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Hook, Line, and Sinker

The perks go to the best man for the job. 

But if you don't cut it in The Gutter, you're sleeping with the fishes.

Hook, Line and Sinker by John Teel


Mr. Carson's boat bobbed slowly at the end of the dock, four long fishing poles jutting out over the top like radio antennae.

Ken still wasn't sure why Carson invited him out fishing, but it was known if Carson summoned you to one of his "meetings," you went. Ken didn't want to go empty-handed so he stopped and grabbed a case of beer.

When he arrived at the boat, Carson looked at him and smiled, his eyes resting on the beer.

"For the trip," Ken said with a nervous quiver in his voice.

"Very thoughtful," Carson said. "I don't drink, however."

Goddamnit.

"Barney." Mr. Carson motioned to someone who looked like a bear in people's clothes. "Put this on ice for Mr. Seymour."

"You can call me Ken," Ken said to Carson.

Barney took the case down below.

"And you can call me Hank," Carson said. "Now, what do you say we go catch us some fish? Just untie those lines there and we can get going."

Ken did as he was asked and hopped onto the boat. Barney stood before him like a golem, and Ken thought he might tweak his neck looking up at him.

Barney shoved Ken against the cabin and frisked him with hands the size of waffle irons.

Ken looked at Mr. Carson with a hint of fear in his eyes.

"Just a precaution, Ken," Carson said.

When Barney was satisfied, he let Ken off the wall and turned to Carson. "He's clean."

"Wonderful. Off we go." Mr. Carson got the engine started and backed the boat away from the dock, steering it with ease out of the bay and into the waiting waters of the Atlantic.

...


It was an easy ride out, with the water below resembling dark, smooth glass. They motored for close to an hour during which no one spoke.

Barney stared at Ken the way a cat watches a caged parakeet, while Carson drifted them farther and farther away from land.

The more Ken thought about it, the more nervous he felt.

The engine throttled down and Carson trolled the motor. Looking to Barney, he said, "Grab the net and get some chum in there, would you?"

Barney nodded, disappearing below deck.

Ken polished off a beer and broke the awkward silence. "I don't wanna be rude, Mr. Carson—"

"Hank," Carson said.

"Sorry. Hank. Why am I here, exactly?"

Carson smiled. "To fish, of course. And to get acquainted."

Ken still didn't understand.

Carson could read it on his face. "I'll cut to the chase then, Ken. Your bank stores a large percentage of my money. I need someone who can keep quiet about these particular deposits and manage the accounts. Someone trustworthy. A man such as yourself. We talked to some of our people. They've been looking into you and they have the utmost confidence you'd be a good hire." 

It still wasn't computing, but Ken nodded anyway. "Uh, isn't that what Todd does?"

"He does. But you see, the fact that you know about this particular partnership with Todd is troublesome. There goes the rule of keeping quiet. Also, our funds seem to be a little light. Todd can no longer be trusted. And a relationship cannot work without trust. So that brings us to you. I want you to work for me. You will be paid a substantial fee, in cash, every week. As long as these rules are not broken."

Ken's head was swimming. "Todd's gonna be pissed."

Carson smiled. "You don't have to worry about him. Let us deal with Todd. So what do you say? Shall we do business?"

"Can I think about it?"

Carson watched Ken.

Ken couldn't read Carson, who seemed ambivalent.

“You can. I suggest you come to a decision soon, however,” Carson said. “There is a right and a wrong answer, Ken. I shouldn't need to spell this out for you.”

Everywhere Ken looked there was only water. He was pretty sure he knew the right answer. He finished his beer and said, "Ok then. I'll take care of the accounts."

"Splendid," Mr. Carson said, extending his hand.

They shook on it.

Barney emerged from below with a blue fishing net. He set it down next to a long, white cooler and reached in, shoveling handfuls of ground-up chum into the net. He held the net in the water as the boat trolled and chunks of meat flaked into the ocean. His hands dripped red and Ken watched it drip, drip, drip onto the deck.

Almost immediately, fish jumped and splashed next to the boat, their shiny bodies reflecting the sun as they twisted and scrambled past each other to devour the chum.

"Jesus," Ken said. "I've never seen fish go wild like that before."

Carson baited a hook with the same meat, dropped the line in the water, and handed it to Ken. "It's the best chum there is. I've experimented with all kinds of different bait: mackerel, shrimp, squid, crab, but this right here, this is the best."

"What is it?" Ken asked.

Carson just smiled.

Ken's eyes went from the fish jumping in the water, to the blood on Barney's hands, to the smile on Carson's face, and realized he didn't need it spelled out for him. For once in his life, he got it just fine.



John Teel is a union ironworker from Philly. His work has appeared in The Literary Hatchet, Dark Moon Digest, Near to the Knuckle, Shotgun Honey, and Pulp Modern. When he isn't working, he's spending time with his wife Rae, their two children, and an insane dog named Gizmo, who they never feed after midnight.