Me and the boys are in the boat and we’ve decided to play Deadliest Catch––only the waters of the Gulf are calm and green, and the creature at the end of the line is a fat 40-year-old man wearing a bad toupee. He flails and splashes, begging. We share a laugh and lean over the port side to get a good look.
“You gonna talk, Brucy?” Charlie asks.
Big Bruce treads water frantically, saying he hasn’t done anything. His head dips down for a moment and he comes back up with a mouth full of water, gurgling out a scream.
Charlie lets out a chuckle and tells me to give him some room. I work the winch and pay out the rope that runs to Bruce’s waist. His fat form starts to drift away from the boat. He panics and swims back, reaches up and grabs the rail.
John steps up and zaps his hand with a cattle prod. Bruce yelps, his fingers splaying. He sinks back into the water and splashes.
“Please. Whatever you think I did, I didn’t. You got the wrong guy.”
Charlie props a foot on the rail and leans over the edge. “You sure about that, Brucy?”
“Yessss!” A wave slaps him in the mouth. More gurgling. “Jesus! Please!”
Charlie shakes his head. “I hate to say it, Brucy, but I think you’re lying to me.”
Bruce shakes his head over and over, his eyes wide open, filled with his own mortality. For a moment, I almost feel sorry for him. Then his toupee slips off and floats away on the current.
We start to laugh again.
“More line!” Charlie says.
I work the winch. Bruce drifts backwards. He doesn’t fight it. He treads like a dog, trying to keep his head above water.
“You know, Brucy,” Charlie says. “I got an uncle who likes to come out here to hunt sharks. He says the water’s full of ‘em. What do you think?”
The fat man whines and starts to plead the same old refrain: “I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it.”
“Is that so?” Charlie asks. “What about these?”
John grabs the shoebox and dumps the photos into the water. In all of them, the children are naked. In some, Bruce is naked with them. And always the look on the children’s faces is the same––absolute fear.
Bruce looks down at his collection as it floats and dances on the waves, realizing that we’ve been on his houseboat, that we’ve seen his closet and read the sick confessions in his journal. He realizes that we know his secret; just as he must now realize that we won’t be reeling him back in.
“Give him some chum,” Charlie says.
I grab the bucket and fling fish guts onto Bruce’s head. He screams and tries to wipe away the blood.
“Smells good, huh?”
“Please. Please.” He blinks hard as the blood runs into his eyes. “Oh God. Oh Jesus. Okay. Okay. I touched them! But I didn’t mean to hurt anyone. I swear to God. I’m sick. I need help.” He begins to weep. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry!”
He stares up at us, waiting for absolution.
“Hmmm,” Charlie says. “No, I don’t think so.”
Bruce’s eyes widen. He looks at each of us, his mouth gaping. “Take me to jail! I’m guilty! I did it! You have to take me to jail!”
Charlie frowns. “Now why would we want to do that?”
I work the winch. Bruce drifts away, screaming, attempting to escape the red cloud of chum that floats around him. The sharks have begun to circle. Bruce’s voice is small and distant, pleading for mercy.
We watch as the fins converge on him, as the splashing becomes more frantic and the red cloud expands and his fat head goes under.
I cut the line and start the engine. We don’t talk or laugh. What’s done is done, and we know it is right, even if it isn’t moral or legal.
We head back to the harbor to finish our patrol, our badges shining in the noonday sun.