivery people, racing as they did from place to place, paused to explore the tiny scenes of domestic bliss.

Only one person was unhappy.

Claude Dedrick was thunderstruck when he first stepped through the firm’s doors and was met by an anonymous artist’s handiwork. His first inclination was to have it hauled away, tout de suite. But the intervention by none other than Ted Castro made him pause.

“Look at this disaster,” said Dedrick. “Some idiot must have delivered these to the wrong place.”

“I don’t know; they look like they belong here,” replied Castro.

“Well, they don’t, and they’re being removed immediately.”

“Well, I’d be careful, if I were you,” said Ted.

“What do you mean?” Dedrick demanded impatiently.

“It’s my understanding that anything that comes in or out of this building needs a requisition order,” said Ted, strolling away.

That brought Dedrick up short. Castro had suggested to the managing partner of a law firm that there was an alternate procedure, a rule, a guideline that must be followed. As a licensed attorney, Claude Dedrick was at that moment honor bound to suspend any independent judgment he might possess. He had to ignore the evidence that sat before him, and negate his own experience as a managing partner in this very building. Instead, he was now required by his training to research the possibility of a rule. Once he found it, he would have to determine whether that rule applied to his situation. If it did, he would have to analyze whether there were any aggravating or mitigating circumstances that would suggest the rule should or should not be suspended in this instance.

That examination would be followed, finally, by completion of the order form itself, which would provide massive new avenues for conflicting interpretation.

All of that would have to be done before Claude Dedrick felt confident that he was within his rights to move some plywood doll houses.

To Ted Castro’s surprise, that gambit gained the model homes a full week in the lobby. When he heard from Dedrick’s secretary Mary that her boss was nearing a decision on what he called the “Model Home Matter,” Castro moved them out to his car, using the freight elevator. As quietly as modern architecture had entered the firm, it exited.

But after that, the office had seemed sterile, unbearable, to Ted Castro. So today, he was happy to be out of the Security Building, and to feel the breeze from the north and the spray off the reservoir.

Still and all, being trapped on a boat with Claude Dedrick for a day long outing was certainly going to be too much for him. And that is why Castro took a leap of faith that his aging frame never would have attempted otherwise.

He jumped from the bow of his boat – and landed on the stern of the smaller boat, which was sailing into the lake ahead of them.

As his feet left the deck of the S.S. Michael Brag, his heart soared, and he felt as if he could accomplish anything. But as he landed on the S.S. Elsie Moore, he felt a sharp shooting pain race up his right leg.

For the rest of his long life, Theodore Castro would walk with a limp caused by that hard landing. But to hear him tell it, from the first moment of his airborne escape from tyranny until the day he died, he walked taller than he ever had before. He had left his white whale behind.

CHAPTER 17 is next.