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A Fish Tale

Kathy Kubik

 

The Swedish fish slipped out of Ronís hand as he attempted to juggle his cell phone and candy simultaneously. Swedish fish were his favorite, especially the cherry red ones.

"Ok my little donut, letís make it a short night. The place will be packed with black ties, so we should be able to exit pronto."

"Ron, you know youíre my only love, dontcha? Ever since high school. First love." Shelly practically drooled into the phone. She must be high again. She was never this sweet.

"Yes, sugar. Do I ever."

"Iíll be there in about a half hour. Iíll be dressed to kill."

"I canít wait sweets." Ron flipped his cell phone closed and wondered what "dressed to kill" meant for a 350 pound woman. When they married, she had been a svelte size 6. Now she topped off in the double digits. Which would have been fine by Ron. But her personality had taken a nose dive as well. More and more Ron felt like a goldfish living in a Ziploc baggie. He was small and his world got smaller every day. Sometimes he felt like she ate so much to somehow make up for his small, boring life. She lived large to make up for him. Those goldfish never did live long.

No sooner had he hung up when his boss, Finn, was hot on his trail.

"Ron, tonight is a big night. The mayor will be here and all of his deep-pocketed friends. We need everything to go off without a hitch. Understand?"

"Yes, boss."

"This is an important night for the Aquarium. The real security guards will be frisking any guests that look suspicious. Most likely you wonít have to do anything. But if something should go wrong, I expect you to be there, armed and ready."

"Yes, boss, I understand."

Ron Tenesco was a retired Chicago police officer. He retired early after a bullet meant for an infamous mass murderer instead shot and killed the 4-year old boy that was taken hostage at the last minute. The second bullet hit his right knee, blowing it out. The metal knee never felt normal to him. The prosthesis was always cold and unbending, like a phantom limb. He had a regular diet of pills to ease the pain. Now Ron was a security guard at the Shedd Aquarium and carried a standard-issue police gun. He never planned to use it again. The aquarium seemed a safe bet and appealed to his pill-induced lazy side.

"Well then. Get to it."

Ron nodded, bit the urge to address Finn with a one-fingered salute. He turned and limped away, his freshly polished shoes echoed in the empty hallway. He started his tour of the aquarium, making sure nothing was out of place. Nothing ever was. Theyíre fish, for Christís sake. They donít hold guns up to little kidís heads and then pop off a round.

A radio cut off the silence that had built up in Ronís head like a migraine. It came from the turtle room up ahead. He quickened his step to investigate.

"Crimson and clover, over and over."

Sebastian the janitor stood in front of one of the tanks. He danced slowly, his back to Ron. He moaned, "Baby, youíre too much. I want to come in that tank and give you what I got. Iíll give you all the fish you want." He pressed up against the glass and ground his hips in an unmistakable motion. He humped the glass so hard, Ron thought it would crack. He needed to intervene.

"Ah-hum." Ron cleared his throat. He hated to cause any kind of scene, but this was his job, after all. The black ties would be at the aquarium soon.

Sebastian turned around. "Ah, dios! You scared me! Lo siento - Iím sorry, Ronald McDonald. He ran away, leaving his radio in the dust.

Ron ignored the back-handed remark and bent over to turn off the radio and confiscate it. Something moved in the tank. The tank should be empty. It was Grandpaís 80th birthday tonight and he was in the main tank for the celebration. Grandpa was a lungfish from Australia. Probably some barnacles were left behind.

He looked up at the tank to investigate. A hand waved to him from inside. It was Juliet, the feeder. He wiped his eyes in shock. She was naked except for a sea-green mermaid tail. Jet-black hair floated in the water, formed its own waves around her porcelain skin. She flipped her tail as she rubbed her chest. She swam closer to the glass.

