One of Our Whales Is Missing

In which Rick Renard, PR hustler par excellence, sets out to save Grimland's gentle giants of the deep. A short story

After I opened my eyes, it took a few minutes to get myself oriented. I was aware of various sensations: A throbbing in my head. The vibration of engines. Being cold. Fourth, being tied up. Fifth, an up-and-down movement, the kind associated with being on a boat in the open sea. This was upsetting, because I did not remember having boarded the ferry. The sixth and final clue took the form of Ragnar, standing over me with a—I'm using the term clinically—manic expression. He was muttering in his native tongue and, most alarming of all, tying something around my ankles.

"Ragnar—"

"Shut up. Make yourself vorthy."

"Vorthy?"

"Of the gods."

"Ragnar—"

But he'd disappeared forward. I was in what nautical types would call the stern of the boat. Of my boat, ironically enough.

I managed to lift myself up enough to examine what he had tied around my ankles, and saw that it was what nautical types would call a line. I followed the line and saw that it was attached to what even non-nautical types would call a harpoon.

I squirmed, but he'd trussed me like a Christmas turkey. The engines slowed. I heard a muttering from the wheelhouse, and made out the word "Slagfinn"—not at all a good thing.

Ragnar appeared aft and looked over the side. I heard a distinctive whoosh. If you have ever been on a whale-watching expedition, you may have heard it. People pay good money to experience it. To this day it turns my vertebrae to rubber.

"Ragnar—"

He hoisted the harpoon.

When you're about to be tethered to a whale, the central nervous system shifts into four-wheel drive. I rolled over like a dropped hot dog and rammed Ragnar in the back of the knees, knocking him off balance.

He let out a fearsome growl. It was so fearsome that I entertained hopes it might persuade the whale to vamoose. But when I looked up, Ragnar was in the harpoon-launching position again.

My head was in proximity to his ankle. Normally in the course of conducting public relations I try to refrain from sinking my teeth into the people I'm working with—though I have been tempted. But desperate times call for desperate measures.

He let out an even more impressive roar. I looked up sideways with my choppers still clamped onto his Achilles tendon. His face had gone the vivid red of his forked beard. He re-vectored the harpoon so that it was now aimed at me rather than the whale. An improvement in one sense, but on the whole a situational downtick.

The moment froze. I sensed that Ragnar did not want to harpoon a fellow human being, even one who had had a little romp in the mud with his girlfriend and was currently gnawing on his lower leg. Everything went quiet in a hallucinatory kind of way.

Then a female voice cried out, "Rag-narrr!" My neurons were a little rearranged at this point. At first I thought, A mermaid?

"Rag-narrrr!"

Ragnar swiveled his head to see what was making this watery ruckus, thus aborting his shish-kebabbing of me. I relaxed my dental grip on his ankle. The voice was now jabbering away at full tilt in Grimlandic, above the sound of an outboard motor.

Ragnar lowered the harpoon—an excellent development. I heard another voice, male, and then there was a bump on the side of our boat, and Harpa and Johann clambered aboard. Harpa was delivering what sounded like a stern lecture on the theme "Ve do not tie foreigners to vales, and ve vill take our lithium," accompanied by a lot of kissing and hugging. Johann untied me.

"Rick, are you okay?" Harpa asked.

"I'll survive," I said, which was the truth.

We were about halfway back to shore, Harpa and Ragnar carrying on like love-sick teenagers (I think she was trying to distract him) when there came a sound like a million gallons of water being shoved aside.

If you have not seen the conning tower of a nuclear submarine rise out of the ocean, take it from me: it is a sight. I don't know if it's worth the $2 billion-per-conning-tower price tag, but that's another matter. At the time, I considered it worth every cent.

It loomed over us like a great black hump. A hatch opened and two frogmen popped out. An inflatable boat inflated and buzzed up alongside.

"Mr. Renard?" said one of the frogmen, who, I happily noticed, was carrying a machine gun.

"That would be me."

"Sir, compliments of Mr. Gansevoort. Will you come aboard?"

"Gladly."

Harpa gave me a big hug. "Ragnar is sorry for vot he do."

Ragnar didn't look in the least bit sorry, but he grunted something that sounded vaguely like Good-bye-sorry-to-try-to-tie-you-to-vale.

"You must to come back to visit us, Rick," Harpa said.

"Oh," I said, "for sure."

It took a while to get to D.C., what with a complicated switch of vessels somewhere off Newfoundland and then a flight off the deck of an aircraft carrier to Norfolk. Back in the office the first thing I said to LaMoyne was "No more whales"—not that I don't have a whole new respect for blubber.

Presented by

Christopher Buckley is the author of eleven books, including Florence of Arabia, portions of which appeared in The Atlantic last fall.

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