Fish of the Day

“I remember my little brother Benji got the shit kicked out of him behind the school. I remember my parents looking at his bruises and not saying anything, and I remember watching the eyes of the kids that did it blacken one by one as he exacted his revenge. As he took care of his problem. That’s our way. We don’t ask for help because we do not need it. We make our own way.” Peter glanced at Jack and I.

Jack chuckled. “That’s a mite melodramatic, don’t you think?”

Peter drained his beer and gave Jack a steely look. “Melodramatic. Do you get tired of being an arrogant prick all the time?”

Jack raised his hands in mock surrender. “You have a strange way of asking for help, Pete.”

Peter stared at the floor. “A family trait. I’m sorry.”

There was an awkward, manly silence. I broke it.

“We can give you the money.”

Peter winced. “I’ll repay you as soon as I can. The weather’s been mild, this should be a good season.”

“Pete, it’s a gift. Fix your boat. You don’t need to pay us back.”

Jack scooped up a handful of nuts. “I wouldn’t say no to a nice striper though, if you ever manage to actually catch anything.”

Peter punched him in the arm. “Fucker.”

We finished our beers and drew up checks. It really wasn’t all that much, but judging from Peter’s face one would have thought we were signing our lives away.

As we made to leave, Peter placed a hand on both of our shoulders. “Thank you. You’re good friends. I won’t forget this.”

I didn’t hear from Peter for a while. That Summer was a big one for commercial fishermen. Unusually warm waters brought extra fish, and two of the largest fisheries in town went under, leaving it to the independent fishermen to catch them. For a time, Boston seemed to be a city flooded with fish. The smell permeated the air. Everywhere I walked, the faint sizzle of a frying fish reached my ears.

One morning, I opened The Globe to find Peter beaming back at me, a garish grin screwed onto his face. He was holding the largest striped bass I had ever seen– almost five feet long. Behind him, heaps of fat, shining fish filled his boat, and in big bold letters beneath him read– “FISH OF THE DAY”

I read on:

Peter O’Rourke, like many independent Boston fishermen, has had a banner season. With the dissolution of American and North Atlantic Fisheries in June, fishermen are looking at an entirely different fishing industry.

“It’s all been sort of turned on its head,” says O’Rourke, “There’s a lot more power with the actual fishermen. I used to have to compete with big companies with dozens of boats and big processing factories. It was impossible.”

O’Rourke refers to the processing plants that burned down in Boston three weeks ago, and Gloucester last Saturday. Both are currently under investigation for arson, with nothing conclusive having been found. Gloucester Fire Chief Eric Smith declined an interview, but assured the public a thorough investigation is underway at a press conference on Sunday.”

Looking back, I feel rather dim for not putting the pieces together. There are a lot of fisherman though. I guess I just assumed one of them must have been more rash, more frustrated, than Peter. He was my friend. I wanted it to be someone else, so I thought it was.

In mid-July, a third processing plant burned to the ground. This time, someone had been inside. A night security guard, hired as a result of the preceding fires, had been roasted alive. The authorities stepped up their investigation, the press had a field day, and I began to feel the rumblings of a deep dark dread in my stomach. The shadow of a terrifying truth followed me wherever I went; I could only ignore it for so long.

A furious banging awoke me around one in the morning. I knew who it was.

Peter was crying, his hands caked in blood. His eyes were wider than I thought eyes could go, and had a haunting, spooked look, like he wasn’t even there.

“I’ve done a bad, bad thing, Mark.” Peter seemed to be pleading.

“Get inside. Wash your hands.”

“Oh god, Mark. I’m in a really bad situation.”

“Wash your hands.” I ordered him. “What’s going on?”

Peter told me his story while he scrubbed his hands raw. He had burned down the processing plants, he had killed the guard on accident, and now he had killed someone else, this time on purpose.

“It’s just, fuck man, he knew too much. I-I couldn’t let him go to the police. I couldn’t. I’m in too far now. God help me, it was me or him.”

“Peter. Calm down. Who was it?”

“Do you remember Gabriel?”

Gabriel was another fisherman. One who had contracted with North Atlantic Fishing. Peter had introduced us a few months ago. I told Peter I remembered him.

“His…his body is in my trunk.” On the word ‘body’ Peter’s sobs began anew.

We moved the body to Peter’s boat. He had it wrapped in a shiny green tarpaulin that caught the moonlight whenever the boat jostled. Gabriel’s body had frozen in a slight arc, like some sort of sinister smile. I got sick over the side rail.

“How’d you do it?” I had to shout to be heard over the motor and waves. Peter didn’t respond, just kept his eyes on the horizon.

“Pete! How’d you do it? I deserve to know!”

At this Peter turned to face me, slowly, as if in a dream. He wasn’t crying anymore. He looked through me for a long time, staring at the shimmering black void behind me. Around us.

“I shot him.” His voice was deeper now, colder.

“You’ll have to get rid of the gun.”

Peter nodded. “I will.”

The wind swelled around us, and I wished I had brought a jacket. For a few seconds I forgot the gravity of our circumstance and was just on the ocean. But then the reflection of the moon on the tarp started to dance like a fish out of water, and then a few strands of hair started to peak out, and then a snow-white forehead, and then two piercing green eyes that bore deep into my brain and sent terror rattling through me.

Those weren’t Gabriel’s eyes. They were Jack’s.

I know too much.

The words ran through my mind in bright, jagged flashes, interrupting my thoughts.

I know too much.

If he killed Jack for knowing too much what was there to stop him from killing me?

I know too much.

The fact that we were friends? Jack was his friend.

I know too much.

An icy splash of salt water brought a moment of clarity. Peter would eventually turn around, and when he did, he would see that Jack had come unwrapped, and he would know that I had seen, and he would kill me. Unless I killed him. He would kill me unless I killed him.

Across the boat was a buoy. I crept, glacial, my heart thundering in my ears, and gripped it. It was slippery from the spray but I held on tight.

Peter shut the motor off and turned around.

“We’ll dump him here.” Peter cut himself short, his eyes flitting from Jack’s corpse, to me, to the buoy, to Jack.

Somewhere, a fish splashed.

He went for his gun, but I was already upon him, bringing the buoy down with all the force I could muster. Bringing it down with chilling ferocity. Bringing it down until his knees buckled and the cool white mist of the ocean turned warm and red. Bringing it down until Peter’s face was mangled beyond all recognition and his body was a twitching bloodied heap, and then bringing it down until the twitching stopped.

I pointed the boat toward land, and prayed I would be understood. Behind me, the sun was just beginning to snake its way across the water.