Ron found himself up against the same glass Sebastian had been humping, but he didnít care. He placed his right hand on the glass in wonder. He had seen the movie Splash a million times when he was in the throes of puberty. This fish was hotter than Madison. Way hotter. She brought her left breast against the glass where his hand waited. His stomach dropped. He hasnít felt this way since Shelley gained 200 pounds. Hell, even then, he hadnít felt quite like this. He wanted her. And Shelley would never know.

Ron looked around the corner, ears peeled so he could hear footsteps if need be. Juliet twirled and somersaulted in the water, then came up for a breath of air. A small bluefish was tattooed on the small of back.

He walked around the corner to the back of the tank. The door opened and there she was, a vision of water and latex. Better than any wet dream heíd ever had. And heíd had them all. Her hips were wide and ready, wet hair framed her face. Her body curved in all the right places like no fish should.

"Hi Ron. I was hoping youíd come."

"Hi Juliet. Iíve alwaysÖwell.."

"I know Ron. I know. Come here."

Ron met her in the doorway.

She folded him into her pale saltwater arms and kissed him.

"I have a thing for water. And fish."

"Right." Ron responded in between alternating kisses to each breast. "The two go well together."

She laughed. "Letís do it in the tank."

"I canít breathe underwater. I canít even open my eyes under there. Always was a goggle kid."

"Itís ok. You can feel your way, canít you?"

"What about Finn? My job? Your job?"

"Weíll put the curtain down. They usually do that anyway when a fish is relocated. They just forgot with gramps."

"I donít knowÖ"

"Iíll even let you keep your head above water. Iíll do all the work."

"What kind of man would say no to that?"

"Only a weak one." She responded, flipping her hair, which spiraled onto Ron like a spritz of rain, her bright red lips soft as rose petals waiting to be picked.

They stepped into the tank. She took his gray jockey underwear off. Her mouth was on him like algae.

She came up only for air and kisses. Then she went back down. The sensation of cool water mixed with the heat of her mouth was too much. Ron was about to get a lot off his mind when a shot rang out like the starting motor of a speedboat.

Nibbles teased Ronís knees. "Quiet, didnít you hear that? Stop that! We have to get out of here."

"Ron? Ron?" Finnís distant voice was near hysterical.

"Oh fuck. Come on Juliet. Fun and games are over."

Juliet clutched harder, her nails stiffened into his shoulders. He couldnít get free from her grip.

"Juliet? Juliet?"

Her head sunk. Her fins tattered. The nibbles had come from piranhas, millions of them it seemed. Blood mixed with the red color of their belies and flowered in the tank. She was as dead as dead could be. They mustíve been in her mermaid tail.

"Well fuck me runniní."

Ron clutched the top of the tank. Fear took a hold of him and his lazy ass got the hell out of there. To anyone watching, he looked like a gold medal Olympian pole-vaulter. A few of the piranhas had taken chunks out of his belly. Another minute in that tank and heíd be a goner. He grabbed his clothes and pulled his shirt on but was still picking piranhas off his legs when Finn came running around the corner.

"Ron, did you hear that shot? Whatís going on?" Where are your pants?"

"Finn, itís a long story."

"Just get your pants on, Ron, this is important. Look what I found."

He handed Ron a crude ransom note.

"We have taken Gramps. Give us one-million dollars or Gramps will make a nice fillet and youíll be swimming with the fishes."

It was spelled out like all those ransom notes you see in the movies. Letters were cut from papers and magazines. The "es" fell off of "fishes". It must have been pasted with Elmer glue.

"But itís Gramps birthday. Heís in the main tank for the party." Ron shook.

"What have you been smokiní Ron? Who throws a party for a fish? The party is for Christmas. See all the white lights and all? Jesus!" Finn was ready to strangle him.

Ron turned the note over. There was a sea-green stamp of a bluefish. Where had he seen that before?

"Hey, this stamp matches a tattoo Juliet had on her back! She must be in on this."

"Who is Juliet?" Finn looked at Ron like he was the biggest fucknuckle to ever step foot in the aquarium.

