Bullhead Catfish, Part One
Posted on January 5, 2016
It’s a new year, and with the arrival of 2016 I wanted to try some different things with my blog. Part of the reason I even created this blog in the first place was so that I would possibly write more, that I might use the blog to post unused story scraps or to do little writing challenges. Today, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
With that said, let me give you a little backstory on this. I was with friends during my MFA program residency, and every night during our final semester we read things out loud to one another. Just so I had something to read, I came up with this really pun-filled story about a catfish who also happens to be a private dick. I recently dusted it off and finished it, and on this blog I plan to maybe do more little stories about Bullhead Catfish, P.I. if this one is entertaining enough for everyone.
All future fiction on my blog will be located under the “Fiction” tag I will be adding as of this entry. Enjoy, and let MINNOW what you think. 😉 (See what I did there?)
On with the story.
The horned pout swam into my office and stood in the doorway, her silhouette stirring things within my gullet. She had fins up to her feelers and I just sat there, watching. She tilted her broad, flat head against the current and I couldn’t see her eyes but I’d bet anything they were milky and protected from the specks of silt she’d stirred up with her passing.
“What’s a gill like you want with me, anyhow?” I gurgled, lighting up a cigar. I didn’t want her to know I was already hooked, already being reeled in. She moved forward, closing the door behind her. I leaned back at my desk, casual like. She swam into the light and I couldn’t process oxygen for a moment. She was more beautiful than an angelfish.
“Mr. Catfish,” she began, her words bubbling out. “I’m coming to you, because…because….someone took my babies. My eggs.” A single tear rolled down over her face and collected in a globule near her protruding lower lip. “Can you help me?”
“Call me Bullhead,” I said, getting up from my desk. Work be damned. I could hear the pain in her voice. She was wounded and I was a sucker for a fish in distress. She waved the cigar smoke out of her vicinity and I put out the stogie in the gravel at my feet. She rubbed at her shoulder scales with her fins.
“Deadbeat dad? “ I asked. She grew quiet. It was a valid question. Any catfish worth his salt wouldn’t leave his eggs unguarded but I’d seen many cases like it in my day.
“You’re good. Right on the money.”
“Look – I’m not fishing for compliments,” I said, turning my back to her. “You didn’t flap your little tail all this way just to tell me something I already know. There’s something you’re not telling me.”
She kept quiet just long enough to confirm my suspicions. “Mr. Catfish,” she stuttered, “Bullhead….I,” but I cut her off, throwing up a fin to stop the lies from floating out of her mouth like half-eaten insect legs. She was angling for something else.
“Don’t be coy with me,” I said, turning to look at her again. “I’m not just going to swallow every line you cast my way. You’ve got a tell.”
“Yeah. Your own little tell. You’re no card shark, miss, but I play cards from time to time. I can read tells like the morning rag. You were quiet, too quiet, when I asked you if you were hiding something. So what is it? What’re you hiding?”
She turned and swam in place by the window, the window I always gazed out at the silt from in the evenings. I couldn’t help myself, my eyes just drank her in, and my mouth gaped open and closed a half dozen times without meaning as we both stood there, taking air into our gills. I coughed away the awkward silence and she shook her head back and forth, like she was coming out of a daze.
“Miss?” I said, adjusting my fedora.
“My name is Wanda. Wanda Don Lino.”
Her words floated between us like fish food. Don Lino….
Wanda turned and swam over to me, and the sadness in her eyes was enough to make me flounder just a little bit.
“Are you tellin’ me,” I began, swimming in circles – turning away from those dead, sad eyes. “That you are Wanda Don Lino? The wife of Oscar Don Lino? THE Oscar Don Lino? The CODFATHER?!”
She didn’t even have to blubber a word. This was big, by all accounts a whale of a case. If I could land this one, I’d be famous. Oscar had high-tailed it out of this little fishbowl of a city a few months back. Wanda thought she’d maybe get a private eye on the case, discover where he’d gone. From the sounds of it, Wanda had done something to the Codfather. Something bad.
“So, what was it?” I asked. “Why’d he take the babies? And how come you’re not filleted by now? Why did the Codfather let you live?”
“I fooled around with someone else,” she said. “It was a whopper of a mistake, but I couldn’t help myself. Oscar knew something fishy was going on, right from the start. Do you know how he knew? It’s because I was happy. Isn’t that sad? That the way he knew I was with someone else was because I was actually smiling every once in a while?”
It was like there was an entire ocean between us as she spoke. Here I was, just a regular gumshoe, trying to figure out her hubby’s motives. Feelings didn’t enter the equation. At least, they shouldn’t. It’s bad math. I wanted to seek solace in the bottle, wanted to drown myself in it. It’d calm my nerves. The Codfather wasn’t a guppy. He wasn’t a big fish in a small pond. He was the apex predator. And here was his wife Wanda, in my office, making serious accusations.
“His name was Confetti,” she said, eyes cast to the ground and welling up.
“He was a clown fish. He made me laugh – something that Oscar could never do.”
A slight smile played over her face like a shadow, just for a second, before it disappeared back down into the depths. I could feel her pain, wriggling like a worm inside me, just from how she said his name.
“You keep referring to Confetti in the past tense. Something tells me this story has another unhappy twist, Wanda. Excuse me…I need a drink.”
She went on while I poured myself a whiskey, neat. I was already in too deep to back out now.
“Oscar had his goons put Confetti in a holding tank. They tortured him for information. When he’d suffered enough, they turned off the bubbler and watched him just float to the top. And he was so funny. So bright. I took off when I’d heard what happened. My first stop was home, but it was too late. My eggs were gone. Another of Oscar’s brutes was just circling my place, waiting to strike. I barely made it out of there with all my fins intact.”
“This is no ordinary case, Wanda,” I said, lighting up a new stogie. The whiskey was hitting me. I could feel it in my gills, silky and warm. “I’m gonna’ need the clams up front for this job. We’re talking kidnapping, murder, assault, and more. I’m not going to bail on you, Wanda. I’m not a cold fish. I can be, but not to you and not right now. I know what it’s like to give in to your baser urges, to chase that worm through the raging waters. I know what it’s like to be dragged by your lip through life and beaten over the head, almost starved of oxygen, sitting in a big tub of sorrow with every other lowlife who can’t wait it out. That’s me. Big fish like Oscar? They’ve got the clams, they’ve got the power, but sooner or later someone’s gonna’ grill ‘em – and that’s gonna’ be me. Trust me, Wanda…The Codfather is gonna’ fry.”
She smiled at me, the ghost of which I’d seen before – only this time it was in the flesh. She wanted to believe me. She wanted to trust that I could do the job. I wanted to believe it all, just as much as she did.
She paid the clams up front, and, before she left she gave me a big kiss on the cheek. When she swam out the door, I could still smell the pheromones in her wake. I wanted to follow, to make sure no scavengers picked up on the wounded, distracted dame – but I had other fish to fry. Oscar Don Lino…The Codfather…was going down. I grabbed my piece and my hooch, put on my coat, and I set off into the dark to see what I could dig up.