“What are these big fishes daddy?”

The man followed the girl’s finger and looked at the board next to the tank.

“They’re a kind of shark, darling, I think.”

“What kind of shark?”

“I don’t know,” he replied. “This one only tells us about rays – those big fishes that look like kites.”

“Oh,” the girl pouted.

“Maybe the next one will tell us about the sharks.”

She grumbled and shifted a little on his shoulder.

“What’s that man doing?”

“Hmm?” He looked up to the top of the tank. Through the distortion caused by the water he saw the figure of a man standing at the edge of the tank.

“Cleaning I expect,” the father said, hitching the girl up on his shoulder. “Or maybe he’s getting ready to give them their dinner.”

He didn’t really believe that. The man was dressed only in swimming trunks, which seemed curious. He was doing something that looked like shark whispering. Before he could say anything there was a muffled splash.

Behind him, a woman gasped. At the same moment, the water turned red, thrashing with bubbles and blood. The girl screamed and turned her face into his shirt, unbalancing him. From behind a man shouted something, and the man, unable to process what was happening quickly enough, fell backwards, the bench behind him and his his shoulder exploded into sharp bolts of pain.

The girl started to whimper. Water started to splatter from the roof.

“The fire alarm,” someone shouted. “Who’s pulled the fire alarm?”

A woman screamed. The man blacked out.

 

“So this is where he threw himself in?” Inspector Lennox asked, looking at the manager.

“Yes,” the man coughed, nervously.

“And nobody had any idea he was going to turn himself into shark bait before a hundred people got a free show?”

She raised an eyebrow and stared at the man, who smiled uneasily.

“Chum,” he said.

“I beg your pardon?”

He coughed again. Lennox began to assume it must be a nervous tic.

“That’s the formal word for shark bait,” he explained. “Chum.”

Lennox nodded. It was the easiest way when dealing with jargon.

“So what did you bring me up here to see?” she asked.

“Over there,” the man said, beckoning and pointing towards something. She bent down and examined it.

“A razor blade?” Lennox asked.

“We haven’t touched it.” She stared at him for a moment and he coughed again.

“Did anyone drop it there?” she asked. “Or did he bring it?”

“He brought it,” the man replied. “We think.”

She bent down and looked at the razor blade. There was blood on one edge.

“Blood in the water would excite the sharks. Wouldn’t it?”

“Yes,” the man coughed again. “Yes, it would.”

Lennox stood up again and sighed. A simple suicide, really. The papers were going to love it.

 

“Well this is a dump,” Lennox said, walking into the flat.

“We’ve been looking around boss,” Evans replied. “But it’s all the same stuff.”

Lennox looked around at the walls. In a couple of places the original wallpaper was still showing, between the tacked up pictures of sharks.

“It looks like he loved his work,” Lennox said.

“There’s more,” a constable said, handing over a stack of DVDs.

Lennox flicked through them – Jaws, Sharknado, Deep Blue Sea – each had one or more gold stars affixed to the front. She sighed again.

“This doesn’t explain why he’d throw himself to them,” Lennox shook her head. “Not to me, anyway.”

“Maybe he was depressed,” Evans scratched his chin. “Perhaps there’s a diary in his bedroom, next to a stack of depressing emo music.”

“Emo music?” Lennox frowned. “What the hell is that?”

“You clearly haven’t got lanky-haired depressive teenagers,” Evans replied. “Lucky you.”

The contents of the flat yielded more DVDs – all shark related, and again adorned with between one and five gold stars. Books on sharks, organised alphabetically into fiction and non-fiction, this time with gold stars on their backs. More posters of sharks, some duplicates of those on the wall were piled in the bottom of the wardrobe, still sealed in their plastic.

“We’re not going to get anything further here, are we?” Lennox asked.

Even though he knew the question was rhetorical, Evans shook his head in answer.

 

Lennox cursed as she saw the two TV vans at the front of the aquarium. At least the ambulances had gone – three members of the public had been injured in all, but apart from one dislocated shoulder, nothing serious.

Pushing her way through with “no comment”, she entered the aquarium’s staff entrance.

“Ah, Inspector Lennox,” the manager said, as she walked past. “You’ll be glad to know we managed to get Hulce’s locker open.”

Lennox turned to face him and nodded. She’d forgotten his name; likely she’d forget it again before the day was out.

“Anything useful inside?” she asked.

The manager sniffed. “One of your people is looking at it all now.”

She didn’t like him, she decided finally. An odious blob of a man in an ill fitting suit. He led her to the staff room and then left for his office. Constable Elliott was still working through Hulce’s belongings.