"The feeder, Finn, the feeder. Sheís been killed, someone wanted her dead."

"But if she planted the ransom note, who killed her? And who has a gun?" Finn scratched his chin.

Another shot echoed in the aquarium.

"I think weíre about to find out, boss."

*

"Mike, letís get this show on the road." Gill opened the aquarium door and held it open for his partner and the strange Japanese man with the chef hat on. No guards stood watch, they had all been paid off.

"Hang on a sec Gill, Iím feediní my gigapet."

"Youíre about to feed on steel soon, boy. Keep your finger on the trigger and off of that damn kidís toy."

"Itís not a kidís toy. It builds up memory which makes ya smarter."

"Youíll always be as dumb as a bag of rocks, pet rock or not, you shitfuck."

"Jeez hang on, just let me feed Skippy and then weíll go."

"Bang!" a bullet shot out of Mikeís gun like a cannonball and ricocheted through the aquarium door.

"You fuck! What the fuck did you do that for?"

"It was a mistake, Gill. Everybody makes Ďem."

"Not you. Not anymore." And with that, Gill shot his partner dead in the eye. Mike would giga no more.

"What did you do that for?" Oy, the chef couldnít take his eyes off of the pool of blood that ebbed out of what used to be Mike.

"My job is just to hack and slash, it doesnít take much thought. I sometime make hasty decisions. You, however, are going to cook up some mean pucker fish, my man. Iíve got a feeling about you." Gill patted his back, pushed the door open further and motioned for Oy to go ahead.

"Puffer fish, not pucker fish. And I only brought ten puffer fish. Ten!" Oy protested, pointing to his satchel and emphasizing the word "Ten".

"Thatís enough, man. Thatís enough. One bite and theyíll flop dead like fish on the hook." Gill laughed. "Iíve heard about those puffer fish. Deadlier than cyanide they are."

He dragged Mikeís useless body through the door and stuffed it in a nearby closet that looked unused. The sleet and rain would take care of the blood outside.

They walked through the quiet aquarium to the banquet area.

Louis, the chef, was kneading dough for the shrimp croquettes. The smell of salmon filled the air. He patted the dough expertly, gave it a smack and turned it this way and that until it was perfect. The recipe had been handed down, generation to generation. Just like the gold watch he always carried in his pocket. It didnít tell time anymore, but he didnít care. His late grandfather always said, "Teach a man to fish, and heíll eat for a lifetime." But Louis was never a good fisherman. So he compensated by frying it up instead of killing it.

He was knuckle deep in dough when they came in. Gill snuck behind him and with Louisí own knife, slit his throat. Maroon droplets tainted the dough as Louisí blood pumped its final rites. His last breath sounded like a sigh and he grasped onto the pocket watch in his pocket as he fell down. Then he was gone.

A shocked Oy gasped for air.

"Hack and slash, my man. Hack and slash. And then you dash." Gill giggled. His rhyming skills were definitely on the ball tonight. With each killing he got a little higher, his head swelling bigger than a stomach full of puffer fish.

"Do your thing, Mr. Oy. Make me proud. The guests are starting so arrive, so Iím gonna lay low, look around. Try to blend in." He bent down and took a bow. His penguin suit looked dashing.

Oy started to prepare the soup that would serve as both the appetizer and the main, and final, course. First he gutted the puffer fish, keeping their heads intact. Then he waited for the water to boil.

*

"We have to call the police. Letís use the phone in my office." Finn looked less composed than normal, his pale face broken out in a beady sweat.

"Good idea." Ron was dazed, unable to comprehend the situation. Was Juliet really dead?

They walked to Finnís office. One the way they passed a tall, handsome gentleman slicking thick brown hair back, looking in one of the fish tanks at his reflection. His suit was spotless.

He turned to them. "Excuse me, gentleman. Where would the restrooms be?"

