At the fish market, a red male crab from Santa Barbara tried climbing over to the female tank. He kept slipping. Pike wanted to help the poor guy out. The female crabs didn’t stir, didn’t try to meet him halfway. They just hovered in the bubbles.
Pike looked at the row of dead fish on ice, their price. The market had Alaskan and Mexican snapper, catfish, tilapia. He felt in his pockets and only touched string. He couldn’t catch them on his own, either. He had sold his rods, his spear gun, and now that money was gone too.
On the Redondo Pier, in the night, a restaurant had flat screens in its windows, showing a baseball game. Two cooks from another kitchen stood and watched from their open door. Pike couldn’t tell if the flat screens were on the inside or out. He got close. He touched the TV with his finger and met the glass of the window instead. He wasn’t wearing a shirt. He was barefoot. A manager stepped outside and waited. Pike left.
On the boardwalk by the docks, shops were closed, their roller doors down. Fridges and fans hummed somewhere inside. The boats on the dock rocked back and forth. He looked at the half-day boat.
A couple stood at the rails across the way, on the other side of the dock, and the girl laughed. She jumped on the man’s back and he carried her, held her by her thighs. She laughed some more. Pike headed for the bar.
When he got to Corals, Mac wasn’t there. Pike sat at the beginning of the tap line. Corals had 77 beers on tap. Their motto was “Fear No Beer”. Pike liked to see how far he could make it, each time. Usually, three stools, eleven taps.
Melanie set down a glass of Union Jack.
“Don’t worry, I know your deal,” Melanie said.
Down the bar sat the only other customer, a guy with black hair slicked back, a tan, and a beater tucked into black Levi’s.
“Back when I was single,” Pike heard him say to Melanie. She listened to the customer’s story, for the tip. Pike looked down at the steel counter, his reflection. His face was blurred.
One stool later, three beers down, Pike was drinking a Swami’s. The guy down the bar wouldn’t stop talking.
“I get more tail when I’m hanging with my fuckin’ girlfriend than when I’m by myself. And that’s BULLSHIT!”
“Hey, slick, why don’t you go hang with your fuckin’ girlfriend then,” Pike yelled down the bar. The guy took one good look at Pike and didn’t say a thing. Mac rounded the bar in a button down. He had arrived, unnoticed.
“Trying to hide your ink?” Pike said, nodding at Mac’s black dress shirt.
“Careful with the customers, Pike,” Mac said.
“You should just sell this place.”
“Where you gonna drink then?”
Pike didn’t answer. He finished the Swami’s and Mac rolled up his sleeves. Pike saw the letters RBL on one arm, old English, faded looking. Pike had the same letters on the back of his neck. Mac got him a new fresh glass, filled it with Swami’s, and placed it on a red square napkin.
“I’ll pay you back. I’m getting back with the half-day boat.”
“You talked to Heath?”
“Not yet.” Pike looked down at his beer, and looked up at Mac. His friend was watching him.
“You coming to the barbecue tomorrow?” Mac said.
“I don’t know, man.”
“Annalise might be there.”
Mac finished wiping the counter and turned to stack clean glasses. It had been two months, to the day. Pike sipped his beer now. He didn’t swallow, just sipped. Measured, measured sips.
“That’s the first thing you should have said. What about Blake?”
“They’re done,” Mac said, back turned.
With his tongue, Pike pressed against the fang of his canine.
“Halibut’s her favorite,” Pike said.
“So go catch some flatty.”
The aquarium was right next to the shipyard. The aquarium walls were ten feet, some of it barbed. He walked the perimeter. The streetlight helped. The apartment complex overlooking was quiet, dark, save a few windows. The marina was right there too, all those masts sticking out like needles.
Close to the end, where the aquarium walls met the shipyard, Pike found a dumpster. He climbed it. A seal in the marina began to cry. Pike listened, the water like oil. He heard the seal’s cries once more. It was far off. Pike vaulted the wall.
He landed on dirt. He stood straight. There were water tanks and blue colored fish tanks and pipes running along the walls. The water tanks droned. Half of the outdoor aquarium was cast in light from the street, and the tanks were covered. He removed all the covers. He found bat rays and stingrays. Then, he found sand sharks. Another had bass. Then, another had mackerel, another horn sharks. When he found the halibut, he didn’t see the big one right away. Grand Gretta, they called her, the city, the aquarium. That’s the one he came for. The halibut were all at the bottom, blending in with the sand, the darkness, with their black pellet eyes close together, sticking out.
