The Fighting Squid

The dark-roast’s odor summoned Heck’s memory of the Costa Rican girl. His chest hurt and he remembered the Dear John email and the taste of Iraqi dust and the overwhelming sorrow. He lied to himself, mentally insisting he was better off—he wasn’t. He often considered cutting out dark roast, but never did. A man must overcome his fears.

Heck was stirring in cream, no sugar, when heard the rocking chair and opened the ancient red front door. His brother, Martin, sat on the porch, munching Oreos.

Martin’s pale skin was stained dark. A military-issue duffel rested next to him. The sack was once Heck’s, but little brothers acquire things. The bag was wet, quivered, and smelled of the sea. Martin’s minibike, the fruit of multiple DUIs, rested in the yard.

Heck stepped outside. “You look like hell.”

Martin flashed an Oreo-crumbed smiled. “Usually do.”

“Park around back. I don’t want to look like white trash.”

Martin shrugged. “But you are.”

“I got people fooled.”

Martin nodded. “You do wear suits and such.”

“And such.” Heck flicked his chin. “What’s with the duffel?”

“Kelsey kicked me out.”

“Again? What’d you do?”

“Fight at the aquarium.” Martin pointed at the bag. “The result.”

“Wet clothes?”

“Something like that.”

“What happened?”

“I wanted to pet a squid—overcome my trepidation.”

Heck laughed. “Ever since that Jules Verne book…”

“Exactly, I fucking hate squid. That’s why I eat calamari. Revenge. Anyway, at the Aquarium, I pick one up and he was an asshole. Not saying all are. But this one was.”

“How so?”

“Sprayed me with ink.”

“That’s what squids do.”

“Says you. Anyway, I’m holding the thing, and security yells ‘drop it’.”

“Did you?”

“No.”

“You get kicked out?”

“And banned for life.” Martin scratched his chin. “That makes three.”

“Yeah?”

“The weed in Charleston and the love-making in Atlanta.”

Heck grinned. “Forgot the sex.”

“Don’t be vulgar.”

“Sorry.”

“Kelsey was part of that one. She shouldn’t be judgmental with this one.”

“You’re the victim.”

Martin grabbed Heck’s shoulder. “And you’re a good brother.”

“The Oreos?”

“They were giving them away at 7-11.”

“Who gives away food?”

Martin held out the package. “Don’t question a good thing.”

“Deep.” Heck took a cookie and laughed.

They went inside. Martin took a shower. White towels turned inky-dark. Martin passed out on the couch.

***

Heck sat on the porch, reading Peter Benchley’s Beast. A green Ford Crown Victoria rolled up. Two doughy white guys dripped out.

The shorter man stomped forward. His name tag said Jefferson. His badge said Game Warden. He eyeballed the duffel. “Martin Thomas around?” His voice was pure south-Georgia.

Heck stood. “Why?”

The warden frowned. “A guy who looks like a chubby Mark Ruffalo made poor choices at the aquarium.”

“Damn it.”

“Later, this same guy starts pounding beers and going all Cookie Monster in the back of Piggly-Wiggly, while flicking off the security camera. Then he sprints out and thunders away on an un-muffled minibike.”

“Disgraceful.”

“The receipt from the aquarium says the guy is Martin Thomas… Who happens to look like a fatter, hairier, version of you…” The warden pointed at the bag. “Mind if I look?”

“Sure.”

The warden put on a latex glove and turned the sack upside down. A squid flopped out, dead. The warden put the animal in a container with Evidence printed across the top.

The warden held it up. “This fella’s endangered.”

Heck cracked the red door. “Martin, get down here.”

The backdoor slammed. An engine roared. Martin flew by on the minibike, kicking up gravel. The game wardens followed, blue lights flashing.

***

Martin’s crime made the Savannah newspaper’s front page. It was the only squid-related minibike-pursuit in recorded history. He got a year in jail, because of the Endangered Species Act. Martin was released in the spring.

Heck met Martin at out-processing. They hugged.

“How was lockup?”

Martin winked. “Same as always.”

“Learn anything?”

“No more aquarium fights. Also, I’m no longer scared of, or seeking vengeance upon invertebrates.”

“Fancy words.”

Martin shrugged. “Prison had a good library.”

“You’ve evolved.”

Martin shot his brother a middle-finger. There was a jail-house tattoo of a squid on the back of Martin’s hand.

~ fin ~

Copyright © 2021 J.B. Stevens

About the Author

J.B. Stevens lives in the Southeastern United States with his wife and daughter. His poetry chapbook All the Violent Memories is being released in March 2021, his short story collection A Therapeutic Death is being released in October 2021—both from Close to The Bone publishing. He is a veteran of the Iraq war where he earned a Bronze Star. Prior to the war, he was an undefeated Mixed Martial Arts Fighter. J.B. graduated from The Citadel.

Stories by J.B. Stevens

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