The line from my reel being released let out a hissing noise and the bait plopped into the lake. Small ripples flowed away from the hint of intruding line. Maybe I would catch something today.
My phone rang and as always I wished I could throw it into the lake and run. Two rings.
“Hello?” my voice cracked, I cleared my throat and felt my cheeks get hot.
“Jim,” his voice rasped, “our deal.”
“I’m aware sir – I’m zeroing in on him.”
My fingers flinched at the hint of a bite on the line, it would be my first catch of the week. My uncle always told me to make sure it was more than a brush; repetitive movement of the line signified more than just an interest or a nudge, it meant the fish was biting. Predator, prey.
“How much time do you need?” he sounded irritated. “It’s been two weeks.”
“Give me one more–” I hesitated, weakening my tone, “please sir, please.”
He liked it when people begged him. He laughed, imagining how pathetic I was, how desperate I must be, imagining my fear. The ripples from the tug on my bait had disappeared and only the slight current of the lake remained.
“One week. Remember Jim, I’m not one for waiting. Do it, you know the consequences.”
Every word sounded flat. Every syllable surrounded me.
I had only one job while living on Lake Fontana for the past thirteen days. A task deemed simple by those who demanded it be carried out; to me, it was anything but. I used to be one of their farmers. It was a dangerous lifestyle but they were really good at keeping their sources private and I had about ten years under my belt. Ten years of growing and making more money than I could have ever imagined. Then I met Chrissy. Chrissy accepted what I did and when she moved in, she planted an apple tree in our front lawn, before the land turned into plowed rows. When I came back in from the fields one day I noticed her planting it and when I cocked my head her soft southern voice told me the reason.
“An apple a day keeps the doctor away, hopefully it keeps the rest of ‘em away too.”
I reeled my line back in after thirty minutes of no bites. The greyish-blue water mirrored the clouds stuffed with rain as I watched the thin line return to me. I grasped the line onto the bottom of the rod with my index finger, flipped up the clasp on the reel, cocked back the rod, threw it forward, released the line. The clasp stopped the line from releasing anymore and the plop of the bait sounded once more.
The apple tree kept away everyone except the stork, and two summers after we were wed, a baby girl graced our lives and reality hit me. The money was good but the day to day idea that if the crop didn’t yield enough, if the workers didn’t work fast enough, if I didn’t produce enough… the idea that that could end the light in my eyes, my wife’s eyes, and now our baby girl’s eyes…
I went to Him. He gave me a way out. My way out was Jeremy Bryson.
To preserve the light in my baby’s eyes I had to take care of Jeremy.
As I looked at the never-ending shoreline of pine trees and the still, pregnant clouds, the end of my rod bobbed to the point of almost snapping. I scrambled to get ahold of it and leaned all of my bodyweight back, my spine almost touching the weather-torn, faded cedar dock. I reeled and reeled and reeled. I could see the beast moving under the surface of the water, seemingly absent of skeleton. My palms started to sweat.
I had never killed a man.
My palms were sweating more.
The rod slipped.
The water beast escaped and dragged my rod with it, kicking up dirt from the lakebed.
“Son of a fucking bi–”
“Jim!” A voice called to me from the shore.
I looked over at Jeremy walking toward me, grinning that stupid grin. He had two rods and two beers with him. I forced myself to smile.
“Hey bud,” I limply waved, “the fish here are so big one just took my fucking rod.” We laughed and he handed me a Corona. I looked at his tanned face, crinkled eyes, and that gaping smile. I could shoot him in the head when he was out on his morning walk in the woods, right in the mouth, quick death.
“Well hey I have two rods dude, you can borrow one until you get another.”
We sat down and both began tying our hooks, we opened the tub of wiggling worms and as I took one out I could feel the mud get underneath my fingernails. I brought it to my hook and I punctured it. I could see the blood and feel its body parts move through the slight vibrations in the hook.
Ten minutes must had passed, the drooping clouds still stagnant and the lakebed settled; no sign of my rod or the thing that took it.
Jeremy exclaimed as he caught one.
I hadn’t caught anything this week. It was Wednesday. Three days of no reward. Thirteen days of failure.
I felt the handgun against my lower back, resting under my t-shirt and flannel but pressing into my skin, burning.
I had never killed a man.