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The escape - The Amphibian Man by Alexander Belyaev

Just back from the factory after the day’s work Olsen was sitting down to his — dinner when there was a knock at the door.

“Who’s there?” Olsen shouted resenting the interruption. The door opened to admit Gutierrez.

“Why, it’s Gutierrez! Well, well! “ Olsen exclaimed, at once surprised and pleased, getting up from his chair.

“Hullo, Olsen,” she said. “Go on with your dinner, never mind me,” and leaning against the closed door, she said: “I couldn’t live any longer with my husband and his mother. Zurita-he dared to strike me. So I left him. I’ve left him for good, Olsen.”

The news made Olsen stop his hand in mid air.

“I must say, this is unexpected,” he said. “Here, take a seat; you can hardly keep on your feet. But what about that what-God-hath-joined-together-let-no-man-put-asunder thing you told me? So that’s over? Good for you. Came back to your father, did you?”

“Father doesn’t know about what happened. Zurita’s sure to look for me at Father’s so I’m staying with a friend of mine.” “Well, what are your plans?”

“I want to get a job. I came to ask you whether you could help me find a job at your factory-any job.”

Olsen shook his head worriedly.

“It’s not easy at the moment. But, of course, I’ll try and do my best for you,” he said, and after a pause, added:”How will your husband take it?” “I don’t care.”

“But he will,” Olsen said with a smile. “Hell try to run you down. Don’t forget you’re still in Argentina. When he does he won’t let you be, you know. Hell have the law and public opinion on his side, too.”

Gutierrez thought a while and said with determination;

“Well, what of it? Ill go to Canada, Alaska-”

“Greenland, the North Pole! “ Olsen caught her up and, in aserious tone, added, “Well think about it together. It’s not safe for you to stay here, that’s for sure. I’ve been thinking about quitting the place myself. It’a pity we couldn’t make it that time. But Zurita kidnapped you and we lost our fares and our money. And I’ve got a hunch you can’t afford your fare to Europe now any more than I can. But then who says we must go straight across the water. If we-I’m stressing ‘we’, because I’m not going to leave you before I’m satisfied you’re safe-if we get at least across the border into Paraguay, or, still better, into Brazil, Zurita 11 find it much more difficult to locate us. And that’ll give us enough leeway to prepare for a passage to the States of Europe. Do you know that Dr. Salva tor’s in prison, and Ichthyander too?”

“Ichthyander? So he’s found? Why is he in prison? Can I see him?” came a salvo of questions.

“Yes, he’s in prison and Zurita’s been appointed his guardian. You can’t imagine what a rotten frame-up the Salvator case was! “

“How terrible! But can’t he be saved?”

“I tried my best but it wasn’t good enough. Then all of a sudden, I found a powerful ally, the prison governor himself. We’re to free Ichthyander tonight. I’ve just received two notes, one from Salvator, the other fronn the prison governor.”

“I want to see him! “ said Gutierrez. “May I go with you?”

Olsen pondered. “I don’t think you should,” he said at last. “Nor should you see him at all, I’m afraid.”

“But why?” “Because he’s ill; ill as a man, though all right as a fish if you get me.”

“I don’t.”

“He can’t breathe air any longer. Think what will happen iff he sees you. Hell want to see a great deal more of you, but life on land can only kill him.”

Gutierrez hung her head.

“Well, you must be right, I suppose-” she said, after a long pause.

“There’s a barrier now-the ocean-between him and the rest of people. His fate’s sealed. From now on it’s only the ocean for him and nothing but the ocean.”

“But how is he to live there, I mean, all alone among all those sea-creatures?”

“He was quite happy among them until — ”

A blush mounted to Gutierrez’s face.

“He won’t be as happy as before, of course.”

“Oh, stop it, Olsen,” Gutierrez said sadly.

“Time’s a good healer, though. Perhaps hell regain his former peace of mind and live till ripe old age among all those creatures of the sea, unless a shark brings him an untimely end. And as to death-well, it’s the same everywhere.”

Twilight had set in outside and the room was dark. “Well, I must be off,” Olsen said, rising from his chair. Gutierrez also rose.
; “But may I at least see him from a distance?” said Gutierrez. “Of course, provided you keep there.” “It’s a promise.”