He went to one of the walls and grabbed a net. He went to another wall and hung onto a thin metal pipe. He pressed his feet up against the wall and pulled the pipe towards his chest until one end gave and tore away. Air spewed. He let his feet fall back to the pavement and he ripped the other end of the pipe free. Air rushed out. With the pipe and net, he entered the tank. The water came to his waist. He rested the net on the edge of the tank and scattered the sand and the smaller halibut by plunging the pole. He stabbed at some. Half the tank was lit by a streetlight. He inched towards the dark part, and stuck the pole there. The halibut retreated in all directions. Then he saw her. She was around five feet long. He heard she weighed over fifty pounds. She took up almost a quarter of the tank, but her eyes were just as small as the others.
She swam into the light and then darted to the side, undulating like a fast ripple. Pike lunged and staked the pipe, aiming for her head, only nicking. But he thrust again and again. He missed. He hit bottom. He stabbed others. They bled. He cornered Gretta, finding her through kicked-up sand, foggy water, and he launched the pipe in between her eyes, slamming her head down against the floor. He tried to penetrate. She would not surrender. He threw the pipe over, and it bounced metallically. He grabbed the net, snapped off its handle, and dived. The halibut swam beneath him and he approached Gretta with open arms, ready to embrace. He anticipated her, and she swam into the net. The net covered only her head, so he held onto her, and drove her back with his shoulders until they reached the tank’s wall, trying to coerce her. The water spilled over and he coerced her. He spilled her over.
She thrashed wildly, slapping the tank so hard that she dented its high-density resin, bruising it white. Pike watched from inside the tank, feeling the currents of water generated by the fleeing halibut swarm around and between his legs. He was covered in algae, blood, some of it his own. He waited until she was barely breathing. Then, he got out, and with the metal pipe he killed her. When he lifted the pipe away, her eyes were gone. Grand Gretta was dead.
He dragged her by the gills across the pavement to the dirt. He brought her to the sliding gate and through the narrow opening pushed her under, to the other side. Then, using the piping on the wall, he climbed over.
On the empty road outside the aquarium, he pulled the dead fish along. He lived close by. Beside him was the power plant. The windows were stacked in a way that resembled two eyes and a mouth, over and over again, glowing with light. The mouths were long. They gaped at him.
When he arrived at his ground floor apartment, the building his grandmother owned, he emptied out the entire fridge onto the kitchen floor. There wasn’t much, mainly canned beer. He hefted the fish, stuffing her on the middle rack, but she wouldn’t fit. He dumped the racks then too, and he placed the fish inside, her head and tail sloping up with the fridge’s curves. He shut it and passed out above the sheets of his bed with his arms spread. A trail of algae and fish stain led from his bed, through the apartment, back to the aquarium a half-mile away.
In the late morning when he woke up, Pike found his best fillet knife. He held its contoured, Blackwood handle and went to work on the fish. He cut out four massive fillets. Then, he cut out the cheeks. He prepped two coolers with ice and put the fish in there. Then, he took a shower. He found his best short-sleeve shirt and a clean pair of shorts. He drank a warm beer, then another. He cleaned the apartment as best he could. He didn’t have time to throw out the rest of the fish. He was running late. So, he put it back in the fridge.
With a cooler in each arm, he marched to Mac’s. Mac lived on a walk-street nearby, a wind tunnel of ocean breeze. When Pike got there, all the homies were outside in the front yard, ready to greet him. He tried not to look for her. He slammed fists and shoulders with DeVries, Davey, Silva, Hendricks, Thompson, Romero. Chapman got him a beer. Lawson had an eightball, and they did a line in the kitchen. Then Pike showed Mac and the rest his big catch.
“Shit!” they said.
He showed Trish.
“Wow, Pike!” she said.
He looked around. He didn’t see Annalise. He looked at Trish. He wanted her to see it.
“Where is she?” he said.
Trish looked at Mac.
“She’s not coming,” Trish said.
Pike turned to Mac. Mac looked down.
“More food for us, right?” Pike said.
“I thought she was coming. She said she was bro,” Mac said to Pike.
“Fuck her,” Trish said. “Her loss.”
“I’m cool,” Pike said. “Fuck it, right?” He said, letting out a laugh before taking a pull from the longneck.
Later, he sat down and stared into his hands.
When he got back to the apartment, the police were there, waiting. He tried running, climbing a fence, but they pulled him back down, away from the other side.