Last night at a book reading I gave at King’s English in Salt Lake City, one of the guests reminded me about a (very) short story called Snagged that she really liked, which I wrote a few years ago as part of a contest and which she asked me to reprint. The contest required that the story had to be 500 words or less and have the following components: A mounted swordfish, a jug of moonshine, a 1959 ZIL-III Soviet-made armored limousine, and a dead gyspy. Here it is:
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Shielding rheumy eyes from sea-reflected morning sun, Old Pavel strained to see what had snagged his line. For as long as he had fished off the long-abandoned pier he couldn’t recall the water so low. Impatient, Pavel yanked too hard and his ancient pole snapped in two.
Cursing, he traced his ruined gear to a thin cylinder gleaming just above the surface. An antenna, of all things! Dropping the butt end of his useless rod, Old Pavel hopped over rotting planks to the tobacconist’s where there existed a functioning telephone. Now that no one was a communist anymore he wasn’t so afraid to call the police.
Victor Maravich, Krinitsa’s police chief and a week from retirement, thought he had seen everything, but his shoulders sagged upon recognizing the muck-covered Soviet-era ZIL armored limousine that the crane sucked from the seabed. He had no need or desire to look inside the rusted wreckage, but to make it official he did. After, he trudged through the drowsy resort town and up the hill toward Sergei’s tree-shrouded dacha with its commanding view of the beach, hoping he would die first.
General Sergei Borshevsky awaited him at the door. Still tall and powerful, tufts of gray curls escaped his armpits and the collar of his white T-shirt. Red suspenders held up baggy, wool pants.
“Come and sit, Victor,” he said.
The table was bare but for the dusty jug of Kentucky moonshine that Castro had laughingly bestowed upon Borshevsky as a parting gift. As an emissary sent personally by Chairman Khrushchev, the general had stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Castro to stare down the trigger-happy Kennedy who threatened to blow up the world. By the time of his recent retirement, the medals pinned to Borshevsky’s chest would buckle a weaker man’s knees.
He poured two glasses.
“We started this jug in ’62 and now we empty it, together,” Borshevsky said. His mouth smiled but his eyes remained sad.
Maravich, studying the incomplete eight-foot-long fish, iridescent blue and silver, mounted over the fireplace, ignored the glass and the comment.
“I always wondered why that swordfish had no sword,” he said.
After some time a buzzing fly punctuated the silence.
Borshevsky drained his glass.
“I risked my life, my country, the whole world. And what do I find the night I return from Havana? My wife in my bed with a gypsy.”
Maravich gestured sympathetically.
“Neither of them saw me—they were copulating like dogs. I broke off the fish’s bill and skewered the pair of them, together, piled them in the limousine and drove to the pier. Lights off, in neutral. I pushed them over the edge. The sea was much deeper then. The next day I declared the pier off limits.”
“We heard rumors that Tanya absconded with someone and your limo, but we never found a trace.”
“Never listen to rumors, Victor.”
“You started them, Sergei. But…wouldn’t it have been easier to just shoot them?”
“And dishonor my pistol?”
The afternoon sun grew uncomfortably hot.
“So, what are you going to do, Victor?”
“It’s not my decision. It’s yours. As is your pistol. Good-bye, Sergei.”