A little caviar
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Miroslav steered the Queasy Jim into the slip, his rheumy eyes focused on the lanky Japanese grocer who stood on the dock. As his crew began tying off, Miroslav clambered over the side of his boat, wisps of fog billowing around him. His hip hurt; it always did when it was foggy. He took a deep breath. “You have leverage,” his wife Jasna had said. “Don’t be a chickenshit. We deserve a bigger piece of the pie.” Miroslav wasn’t sure about Jasna’s plan, but he was more afraid of her than the grocer. “What are they going to do?” she’d asked. “They’re goddamn grocers, not the Yakuza.”
As Miroslav walked to the grocer, a seagull cried out overhead. The Golden Gate Bridge was a ghostly outline in the distance.
The grocer’s stony face didn’t crack. With his soul patch and stylish clothes, he looked like he was Yakuza. “I hear there’s a problem.”
“Thing is, with the shortage of Russian beluga, we’re getting top dollar for domestic caviar. I think I should get paid more.”
The grocer’s eyes turned hard. “What’ve you been smoking?”
Miroslav didn’t want to push things. He had a good gig. But Jasna had warned him to be strong. He absently fingered the burn marks she’d left on his forearm. “Where else are they going to get sturgeon?” she’d asked. She’d gotten out of Serbia by killing a soldier, taking his uniform, and making her way to the Dalmation Coast so she could bribe her way aboard a cargo ship. She told Miroslav that she was going to have a better life or die trying. He’d tried to leave her once and she put him in the hospital. He knew not to cross her. “If I get picked up for poaching, I’ll loose my commercial fishing license. I need more compensation for my risk.”
“Let’s get the fish unloaded. Then we’ll negotiate.”
“No new deal, no fish.”
The grocer arched an eyebrow. “Are you really that stupid? Did you come up with this convoluted bullshit on your own?” He put his fingers in his mouth and let out a piercing whistle. In a flash, two men appeared out of the fog from down the dock.
Miroslav tried to remain calm, but his voice cracked. “The fish isn’t here. So no, I’m not stupid.” He cleared his throat, and his voice got stronger. “They’re in a safe place. And if you don’t want to negotiate, I’ll start farming my own caviar. I’m not bluffing. I’ve already talked to some restaurants.”
The grocer’s assistants were now at the grocer’s shoulder, looming there like pestilence and death. One looked like a Sumo wrestler, and the other had a scarred up, shaved head. The grocer waved them toward Miroslav. The man with the shaved head leapt into the air and spun. His foot connected with Miroslav’s jaw. He was unconscious even before he hit the dock.
“Revive him,” Miroslav heard.
The Sumo wrestler picked Miroslav up by his ankles. He tried to protest, but it didn’t matter. He was dipped headfirst into the cold, bay water. Salt water went up his nose. He sputtered as he was lifted up and then plunged back down into the iciness.
Miroslav’s head once again cleared the water. He saw the gray, foggy world upside down. “Okay! Okay!”
“The hold is empty.” It was the man with the shaved head. He was standing on the edge of the Queasy Jim, his face angry.
“Big mistake,” the grocer said. To the Sumo wrestler, he said, “Bring him up.”
The Sumo wrestler hoisted Miroslav up and tossed him on the dock. Miroslav landed on his neck and shoulder. Pain seared his consciousness.
Miroslav looked up. He felt sorry for them. He really did. “Yes,” he said. “Big mistake.”
Jasna appeared from out of the boat’s cabin holding an M5. She began firing. First she got the man with the shaved head. Then she cut the grocer in half. She got the Sumo wrestler as he lumbered down the dock. When he fell, the dock dipped and then bouyed back up. All that was left was the cold, muted sounds of seagulls in the thickening fog.