Tangled Ties to a Manatee
by Kalen Cap
A pregnant manatee is rare at any zoo, and a first for the Grove City Zoo in Ohio. Ankh is a delight to zoo patrons, a concern to its staff, and the unintentional victim of two con men. She has no idea how many human relationships, problems, and dreams tangle around her.
Jerry is a young developmentally disabled man who happily follows Ankh’s pregnancy on the zoo’s webcam. He has a shy crush on Janelle, a pretty college student who volunteers for his group home’s outings to the zoo.
Jerry’s Aunt Vera also loves nature and runs an environmental retreat center. But all is not well, with Vera or the center. The center needs money and is under investigation as a cult.
Amid their college studies, Janelle and her friend Cecily try to help. Instead, Janelle re-awakens an old obsession in Vera when an innocent tarot reading hints at how the center might be saved.
Two bumbling con men are attempting to sabotage the region’s electrical grid as part of a lucrative scheme. But Jerry accidentally gets in their way and becomes their captive.
When the con men surprisingly succeed in bringing the grid down, it spells danger for Ankh, her unborn pup, and the many people tied to them both. With investigations of their own, Cecily and Janelle try to untangle it all to find Jerry, save a manatee’s life, and rescue Vera from herself.
Tangled Ties to a Manatee is a humorous crime thriller with environmental themes that is revealed through multiple points of view. The novel emphasizes college-aged characters, though not all, such as the developmentally disabled ones, are in college.
“Have you read the assignment Mr. Tisdale gave you?” Mrs. Washington asked.
“Mr. Tisdale’s younger than me.”
“How many times do I have to tell you? He’s still your teacher,” Mrs. Washington said.
“That’s right. That means you show him respect and do what he says,” Mrs. Inskeep added.
“Did you want me to put the plates and stuff away?”
“I’ll do it. You go on and read some now,” Mrs. Washington offered.
“Jerry, if I’m still here when you’re done reading, will you tell me what the story was about?” Mrs. Inskeep asked.
“All right,” Jerry answered.
“You are turning into quite the responsible young man these days,” Mrs. Inskeep said. She had a big smile with yellow-stained teeth. Jerry thought her smile looked more real than the bleached white ones people had on TV.
As he walked to the door, Jerry heard Mrs. Washington whisper to Mrs. Inskeep. “He’s still got the emotions of a teenager.”
“You know he’s the most advanced one you’ve got,” Mrs. Inskeep said.
“Caroline can give him a run for the money,” Mrs. Washington countered as Jerry made it to the dining room.
He looked into the living room at the residents. Better get reading if I want to beat Caroline. He hurried through the main floor and headed up the stairs, taking them two at a time.
As he reached the home’s third floor where the male residents’ rooms were located, he heard Caroline yell, “Jerry’s running through the house Mrs. Washington!” Jerry froze outside his bedroom, hoping he wouldn’t have to go back down the stairs and receive a demerit for breaking the rules.
Mrs. Washington’s voice sounded clearly throughout the house. “No one likes a tattle-tale Caroline.”
Jerry breathed a sigh of relief. As he opened the door, he heard Zachary’s gleeful laughter. Confirming his suspicion, Caroline started to yell at Zachary to get out of her chair.
Jerry gratefully closed the door, glad to be alone in his bedroom. With Zachary downstairs, he’d have the third floor to himself. The group home would get another male resident in June, replacing the one who’d finished the program in April. That guy had been an aspiring metalhead and played his music loudly. Jerry hoped the new guy starting next month would be quiet.
Jerry glanced at the book on the dresser. Escaping to the park felt more appealing than reading. At least there’s animals in the story. Animals were one of his favorite interests. He knew Mr. Tisdale picked the book for the assignment because he thought Jerry would like it.
Here goes, Jerry mused as he retrieved the book and carried it to his desk. He turned on the new reading lamp Vera had given him after he’d finished all his eighth grade level coursework.
The phone in the hallway rang. Since each floor had its own separate line, he was the only one available to answer it. Jerry hurried out into the hallway.
“Court Jester Coffee Shop.” Jerry smacked his head with his left palm. “Sorry, that’s work. I mean, hi.”
“Hi Jerry, this is Aunt Clara.”
“Oh, hi. How are you?” Jerry smiled. He liked Aunt Clara a lot. When he’d moved into the group home, she’d started calling him regularly.
“I’m well. How’s work? Getting along with everyone?”
“I like the new lady, Sharon. She shows up on time and does what she’s supposed to.”
“Good, good. And how’s your study program going?”
“It’s kinda hard. I don’t know how to do all the new stuff,” Jerry said. He wouldn’t have admitted that to many people.
“Well, remember how you were when you first started your learning program there? As Vera will tell anyone at the drop of a hat, she had to fight to get you enrolled because the program director didn’t feel you were mature enough. And you’ve shown you are. You’ve done very well. You’re just about halfway through now,” Clara said.
“You’ve been there almost three years and you have three years left. Since you’ve done well so far, I think you can do the rest of it.”
“But Aunt Vera says I’ll have to do a GED program afterward for some big test.”
“Blessed be! Don’t worry about that. Your Aunt Vera likes to make complicated plans for the future. Right now, Jerry, you focus on the home’s program. I believe you can do it. You may have a few disabilities, but your strengths are far more important.”
“Strengths? I’m not that strong. At work, Mitch has to help me with the heavy stuff when the delivery truck comes.”
“I’m not talking about your muscle strength, I mean strengths of your character. You’ve got heart, Jerry. And much like your mom did, you have a zest for living that’s rare,” Clara said.
“I still miss Mom sometimes.”
“I miss her too.”
After the call, Jerry went back to his desk. Slumped in his chair, he started reading the book’s first chapter. After reading a couple of paragraphs, his attention wandered and he glanced at the calendar on the wall, noticing the star placed by May 29th. That would be his 27th birthday.
Jerry made himself read more. After talking with Aunt Clara, he felt better about his new schoolwork. Jerry felt the group home’s program was stressful, but one goal kept him studying. Someday, I’ll be good enough to be all on my own.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Kalen Cap is a writer living in Columbus, Ohio. Active in a variety of causes, particularly with regard to the environment, he often brings such concerns into his fiction writing.
Tangled Ties to a Manatee is his debut novel.
He has had poetry published and several plays, both one act and full-length, produced locally. Two short stories have been published as well. “Feral” is a short story published in Off the Rocks, v. 14, ed Allison Fradkin, NewTown Writers Chicago, 2010, pp. 119-126. “Transforming Oracle” is a self-published short story available at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/29507
Kalen’s website is http://www.kalencap.com