The sea was silent for a moment. It was summer and the waves were gentle at this time of night, easier for catching big fish. This was common knowledge among the fisher-folk of Barrio San Alfonso.
“I need to catch a big one tonight. Aida and I really need the money. The debts are piling up and she might leave me,” said Mario. He was muscular yet visibly old.
“That would be a shame. She’s very beautiful,” replied Miguel, the other fisherman, his clean-shaven face accentuating his youth.
He brought out a bottle of gin hidden inside the boat, deftly opening it with his pocketknife.
Their boat softly swayed to the rhythm of the intensifying waves. The silence was undisturbed. The darkness was absolute, completely covering the view of the shore.
“What’s that?” asked Miguel, pointing to the flash of light floating away from their direction.
“Patrol boats. A couple have been going around since the disappearances.”
“The serial killer, right? Do you really believe that? Someone like that would’ve been easily noticed in our small barrio!”
“I don’t know what to believe but I can’t afford to miss out on night jobs. Aida went berserk when she found out I was going out. She’s absolutely frightened of that killer. All our windows have been barred shut. No choice, though. This is the perfect time for a good catch. More fish, less competition,” replied Mario.
The light flashed on them for a moment as the boat floated further away. The darkness was enough to shroud their faces but Miguel hid the bottle just the same. The captain eyed the two fishermen as his deputy rowed. Their boat was no better than the rest. The wood was warped from all the sea salt, the oar was crooked from misuse.
“What’s that in your hand?”
“Aida’s ring. It’s pure silver. She asked me to pawn it for this month’s rent but I couldn’t bare to do it.”
“Do you ever miss her?” asked Miguel, handing the bottle to Mario.
“I do. But when we’re at home, we always just argue. I suppose it’s my fault. I have been neglecting her.” Mario took a big gulp. The gin went straight to his stomach, warming his poorly-clothed body. He dressed for the summer heat, being left vulnerable to the treacherously chilling night breeze.
“Ah my friend, don’t think that! I’m sure you’ve been taking care of her alright!” replied Miguel as he fiddled with his pocketknife. It was freshly sharpened, the silver shone but it was dulled by the darkness. “Damn. If only there was enough light here. It has such a nice polish to it. Just like that silver ring” he thought.
“I hope. I can no longer seem to make her happy.”
“Psh! Don’t be so depressed! All you need is a good drink! Put the fire back in your heart!”
Mario thirstily finished the bottle. The sound of the waves were getting gentler and gentler as his hearing deteriorated. The stars were coming out and night sky looked magnificent. They were drifting further into the sea. The rocking of the boat lulled him to sleep.
“Looks like he had too much to drink. Such a fragile, old man,” thought Miguel. He looked at the endless sea across them. “This is no place for him.” He gingerly approached the older fisherman who was now out cold. He quietly sat down, watching him sleep. He gently placed his hand on his shoulder, slowly tracing his hand towards the neck. He cautiously opened his fist, wrapping his fingers around the old man’s throat.
“Miguel! Did I fall asleep? What are you doing?” asked Mario, yawning awake.
“Yes, you were, my friend, fast asleep. In fact, I was frightened for a moment. I had to check your pulse to see if you were still breathing!”
“Ah you’re a good man! I had a dream! Aida and I were together! We both looked so young! She was wearing her favorite pink dress and we were dancing in the kitchen! There was a large fish on the table, a humungous one! And we were dancing! Dancing like the good old days!”
“That’s wonderful, my friend! I think it’s time you catch that humungous fish!”
“Yes, yes! I can feel it now. That must’ve been a sign, Miguel! I won’t give up!”
Mario cast his net into the water with vigorous hope.
“I was once a great fisherman,” he thought to himself as he waited with bated breath. “I’m sure she hasn’t forgotten that but I must show her!” Minutes turned to hours as the bottles of gin piled up inside the boat. Their patience was greatly tested. The net remained still as the sea around it. Mario breathed a deep sigh.
“There’s nothing left here,” he lamented, mournfully pulling back his net.
