Kowalski dragged his hand down his forehead, over his not insubstantial nose, and into the tangled mass of his beard. He was pretty sure it had more gray hairs in it than when he’d woken up in the morning. “Tell me again,” he said, “who dumped the dolphin in the pool. It sounded like you said somebody named Cowboy did it.”
“Yeah, boss, it was Cowboy. Pretty slick piece of driving, too, backing up along that curvy path” — Skip pointed to the ornamental sidewalk, freshly strewn with flower petals, running through the park, its sinuous path bordered on either side by beds of rose bushes and tulips which had been clipped rather dramatically by the truck’s passage — “and into the pool here.” Skip paused. “I don’t think I coulda done it.”
Kowalski rubbed his face again. “Through the fence and into the pool, you mean.”
“Well, yeah.” Skip frowned.
Kowalski sighed. “I’m curious as to why that was necessary.”
“The fence runs all the way around the pool, Boss, so…” Skip trailed off.
Kowalski winced. “Let’s back up,” he said. “Who is Cowboy?”
“Cowboy’s not his real name” — Kowalski’s impressively bushy gray eyebrows went up at this — “but his name’s hard to say, it’s something in Spanish, so we call him Cowboy on account of his belt buckle.
“His belt buckle.”
“Yeah, you know, they give ’em away when you win in the rodeo. He used to ride bulls.”
Kowalski sighed again and made a mental note to not sigh so often. “How long has Cowboy been working with us?”
“Today’s his second day.”
Kowalski groaned inwardly. “Why did Cowboy think it necessary to drop the dolphin into the pool?”
“The truck sprung a leak. We didn’t notice because the sensor wasn’t working, but this red-haired lady in a convertible went by us waving and pointing, and then we saw all the water on the road.”
This time, Kowalski’s groan was audible. An unplanned release was another forest’s worth of paperwork. Not to mention the dressing down the mayor was going to give him for a new driver dumping a dolphin into a public swimming pool just blocks from City Hall. The only reason the mayor hadn’t already called a press conference to demand Kowalski’s firing was that he was at his weekly haircut, and all City staff knew the mayor was not be disturbed during his haircuts. But once he heard about the dolphin…“Wait a minute, Skip, don’t dolphins live in the ocean?”
“This is a river dolphin.”
“A river dolphin?”
Skip grinned. “Yep. They live in the Amazon River. And other places, I guess. But Cowboy grew up in a country somewhere near the Amazon and said there aren’t many left anymore, and they don’t do well in captivity, so he was really worried about him.”
Kowalski did some quick math in his head. He had enough saved that if this was his last day on the job he most likely wouldn’t have to resort to eating cat food in his old age. “Cowboy seems to know a lot about river dolphins.”
Skip shrugged. “He’s from there. I guess it’s like how people from here know about squirrels.”
Kowalski had never considered squirrels worth knowing about. “Skip, where’s he at now?” He sighed.
Skip looked puzzled. “He’s in the pool.”
Kowalski closed his eyes. “Where’s Cowboy?”
Not hearing anything, Kowalski opened his eyes. He looked in the direction Skip had pointed and saw a small crowd had gathered into a circle. A street musician playing an accordion looked on. Ruiz couldn’t hear the music, but the motion was unmistakable.
“Which one is he?”
“The one with the hat.”
“Of course.” The small crowd appeared to be doing some sort of erratic dance. Either that or they were suffering an infestation by some sort of tropical insect Cowboy had no doubt brought up in his luggage. “What’s he doing?”
“Looks like hacky sack, Boss.”
Kowalski felt another swatch of beard hairs go gray. He made a twirling motion with his right hand.
Skip saw it. “It’s a little bean bag you try to keep in the air without using your hands. You sort of pass it around, kick it…you can do tricks. It’s fun.”
“So after dropping off the dolphin, Cowboy left to play hockey sack?”
“Hacky sack,” Skip said gently. “He said he needed a break. I said I’d watch Pinkie.”
“Yes, Boss. That’s what we named the dolphin. He’s kinda pinkish.”
Kowalski’s cell phone rang. Just to be thorough, he checked the screen and confirmed it was the freshly shorn mayor calling.
Kowalski took a deep breath and held it. He raised his eyes to the skyline, which was dominated from his vantage by the dome of City Hall, and then checked the scene by the food cart. Cowboy was no longer playing hacky sack. However improbably, he had borrowed the accordion and was playing what appeared to be a lively tune based on the way the crowd gathered about him was dancing.
Kowalski let his breath out slowly. Nothing about this day made sense. Still looking at his phone, Kowalski prayed that the chain of unlikely events continued long enough that he might be employed by end of it.
Sucking in a lungful of air, Kowalski accepted the call and, before the mayor could say a word, started singing the praises of his heroic dolphin transport specialist.
Prompted by Dascha Paylor of Fiction in 50 (dolphin, public swimming pool, hacky sack). Leave me with a prompt (inanimate object, living being, location) and I will write a story based on it.