It was already quite dark when, clad as a water-carrier, Olsen drove into the prison court through the gates that faced Calle de Coronel Diaz. The guard challenged him.

“Sea-water for the ‘devil’,” Olsen answered as the prison governor had taught him.

The guards knew about the prison’s unusual inmate — the “sea-devil” — who was kept in a tank full of sea-water as he couldn’t stand the tap kind, and were accustomed to the sight of the water cart.

Olsen drove up to the prison building and round the corner that housed the kitchen and stopped at the staff entrance. The prison end of the matter had already been seen to by the governor. The sentries at the entrance and in the corridor, having been sent away on various pretexts, he walked Ichthyander out into the court.

“Get into the barrel, quick! “

Ichthyander wasted no time.

“Off you go! “

Olsen jerked at the reins, drove out of the prison court and proceeded unhurriedly on his way along Avenida de Alvear and past Retire Station.

A woman could be seen following the cart at a distance.

It was dark by the time Olsen had cleared the city and taken the road that skirted the beach. The wind was picking up. Surf pounded the shore, breaking noisily against solitary boulders.

Olsen looked around. There was nobody in sight, except for the distant headlights of a town-bound car. He waited for it to pass.

Hooting, the car shot dazzlingly past and was gone.

Now’s the time for it, Olsen thought, and turned round to motion Gutierrez out of view. Then he knocked on the barrel and called:

“Here we are! Climb out! “

Ichthyander’s head bobbed out of the water and swivelled round. Then he clambered out and sprang down on the ground, his breath fast and strained.

“Thanks a lot, Olsen,” he said giving him a firm wet handshake.

“Forget it. Good-bye and be careful. Don’t swim too close inshore. Look out for people or you 11 get back into jail before you know how.”

Even Olsen knew nothing of the instructions Salvator had given Ichthyander.

“Yes, yes,” Ichthyander panted heavily. “I’ll swim away, very far away, to quiet coral islands, where ships don’t sail. Many thanks, Olsen! “ and he ran to the water’s edge.

When almost there he turned.

“Olsen! If you ever see Gutierrez give her my love and tell her I shall remember her all my life! “

And calling, “Farewell, Gutierrez! “ he plunged in.

“Farewell, Ichthyander…” came Gutierrez’s soft response.

The wind had gained in strength and was forcing the man and the girl to bend to resist it. The ocean roared, undertoned by the hiss of sand and the clatter of shingle.

A hand closed on Gutierrez’s arm.

“Let’s go, Gutierrez,” came Olsen’s gentle command.

He led her onto the road.

Throwing a last glance at the ocean Gutierrez leaned on Olsen’s arm and they headed for the city.

* * *

After serving his term Dr. Salvator returned home and again took up research. At present he’s getting ready for a distant journey.

Cristo is still in his service.

Zurita has acquired a new yacht and goes pearling to the Gulf of California. And though he hasn’t become the richest man in America he’s no cause to complain either. The tips of his moustache, like the needle of a barometer, indicate fair weather.

Gutierrez has divorced her husband and married Olsen. They live in New York where they work in a cannery.

The “sea-devil” seems to be forgotten on the seaboard of the Rio de la Plata. Only on sultry nights, on hearing some unusual sound in the sea, the older fishermen say to the greenhorns, “That’s the way the ‘sea-devil’ used to blow on his shell,” and start a yam about him.

But there is a man in Buenos Aires who can’t forget Ichthyander.

All the urchins of Buenos Aires know the old beggar, the half-wit Indian.

“Here comes the ‘sea-devil’s’ father,” they call after him.

But he doesn’t pay the slightest attention to them.

Meeting a Spaniard, the old man invariably glares after him, spits on the ground and mutters an oath.

The police leave old Baltasar alone. He is not raving mad, his insanity does no one any harm.

But when a storm starts at sea a strange agitation seizes the old Indian and drives him out of town to the very water’s edge where, risking being washed away, he calls, “Ichthyander! Ichthyander! “ as long as the storm lasts.

But he gets no answer.

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