“Non-sense! You just have to wait!”
“There’s no more time. The sun is about to rise and she will be looking for me.” He laid down the net neatly, wiped the sea from his hands, and sat back down. He looked upon the distant shore, now visible from the light of the dawn.
“I was once a great fisherman, you know? I went for the biggest ones. The marlins, the swordfish, the yellowfins! That’s when she fell in love with me. Soon the fish got smaller and smaller but it was enough for us to get by. She would smile and kiss me good luck every morning before I set out. She was such a loving woman. You can see our house from the sea, you know? It’s this little wooden shack right by the tallest palm tree to the right. If we’re near enough the shore, you can see it. That’s what kept me going”
“What happened then?” asked Miguel while he slowly polished his knife with a stone he found on the boat.
“I started heading out more and more. And I started seeing her less and less. I needed to catch the big ones. And when I got home, I was too tired and saddened by the day’s catch. But she still loved me. Eventually, I lived out at sea. Day and night I searched but there were none to be found. I took to drinking. And there were days when I was too drunk to even bring home the smaller catch. Eventually she got tired of it all. There were no more fish in the sea. And there were no more kisses in the morning.”
“Such a shame! But I know you can work it out! Don’t give up on your lovely wife. You’re very lucky to have someone as beautiful as her!”
“I know! You don’t need to tell me! That’s why I needed to catch a big one tonight!”
“One last try, my friend! I believe in you! There is still a great fisherman inside of you!”
“Ha! You’re too naïve, my good man! But a merry company! You’re right! What’s the harm. Bring out the gin and we’ll catch that fish!”
The net was fervently cast into the sea. The two men eagerly looked on as the break of dawn promised a new day. Time passed and the waves ebbed, seemingly commiserating with their growing sorrow.
“There’s a tug! I can feel it! Pull!” shouted Mario. His years out at sea had sharpened his sensitivity to the gentlest movements.
“Pull! We almost got it!” The two men summoned up all their strength in a desperate struggle against the beast. The fight proved successful as they hauled in a monster swordfish.
“This is almost six meters long! We got it! We caught the damn bastard! Aida will be so pleased! She’ll be so happy!” declared Mario.
“This is cause for celebration! I’ll bring out the whiskey!”
The two men drank the hour away. They watched the sun make its way up as the red sky welcomed their merriment. Mario was ecstatic. And though his senses were numbed by the liquor, he could still appreciate the beauty the morning had to offer. He looked to the shore. He could not wait to come home to his beautiful wife as tears rolled down his face.
In the distance, the patrol boat stood still. Miguel could see the officers were exhausted. They looked beyond the horizon, oblivious to everything around them. Their backs were turned and they were completely vulnerable. He took out a silver revolver concealed in the gunwale of the boat. Mario was still looking towards the shore, his mind fully occupied. Miguel took this chance. He fired once at the captain and dove into the sea.
The gunshot shook Mario back to his senses. He looked around wondering what happened. Another shot was fired. Mario fell on his back from the impact. The wound was deep but there was no pain. The liquor made sure of that. He arched his neck, figuring out what happened. Blood was all over him, it was splattered on the boat and on the fish. He cried out for help as he looked to the shore. It was the last thing he saw.
“Captain that’s not him. That’s not the guy in the sketches they showed us,” said the deputy as they approached the fishermen’s boat.
“Then change the sketch! He’s our new serial killer and we got him!” replied the Captain, holding on to his leg wound.
“What about the other one, sir?”
“He’s gone. Forget about him. Let’s just take this one back!”
The two officers carried Mario onto the boat. His weight would have made it impossible for a single person to do.
“It’s a two-man job,” thought Miguel as he waited for the officers to leave. Soon he made his way to their boat. The catch was left untouched save for a few splatters of the blood of his fellow fisherman. He took out his knife. The polished metal looked even more beautiful with the light of the sun. He gutted the fish, smiling at the size of it. He rowed the boat forward, eyeing a little wooden house nearby. He took a swig of the whiskey and made his way to the shore with a silver ring in hand.