Shark
by John Duncan Talbird

It was a bad time. I was in debt to my neighbor, Betty McAddle. We had been lovers and she loaned me ten thousand dollars to settle a lawsuit. This hadn’t seemed like a big deal when I was banging her. She even acted as if I’d be doing her a favor if I took the money. She would say “Take it! Take it!” during sex. It was a little ambiguous.

I owned a helicopter business, one of those tour guide operations they have in New York City. It’s what I did: fly overfed tourists from all over the world. I told ‘em what they were seeing: On your left is the gigantic hole in the ground which marks the most heinous attack on American soil…The bones of Ulysses S. Grant lie in that cemetery on the right…the Statue of Liberty, a gift from France, is a symbol of kinship and freedom…etcetera. A drunk customer got his head cut off. Years of doing this and it never occurred to me that some frat boy with too many whiskeys in him would think of hopping out of a helicopter right into the props. The human body holds so much blood. Of course, a fellow who can afford a tourist helicopter ride has probably got a law-savvy family that knows how to sue a man for every bit of livelihood he’s got.

After they got my business, I still owed ten thousand. I’d have Betty’s boob in my mouth, my finger in her twat and she’d say, “You know, Bob, I think you should take the money.” I’d slip into an after-sex reverie and she’d whisper in my ear, “I can afford it, Bob. Take the money.” After the settlement, there was enough left over to buy a 30” flat-screen plasma TV with trinitone color temperature control.

Not long after, though, every day, several times a day, Betty would call and say, “When are you gonna pay me back, Bob?” “Bob” now sounded like “asshole.” Later, when I still didn’t pay her, she would say, “My brother’s gonna break your kneecaps, Bob.” In the end, I just stopped answering. I kept the blinds drawn cause Betty would come over and stalk around the yard, trying to catch sight of me through the window. She’d tap the glass with her keys, shout, “I know you’re in there, Bob!” She was angry. Then along comes her brother. The whole family seemed to be taking this awful personally. I’d never gotten this type of reaction for dumping a girl before.

The air in my house was stale and I only had bread to eat. And these two lunatics were trampling my daylilies, the fucking brother hefting a baseball bat. They were starting to piss me off. Wesley (that was her brother) shouted, “I’m gonna kick your ass!” I took the nine millimeter out on the front stoop, folded my arms, the gun in the crook of an elbow like I was just hanging out. When Wesley raised the bat over his head and rushed me, what else could I do?

The judge awarded Betty and the McAddle family 39.7 million dollars in a wrongful death suit. I’m not sure how I can be found not-guilty by reason of self-defense by one judge and then guilty by a second one, but there you have it. Her dad, Nicholas McAddle, cried at the trial—at both, actually—and I admit I felt sorry for him. A truck driver by trade, it probably takes a lot for a huge guy like that to openly break down at a public event.

I wasn’t feeling too hot myself; you don’t have to be an economist to see that I was royally fucked financially. I pawned the plasma TV so I’d have cheese with my bread. I sold all the furniture too, including the king-sized bed. It won’t be long before I hit the road. It’s awful living next door to the sister of a guy I killed. Especially with all that debt.

Wesley is the fifth death. The decapitated kid was fourth. When I first moved to New York, straight out of the military, I did the Midnight Cowboy gigolo-thing briefly—though there’s not as large a market for male prostitutes as you might think—and killed a metropolitan type. She was an editor or literary agent, chain-smoker. It was an accident, like the others. She was the kind that likes rough sex, likes to be choked while she’s fucked. A deputy was first at the scene and so Manhattan’s sheriff had it out for me, wanted to charge me with second degree, although I felt that the whole situation was a little outside his jurisdiction. Luckily, my court-appointed attorney was able to prevail upon the jury’s better sense. Mr. Sheriff took it hard, I could tell, when they led me away for a one-year stint at Riker’s for accidental manslaughter. The veins in his neck were standing out and the cigar came off in his mouth, he was biting it so hard.

Taye was the second one. It’s hard to remember the exact year, I think Reagan was president. I was in the Air Force, stationed in Germany and me and some of the boys organized boxing matches for entertainment and profit. I wasn’t so interested in fighting. I was more into chanting “Step right up!” and “Lay your bets down!” and ordering kegs. Here and there I’d have too many beers and get into a shoving match with a fellow soldier or civilian, but I’ve always considered myself a lover, not a fighter. Taye was black, I think Ethiopian, not that that has anything to do with the story. His dad was a big-shot advertiser in the states and tried to get me charged with Taye’s murder. It was obviously an accident, though, and the charges didn’t stick. I didn’t go through the details at the inquest, but I had actually liked Taye quite a bit. We had been in basic together and had even fucked a couple times. I pledged, right then, I would not kill anyone else. Heck, I was only twenty and had killed two people.

I was in a gang when I was barely a teenager. I should have known I’d end up killing someone then. It was more a social thing than crime that appealed to me. When you join a gang, and when you’re willing to be branded with a hot knife, you know you’re gonna end up breaking glass, selling drugs to rich kids, and cracking a nose or two. But you don’t really think about murder. It’s only later that you realize that you’d signed on for it all.

Now, twenty years afterward, I can appreciate how naïve I was then. We Sharks—that was our name if you can believe it—would be cruising on the beach in Fort Lauderdale, selling angel dust and coke to college kids on spring break, rolling a drunk or two, jacking a car occasionally. Sometimes, when you’re robbing a guy and he fights back, you lose it a bit, you think, all right, here we go. This college kid threw a beer bottle, missed my head by inches. Iona kicked the kid in the knee and there was a loud snap, and he went down screaming. All we wanted was the guy’s bread, but he had to get violent. This dude was the only one of my victims I erased on purpose. I kicked his head in and I knew that I was going to kill him and I did it anyway. If he’d just given us his wallet like we asked, he’d probably be alive now. We Sharks thought of ourselves as sort of professional. We didn’t kill just to kill.

One day we were sitting on the pier at Sunrise Bay in the afternoon drinking quarts. We were taking the day off because our captain Harvey K.’s son had just been born. This group of preppies about our age were doing back flips off the piles into the ocean. “Look,” Hamas said after a while, pointing his cigarette at a black fin slicing through the water. The prep school kids also saw it, but after it was too late. They managed to pull the boy up, reaching hand over hand to drag him on the dock screaming and already turning a white I didn’t know skin could get. As the ambulance shrieked closer, adults tried to wrap the boy’s stump with T-shirts and towels to save his life, and he kept crying, “My leg, is it my leg?” It was January and, even though the afternoon had been warm, it was getting cool and the kid was shaking so it was hard to tell what he was saying. Then we were running down the wharf, back to where we’d left the car. We’d jacked a Missouri tourist’s sedan that morning and knew cops always followed ambulances to any crisis spot. We weren’t geniuses, but like Havey K. always told us, when you’re a shark, you don’t just sit there waiting for someone to put a hook in you.

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