Concise Prose. Enough Said.
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The Fish Clubber

By David Bulley

I am out fishing with a bad, bad man and I’m scared and alone and don’t know what to do. Right now he is standing in the stern with his arms raised high over his head. He takes them down in three stages yelling “Huh, huh, huhhh!” at each stage. Then he raises them up and does it again.

Me and Joey and SimSim were supposed to out trolling for togue today. We had it all planned since last week at the station when we realized that, for the first time all year, we would all three have the day off. Togue were rolling on the lake so I said, “let’s go,” and they were up for it.

SimSim canceled yesterday. His wife wouldn’t let him go because the garden wasn’t going to plant itself. Also, she said she missed him and wanted to spend time with him, you know—quality time. I wonder how much time she’d have if the garden was already planted. Most cop wives—you know how they say cops wives are lonely and scared from the danger and long hours—but really I think most cops wives like it that way. I know mine left me because I started hanging around too often. Then I overheard her telling a checkout girl “the danger.” Yeah right.

His voice has gone from rough to awful. It echoes around the bowl of the lake and overcomes us, layers of it. He is laughing at the sky. He is farting and laughing at his farts.

Then it was just me and Johnny going. I was hanging at the dock at four a.m. waiting for John, who is always a little late when this guy approaches. He walked up.

“Hi,” he says, “Is Johnny here yet? Is this the right boat?”

“John Barnes, the cop?” I asked.

He smiled big and genuine, opened his arms wide and arched his back a little like he might run up and bear hug me. “Yes! That’s him. How you doing? My name is Champlain, but people call me Champ.” And he ran right over, eager and friendly, pumping my hand.

“So, did Johnny invite you?”

“Yes he did. He said Simple Someone couldn’t make it so there was room. He said you wouldn’t mind.” Then he scratched his head and scrunched his face. “Oh jeez, you don’t mind do you?”

I knew he was a bad guy when we caught the first fish, a ten pounder. Not huge, not record breaking, but a nice fish. I laid it out straight and got my measure and clubbed it once. He laughed so hard he fell down.

“Oh” he said, “I want to club a fish. Let’s catch us another,” and he peeled out line and set his poll leaning forward rocking.

“Well if Johnny invited you, that’s good enough for me.” I said. I handed over the thermos and a Styrofoam cup. He thanked me and poured.

“Jameson’s Irish whiskey?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said, grinning.

Champ went to get the beer from the back of his truck after about a half-hour of waiting for John. He brought back a case of Bud, in a Bud case cooler, probably with Bud ice in it too. He loaded it on the boat and we waited.

I wasn’t going to wait all day. Plus I had my cell and most of the lake had reception, so along about six I said to Champ, “Let’s go and catch us a fish.” He was totally into it and we headed out.

Beyond the cove we rigged up. I put on my favorite spinner rig and a Mooslook Wobbler. Champ asked for help saying he’d never been, so I rigged him up with a spinners, leader, and a grey ghost. Togue were on top so we didn’t weight anything, just tossed it out and let out line enough and reduced to trolling speed.

When the Jameson’s coffee was gone, we switched to beer.

When I saw him start acting out, I quietly turned the boat around toward the cove. I dialed Johnny’s number on the cell, but no answer. That was when we caught the first fish.

“I’m calling the fish” he says, “Huh, huh, Huhhh!” and he lifts the fish pole up and talks into the end of it. “Glub Glub,” he says, giggling at his joke.

“Hey,” he says, “One time I kicked this guy in the nuts - it was a bar fight, fair and square - and he was flopping just like that fish”

Champ is still stalking around the stern on the boat and I know for sure it wasn’t a fair fight he was talking about at all. In my guts I know he’s a bad man. He’s the kind we rarely arrest because he’s smart and evil. Cops, nine times out of ten, only arrest stupid people and people who can’t control themselves, either by nature or from chemicals.

And now I’m worried about Johnny as well.

The boat is pointing toward the cove.

Champ yells out, “Oh no you fuckin' don’t! We aren’t going in until I catch a fish and club him!” and he bounds up and twists the wheel around, pointing us out.

“Just wanted to bring you over the spot I caught mine,” I say, not knowing why I said it or how. But then it hits me. He’s a bully and I’m a coward. I always have been. In the fifth grade I bought that whole Atlas thing from the back of comic books: The thing with the comic about the bully kicking sand in the face? Well I did and I did because I’ve always been scared.

I became a cop because I’ve always been scared, and I wanted, want, need, now desperately, to be un-scared. Not scared.

His pole bends and he sets the hook, screaming out victory incoherently. I reel in my line so as not to tangle and wait.

The day has just begun, sunlight peeking over the mountaintop like Kilroy, smiling. Water calm as glass, warm and fresh smelling, like after a thunderstorm. I sit in the chair and calmness takes me.

Champ grabs the net and leans out over the boat to snag his fish. I could so easily push him in. He deserves it, I know. If he died no one would miss him. It is highly probable he did something to Johnny. He’s a bad, bad man and I could end it here.

But because I could, I don’t have to, I guess. I just turn the boat around after he clubs his fish. Champ gave a look, a bully look.

“Let’s stay out.” He said.

I said, “No. I have to get back.” And that was it.

I’ll tell you this. He isn’t leaving my sight until I hear from Johnny.

David Bulley has published short fiction in Night Train, McSweeneys, Words & Images, Porcupine, Opium, and many other venues. His novel, Weapon In Heaven, is forthcoming from Cavern Press. He owns and operates Scrawl: The Writers Asylum, an online writer's community. For more information about David see his website.


Top photo "Lure" courtesy of Alexandre Setter.
Bottom photo "Cut-Off Fish Tail 2" courtesy of Klaus Post.

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