“Yo,” I yelled to Vinnie. I didn’t think he could hear me with his head under water, so I pulled him up by his arms back into the boat. His perfect New York oily hair smeared with salt water and all the bloody chum I’d been dumping into the water since we cast off from Port St. Lucy. “I’ll say it again in case you couldn’t hear me, so get the saltwater out of your ears. What was it the Skipper called you back in the old crew?”
“Kiss my ass, Frankie.”
I spotted the first silvery fin of my invited guest swimming at the side of boat. I sliced the rope tying the guy’s arms, freeing his hand. I stuck the Tommy gun in his gut, then I dunked his hand in a pool of blood and tuna guts.
“Wasn’t personal, Frankie,” he said. “You killed his bag man, Butch.”
“The poor bastard wouldn’t let go of my hand.”
The tiger shark’s back broke water. It tore a chunk out of Vinnie’s arm. He tried to swallow down the scream but he choked on it, screeching higher than the seagulls flying overhead.
“What the hell do you want?”
“Just for the sake of my memory—and I feel you owe me something disturbing my retirement and all. What name did the Skipper give you?”
“Vinnie the Shark. Jesus Christ!”
A second shark broke water and ripped off three fingers. Vinnie the Shark screamed again.
“You vow on your mother not tell anyone where I am?” I asked.
He nodded. The cheap tan drained from his mug.
“Damn right you’re not.”
I grabbed his shoulders and tipped him over side the rowboat. I tossed over the cinderblock chained to his legs and dropped it in the ocean. The tiger shark trio dove after him.
“Till the next life, Shark,” I said. I rowed late into the evening back to shore, taking off my drenched fedora to wipe the sweat off my head. I wasn’t sure how the Skipper had found me down here. Maybe they heard about the few lightweight boxing matches I fought to make some dough after the bag I took off Butch ran out. Three button men had come down to soak up some sun in the last month. I took them all fishing. You have to use the right bait.
My old Dad hid for forty years in the States, running from the G-Man and his own IRA mates. They came for him—old Damh as he was called, the Bull in gaelic—one night when he was working late at the slaughterhouse. They always come for you. It must have taken all night for them to beat in his head. My dad had an iron skull.
Once you get in the ring like he did, you could dance around a bit, try to ease the ache in your legs, but eventually you’ve got face their fists. The young bucks knew how to hit, the power behind their hands knocking me back, but I was older. I knew how to fight dirty better than they did, and I knew how to hide it. They were still young and had a sense of honor. I sacrificed honor just trying to survive. You couldn’t chew on an ideal, and it gave you no comfort when you starved. Don’t believe that about martyrs. In the end, they all begged too. At my end, I’d beg.
My back twisted up, rowing home, my body aching from boxing younger guys. I’d have to move on again in the morning, and I had no dough. I couldn’t keep this up.
I tied the boat off at the Grinning Fish Pier. I covered up the machine gun under a tarp on the boat. I couldn’t afford any bullets anyway. The night drowned the moon, and I scanned the sky, searching for sharks. I grabbed my hat, jumped out of the boat and tripped over a black-gowned lady lying prone on the dock. I stepped on her thigh, ripping the silk, exposing the cut of her ass. I knelt and took her hand, feeling the length of her virgin white rose fingers—the pale flesh and the thorns.
“Hey lady.” I turned her over. Her breath stripped the paint off the dock. I looked around to see if she belonged to anyone, probably out strolling after getting tanked up at one of the marina bars. She might have fallen off and drowned. My instincts said leave her, but Christ knows what might happen if someone other than a gentleman found her. I lifted her and carried her in my arms. I knew I was carrying home trouble, sticking my head out enough to get it pulped with a bullet. My neck cracked, but I kept her up. I couldn’t take another round in the ring. I climbed the sand dune back to the holy dive, Judgment Comes Motel, where I’m booked under the name of Father Butch Handy. Most of the self-righteousness holy men guests pray during the day and sneak chubby hookers up to their rooms at night. I dropped Moses, a disgraced Rabbi who watches the front desk after midnight, a few bills to keep his eyes on his magazine. He whistled as I climbed up the stairs to the third floor. I dropped her on my ratty cot, below a faded image of the Messiah painted on the wall. I grabbed a whiskey bottle, bite out the cork and sucked down some of the juice. After an hour, she stirred, waking up.
“Billy?” she muttered, saliva dripping down her lips.
“Did I drown? Am I burning in the fiery lake?”
“Don’t get your panties in a twist, sis. You’re safe. I ain’t never been in love before. Found you face down on the dock.”
I stared at her milky hands, fingers that waved like wind-blown sand dunes. I never caught her eyes, just gazed at those slender violins plucking the darkness.
“Liar,” she said, sitting up.
“Dangerous for a guy in my line of work to ever fall down that hole. Makes us sloppy. Gets us killed.”
“Monsters like you killed my husband,” she said, pulling back silvery hair from her forehead. “He liked to play the ponies, got into debt and tried to run. I couldn’t identify him by his face, so I checked his thigh for moles.”
She took a Lucky Strike from her purse and lit it. The coal glowed orange. I sat on the edge of the cot, and she laid her right hand above my knee. My leg numbed, frozen in a glacier.
“Your name?” I said. “Not the one your parents gave you. The name God burned into your soul.”
“Lady Shark,” she said, puffing.
I pulled a cigarette from her pack and lit it up. The smoke eased the strain in my lungs, and I leaned back against the wall. She stroked my ribs.
“Tomorrow, I have to light out of here again,” I said. “So tired of running.”
“Why do you run? What kind of life is this?”
I spit. “Never been in love before.”
She took the cigarette from her mouth and leaned forward. She smothered my mouth with her lips, sucking at my mouth. I banged my head on the wall, pushing back, and she leaned on me. I stopped fighting and joined her kiss. My head floated on her and the whiskey. She broke away, and my jaw throbbed like she’d shattered it.
I grabbed her hand and ran my finger along her wrist and palm.
“Love always comes for you,” I said.
“Like God’s vengeance.”
I sipped the whiskey, numbing the new fire burning in my chest.
“You were out on the dock waiting for me,” I said. “You had too much to drink and fell on your face.”
She pushed the Lucky Strike into the mattress, burning the sheet.
“Your old boss said if I killed you, they’d call off my husband’s marker,” she said.
“They’re going to put me out in the street to turn tricks.”
“I’d never allow it.”
“It ain’t about you killing that jerk. It’s about the powers that are. About control and orders.”
She grabbed my neck with both hands. I fixated on her wrists, looking down at the them as she pinched my arteries, tying off my life.
“And you’d let me,” she said. She eased her grip so I could answer.
Love was another reflex, like the first kind that got me into trouble when I couldn’t take that jerk anymore and killed him. I didn’t give a damn she strangled me. I just needed to see her ivory wrists.
“Just be gentle like you’re caressing me with those angel fingers.”
“Of course, darling.”
I realized in the moonlight that I’d mistaken her dress color. The shade matched her blood-swollen lips. I always knew when the angel of death came, she’d wear a torn red dress and squeeze the blood out of my head with slender fingers.
T. Fox Dunham resides outside of Philadelphia PA—author and historian. He’s published in over 100 international journals and anthologies and writes for Team Obama. He’s a cancer survivor. His friends call him fox, being his totem animal, and his motto is: Wrecking civilization one story at a time. http://www.facebook.com/tfoxdunham & Twitter: @TFoxDunham