Finn smiled in relief. "Oh, theyíre just around the corner. Are you on the Board?" Finn used any chance to pucker up and kiss some ass.

"No. But you may be tied to one soon if you donít play your cards right."

"Huh?" Finn squinted his eyes to get a closer look at the man.

Gill pulled his gun out. "Letís not make this difficult. I need to see Dr. Taub or Gramps is as good as Gortonís frozen fish. Got that?"

"Yes, yes sir. But Dr. Taub hasnít arrived yet..."

"Well then letís go somewhere quiet where we can chat and get to know each other until then, shall we?" Gill walked away.

Finn and Ron followed. Ronís undigested Swedish fish gurgled in his stomach. This was going to be a long night Ė that was if he survived. He hoped Shelley forgot about the event. Or decided to settle in with a bag of Cheetos for the night instead.

"Please, Shelley, donít come." Ron prayed.

*

Dr. Taub parked his sedan and brushed the snow off his jacket. It looked like a healthy sprinkling of dandruff, and that wouldnít look good to the Board of Directors. They just had to award him, and the aquarium of course, the grant. He saved the lives of hundreds of rare frogs, seahorses and fish. And without that grant, the aquarium wouldnít last another year.

He walked into the aquarium. The Christmas trees were decorated with ice-blue fish ornaments. What a nice touch. Heíd have to give his secretary a bonus Ė the trees were her idea. One of many he pawned off as his own. The white lights reflected off the glitter on the fish ornaments and onto the floor, creating the effect of a mini aquarium.

Cocktail hour was just ending and people started to take their seats. Dr. Taub popped an Altoid and walked up to the main table of honor to greet the Board of Directors.

"Charlie, Patrick, how are you? Lovely Chicago weather out there, isnít it?" So started the small talk and necessary gibber gabber. He couldnít wait for the food to come so they could stuff their mouths and leave little room for bullshit.

"How are the conservation efforts going, Dr. Taub?" Charlie, one of the board members asked.

"Oh, wonderful, Charlie, just wonderful. Currently we are breeding mantella frogs and partulla snails, which as you know are very rare, on the border of being extinct. Then of course thereís the conservation efforts with seahorses and other rare fish globally."

The wait staff brought the soup and bread out. Thank goodness, Dr. Taub thought.

After they were served, Dr. Taub placed his napkin on his lap and began to spoon the soup to his mouth. His cell phone buzzed in his pocket, making him jolt. Who could be calling?

He placed the spoon down. "This is Dr. Taub."

It was Finn, the security manager.

"Dr. Taub, we need you down in the right wing of the aquarium, ASAP."

"Why Finn, whatís the problem?"

"Dr. Taub, I canít talk, but I must stress that itís urgent."

"Ok, Finn, Iíll be down soon."

"Now, Dr. Taub, now!"

The urgency in Finnís voice made the doctor jump to attention. He excused himself from the table and rushed off. He didnít hear the gags and moans as he left.

*

Shelley parked her car in the aquarium parking lot. She shut the engine off and checked her lipstick in the rearview mirror. It was smeared. She blotted and reapplied a fresh coat of coral pink, her favorite shade. It reminded her of orange sherbet. She hoped they would serve that for dessert at the dinner. She licked her lips.

The lot was full. She would be late to her own funeral. She liked to make an entrance. This was what she told her friends and family, but really she thought she could sneak in unnoticed arriving so late. But as big as she was, that was a pipe dream.

Shelley entered the aquarium and took in all of the lights. Her eyes shone like a mirrored disco ball. She loved decadent things and could smell the money in the air. She walked into the banquet hall and was greeted first by the stench of fresh vomit. She plugged her nose and noticed that all of the guests were either lying still on the floor, or slumped in their chairs. She knew this was going to be a boring party, but this was ridiculous. Where was Ron?

Shelley exited the room and breathed fresh air as she walked down the hallway. Something was fishy here. Loud voices came from the back of the aquarium. She walked toward it, finding herself in a dark room and the sounds of frogs croaking.