“He had quite a collection of papers here it seems,” Elliott said. “Some of them are rather medical.”

“Let me guess,” Lennox said. “He had terminal cancer?”

“Not actually, no.” The constable shook his head. “There’s treatments for all sorts of things here, mainly arthritis and high blood pressure, but that’s not really the main concern.”

Elliott handed over a sheet of paper in an evidence bag. Lennox read carefully through it, pursing her lips. Finally, she handed it back to the constable.

“Let’s have a word with our Mr Manager, shall we?” she said, calmly.

 

“I am inspector Imelda Lennox and the time is six fifty-three.” She looked across at the aquarium manager. “For the purposes of the tape, can you please identify yourself?”

“My name is Fred Winchester, and I manage the Aquarium,” he said.

Lennox smiled and turned to face Winchester. Evans saw the look on her face and settled back. Nothing much for him to do for a while but watch.

“Robert Hulce,” she said. “Killed himself today at your place of work. A place of work that you manage. Essentially, he was one of your employees. Is that correct?”

Winchester shifted a little and the nervous cough made a reappearance.

“Well,” he said. “It’s true that he worked for the same company that I do, yes.”

“I see,” Lennox nodded. “It’s also true that, as the general manager, you have the power of hiring and firing staff, don’t you?”

“Yes, I suppose so…” he made a vague gesture with his hands. “In a general sense.”

“What exactly do you mean by ‘in a general sense’?”

“Yes…” A nervous smile flicked across Winchester’s face. “In a general sense, those decisions are referred to me by line managers within the organisation, and I am the final – shall we say the final court of appeal?”

“Let’s not,” Lennox leant forward. “Because the court of appeal upholds the law, and fights for justice, and occasionally shows mercy, doesn’t it?”

The tic of a smile reappeared, for a moment, then vanished.

“But that’s not what you showed to Robert Hulce, was it?”

Winchester sat, silent.

“What we found in his locker was a pretty sordid collection of papers.”

“Well that’s par for the course with these people, isn’t it?” Winchester interrupted. “They come in here, looking like normal people, but then their deviancy -”

Lennox held up a hand, cutting him off.

“I was talking about you,” she said.

The manager laughed and shook his head.

Lennox raised her eyebrows. “Care to explain?”

“I will,” Winchester said. “Hulce was … a deviant, let’s say. He was damned, essentially, according to the bible. And it was my duty to bring him back into the fold, bring him back to living a good clean moral life, you see.”

“He was gay.” Evans said.

The fat man winced. “If you wish to put it like that, yes.”

“And you persecuted him for it,” Lennox said.

Winchester shook his head.

“You were trying to force him to go on this course,” she said and nodded to Evans.

“’Pray the gay away’,” Evans quoted, placing the document on the table.

“There’s nothing wrong with that,” Winchester said. “I was well within my rights.”

“You threatened him he would lose his job if he refused,” Lennox said.

“I was doing it for his own well being.”

“All the man ever wanted to do was work with sharks,” Lennox said. “That’s all.”

“And he could have done so,” Winchester replied. “If he had cured himself of his deviancy.”

“Oh he did,” Lennox leaned forward, her voice becoming a snarl. “He sliced himself open with a razor blade to excite the sharks and then fed himself to them. Because of you.”

Winchester smiled.

 

“Is there anything we can get him on?”

“Nothing, really, sir,” Lennox shook her head. “We don’t really have enough proof for anything criminal, and we don’t have standing to sue for anything civil.”

The chief constable breathed deeply.

“It leaves a bitter taste, Lennox,” he said. “I don’t like it.”

“I don’t either sir.”

The chief constable looked down at his desk, and tapped his right index finger against his left hand.

“You know, Lennox,” he said, looking up. “We haven’t really said anything to the press yet, have we?”

She shook her head. “No, sir.”

“It would be a shame if someone happened to anonymously leak the details of this case to them, wouldn’t it?” he smiled. “After all, we wouldn’t be in a position to deny it if the leaks were actually true, would we?”

Lennox began to smile. “No, sir.”

“And if they happened to somehow get hold of that letter telling him he’d lose his job…”

Lennox grinned. “Are you sure about this, sir?”

“I think in this case we’ll use his own yardstick, shall we?”

“Sir?”

Render unto Caesar what is due to Caesar, isn’t that what the Bible says?”

“I think we might be in the realms of An eye for an eye, here sir.”

The chief constable settled back in his chair.

“I think I can live with that, Inspector, if you can.”

 

The post “Chum” first appeared on simoncollis.com and is Copyright © Simon Collis 2018. All rights reserved.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.