"Ron?"

"Shelley, get out of here!" Ron stood up and tried to shove her out, but it was too late. Gill had her in his vice grip.

"Well, who have we here?" Gill looked Shelley up and down like he wanted to devour her. Or kill her.

"Itís Shellfish." Shelley said in a whisper soft voice that was not her own.

"This has nothing to do with her, man, leave her outta this." Ronís voice rose in panic. "Wait, what did you say Shelley?"

"I said Shellfish, Ronnie."

"So. We finally meet." Gill couldnít wipe the shit-eating grin off his face if he tried.

"Yes, Gill. Itís about time."

"I always did like my gals big."

Shelley walked up to Gill and planted an open-mouthed kiss on him. They break apart after a minute of sloppy kisses.

"Like a fish out of water." Gill murmurs.

"Iím just out of practice." She said, looking at Ron like he was 2-inches tall. "Let me warm up."

She pushed Gill against the wall and worked him over. Ron couldnít believe what he was seeing. Jealousy took hold of him but he quickly pushed it down. Shelley and Gill moved to the floor. She pulled his suit pants down and started to suck. Her coral pink lipstick smeared all over. She just smiled and licked it up, making almost the same noises she made when eating McDonaldís hamburgers.

"Oh, Shellfish, thatís it, right there." Gill was in a state of bliss.

"Right there?" Shelley asks.

"Mmm." Gill was speechless.

Ron saw Shelleyís mouth open like she was going in for the kill. He had a sick feeling he knew what was coming next, having been nicked by Shelley before.

She bit down hard, and did not let go.

"Aaaagh! Fuck!! Let go!" Gillís upper torso squirmed like a fish without water. Shelley had taken hold and wasnít going to let go.

She finally chewed off what she wanted and spit Gillís appendage on the floor. Her mouth was bright red with his blood. She laughed.

"Bitch!" Gill was curled into the fetus position. He was going to bleed to death. But he wasnít going to die without a fight.

He reached for his gun. He pulled it out and aimed at Shelley in between convulsions.

Ron put his hand on his own revolver. He hadnít shot anybody since the incident. But part of him, the old part of him, wanted to protect Shelley. And this crazy fuck Gill would probably kill them all anyway. Why Gill hadnít checked for weapons heíd never know. Probably because Rent-a-Cops didnít warrant much respect.

Ronís heartbeat quickened. He could almost hear it. It felt like a fishís tiny thump of its heart when being pulled off a fishing pole. He had to take action. Now. There was no time left for thinking.

He took aim and fired. He shot Gill right in the heart. Gill looked confused. Then he was down for good. His gills had run out of air.

"Thank you Ronnie. I wondered if you had the balls to do that. I bet my life that you did." Shelley wiped her mouth off and reapplied her coral pink lipstick. "And I won."

"Shelley, whatís going on? Who is Shellfish? And how are you hooked up with this guy, Gill?"

"Iím the one who hooked him, Ronnie. He took my bait - hook, line and sinker. See, I needed his muscle to get in here and get the money from the Board of Directors. And from generous Dr. Taub, here." She gestured to Dr. Taub who was as pale as an albino alligator.

"What money?" Dr. Taub looked as perplexed as Ron and Finn did.

"I know you have big money here, Dr. Taub. You get donations all the time, not to mention all of those grants. Iím the one who convinced Juliet to deliver the ransom note. That silly wench thought Iíd be freeing all the fish you have here. What a naÔve girl. And you fell right into her trap, Ronnie. Iím not surprised. Iím also the one who arranged to have the piranhas in her mermaid tail. And, I had the chef flown in from Japan to cook up the Board of Directors a little treat. Speaking of which, hereís Sebastian now."

The janitor, Sebastian walked into the room with a Hefty bag.

"What does a chef from Japan have to do with any of this?" Ron asked.

"Oh, thatís my favorite part. See, he cooked up a brew of puffer fish soup for your guests, Dr. Taub. Do you know how poisonous puffer fish can be? Well, Iím sure you do, being a smart doctor and all."

"Yes, symptoms of puffer fish poisoning can include paralysis, respiratory failure and nausea. You fed the Board of Directors puffer fish?" Dr. Taub asked.

"We sure did. We figured that once they were paralyzed, Sebastian here could pick their pockets without a fight and weíd have double the loot. Those board members always carry around a wad of cash on them. Not to mention Rolexes and diamonds."

"You do realize that theyíre dead now? Not just paralyzed? Puffer fish poisoning requires immediate medical attention." Dr. Taub raised one eyebrow.

"Well, I thought theyíd stay paralyzed for a while, but who cares anyway. Weíve got what we need from them. Now we just need you to pay up. One million big ones, Dr. Taub. Or Gramps wonít live to see his 81st birthday."

"Well, that is a pity." Dr. Taub looked deep in thought.

"Yeah, for you if you donít pay up."

"No, sadly I couldnít pay you if I wanted to. Youíve just killed my only source of income. Now Iíll go bankrupt as will the aquarium. See, I was depending on the Board of Directors for a big grant to keep the museum going."

Police sirens wailed in the distance.

"Itís over, Shelley." Ron looked at her and almost felt sorry for her.

"Youíd better turn yourself in. It will be best that way." Finn put his two cents in. "And Sebastian? Youíre fired."

Sebastian hung his head and resembled a poor Santa Claus with his deflated Hefty bag in hand. He couldnít have brought in too much money by the looks of it.

"It isnít over until the fat lady sings!" Shelley yelled and came running for Ron. She had her eye on his gun.

Ron sidestepped out of the way, it wasnít too hard to avoid the Goodyear Blimp, and she flew toward the tank Gramps should have been in. She hit the tank at full speed, and fell to the floor.

"You guys can go on. Iíve got some unfinished business here. Iíll be out in a second." Ron said.

"You sure Ron?" Finn asked while taking Sebastian into custody.

"Iím sure. Go on."

"Ok, man." Finn started walking away with Dr. Taub. He turned back. "Good job today, Ron. I see a promotion in your future."

"Thanks Finn. Itís gonna be a great new year. Now go find Gramps."

They exchanged smiles and Finn went off with the others.

Ron looked at Shelley. She was crumpled at the base of the tank. But he knew she wouldnít be for long. He needed to act now. Get rid of her, once and for all. He thought of putting her into the tank with the piranhas, but heíd never be able to lift her. But there was one thing he could do.

He aimed and shot at the tank. The first and second shots didnít take, but the third one cracked the glass and a few more shots and the water avalanched onto the ground around Shelley. The piranhas were hungry and would have lots to feed on.

He quickly walked away before the tide of water could reach him. He put his hand in his pocket and brought out the baggie of Swedish fish. He ripped the head off of a yellow one and devoured it. He ate the rest of the fish one by one as he walked out to meet the falling night. Outside, he was left with only an empty baggie. He was free. Heíd become a bigger fish now and the world was his oyster.

"Happy Birthday, Gramps, wherever you are." He whispered. 


Kathy Kubik lives near Chicago, Illinois where she earns her living as a proposal writer at a leading waste services corporation. She has been writing since she could pick up a crayon, starting with plays featuring The Muppets. She has now graduated to ink, and received her Bachelor of Arts degree in English from DePaul University. When she's not writing about trash, Kathy is a poetry editor at Verse Libre Quarterly magazine (http://www.vlqpoetry.com) and is working on her first novel. Kathy's work has appeared in Voices Magazine, T-zero Xpandazine, SaucyVox(Dot)com, ERWA, CleanSheets, Citizen32 and the upcoming Women of the Web anthology (Sun Rising Press). Visit her on the web at http://www.kathykubik.com.

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