Sunday, October 30, 2005

A Fisher of Men

Every fisherman has a secret spot where a bite is virtually guaranteed, and I'm no exception. I don't like to fight the crowds and game wardens at our local Lake Limiculous, and had long ago quit fishing the stream behind my mobile home when I found out my toilet flushes into it.
That's why I was on the road at 0300 hours, fishing gear strapped to the top of the war wagon and NVGs strapped on my face so I wouldn't have to use headlights. I wanted my secret spot to remain just that--secret. It's a little difficult to drive with the night-vision goggles, and I did embarrass myself a bit when I pulled into someone's yard to fill up with gas. After apologizing for using what I thought was the station's bathroom, I waved goodbye to the homeowner and was back on the highway.
I checked my GPS unit. Three miles to target. The infil would be the hardest part, so I finished my last beer and started checking my preparations. Soldiers have a saying--Proper Prior Planning is, uh, Good. I couldn't agree more.
I was finishing up my mental checklist when a glowing giant squid appeared in my NVGs, his massive tentacles hovering twenty feet or so above the road. I locked the brakes, putting the wagon into a skid as I clawed desperately for my urine-filled water gun--not that the gun would do any good against a squid that size, especially a hovering one. I was debating my next move when I realized they had left the sign on. SeaWater Adventure Park, the lettering under the squid read. I was there.
I calmed myself down with one of the wine coolers I had brought with me and cruised slowly past the main entrance and the squid, looking for my point of entry. A ten-foot chain-link fence surrounded the park, razor-wire stretched across the top to keep the fish in. Immediately behind the fence was a sensor array and a mine field--though the park had disguised the killing zone as a sidewalk. I scanned with my NVGs, and finally found the spot where I would infil. I parked the wagon across the street from the target, grabbed my gear off the rack, and covered the vehicle with a camouflage tarp to make it disappear among the other cars parked outside the 24-hour diner. The mission was a go.
I had left my night-vision gear in the war wagon--I didn't want the loud buzz of their Jamaican electronics to give away my position as I crept through the site. My eyes would need time to adjust to the darkness, so after belly-crawling across the road and up to the perimeter fence, I paused ten seconds to become one with the night. I checked my face in the Revlon compact I carry, making sure I hadn't missed any spots when applying the black shoe polish. I hadn't. My hair was covered with a dark watch-cap, and my BDUs were of course blacker than a Friday night fish fry. I was one with the night.
I squirmed closer to the fence, and found my spot--a gap I had cut a few years ago and cleverly disguised with toothpaste and silver spray-paint. I pulled the fence apart and slid through, pulling my rucksack in behind me. Now the hard part. With the heavy pack held close to my chest, I took two quick steps and jumped for all I was worth, hoping like hell I would clear the "sidewalk"--a.k.a. the minefield. I hit the ground and rolled. I had cleared it, but just barely. I crouched behind a trash can and scanned the darkness, orienting myself with my mental map of the park.
The silhouettes of various rides were visible against the stars, along with large auditoriums and the buildings that housed the exhibits. My target building was the largest of them all--the Aquarium. I knew the route I would take to it, past the Jellyfish Farm and the Eel-Petting Zoo, but before I could make entry I would need to locate the security guard. My instincts, honed to a sharp edge from years of covert ops, told me exactly where the guard would be.
I knocked on the door to the guard shack, and could tell from the sudden thump inside that I had woken someone up. Good.
"What--who is it?" a voice from inside called out. Now it was time for deception, and a little bit of applied knowledge of human nature.
"It's television personality Jay Leno," I answered, doing my best impression. "I'm here with some hookers and booze."
"Oh! Wow!" He sounded happy, and the door swung open. "Jay, it's an honor--"
I grabbed him, shoving a chloroform-soaked bandana into his face. He didn't try too hard to fight--after years of me doing this to him, he had learned it was best to submit.
"But, Jay..." he murmured through the cloth, "where are the hookerrrsss..?" He collapsed, unconscious.
I left him handcuffed him to his desk and closed the door behind me, feeling very relaxed with security out of the equation. I strolled away from the guard shack, singing the SeaWater jingle to myself. "If you don't see water, you're not at SeaWater..." The park was mine.
I was a little disappointed to find the doors to the aquarium unlocked--I had a pound of C-4 in my rucksack and I hate to see explosives go to waste. Oh, well, I could always blow something up on the way home. I entered the building, leaving the main lights off so as not to attract attention from the street. The aquariums were lit from inside, and I knew where I was going anyway--Endangered Reef, a sectioned-off part of the massive tank where they kept the good stuff. Thousands of fish eyes watched me through the glass as I made my way down the hall, so close I could almost taste them. I'd be tasting them soon enough.
I reached my destination at the end of the hall and started to unpack my fishing gear. Endangered Reef was impressive--you could park a bus in there with room left over--but it had one fatal design flaw. The sides of the tank didn't reach all the way to the ceiling, leaving plenty of room for a fisherman to sit comfortably on the edge and do his business. I jumped and grabbed the top edge, pulling myself and my gear up the glass and into position. Settling on the ledge, I dangled my boots in the cold water, feeling bubbles climb up my calves as the fish swirled in the dim light below. They were beautiful, their scales flashing silver, gold, even blue and green, as they darted in and out between my legs. How beautiful, I thought, they're gonna be with a little tartar sauce on the side. I opened a wine cooler, ready to fish.
Now, I'm not a pole-and-line type of fisherman--the only pole I play with is the one I was born with, and even then I try not to enjoy it. Instead, I use the method taught to me by my Native American spiritual guide, Chief Chickenhawk Wozniak. The old ways are the best ways.
I attached two copper wires to the terminals of the AC Delco truck battery beside me, and, after removing my legs from the water, threw the leads in.
There was a loud crackle and hiss, followed by an explosion of steam as the water became electrified. I let it go on for a few seconds, then pulled the wires back out with my gloved hand. Damn, fishing is relaxing. I took another sip of wine cooler as I waited to see what I'd caught.
The little ones floated to the surface first--I would leave them so the park could use the carcasses for feed. The bigger game I was after finally made its way up, and I spotted a good one floating upside-down towards the middle of the tank. A coelacanth--now that's good eating. I was about to swim out for him when something caught my eye.
Floating up from behind the coral reef was a huge creature; black, with twin rear flippers and a scuba tank. What the..? No fish I knew of had twin rear flippers, and very few wore scuba tanks. It hit the surface and I realized what it was. A diver! The only kind of diver who would be in the tank at this hour was a terrorist frogman, no doubt planting an explosive device to detonate tomorrow when the crowds showed up. I had read that the Jihadists had learned to swim, and here was proof. Crafty bastards. I dove in.
I approached carefully, my Marine fighting knife in hand. The tango appeared to be dead, or at least unconscious, but I would have to make sure. I was about to strike when he spat out his mouthpiece, flailing wildly.
"Jesus Christ!" he gasped. "What the hell happened?" He was American, which made it even worse. I don't like traitors.
"Calm down," I said, "I'm just going to stab you." I held the knife up for him to see. He was faster than me, what with the flippers, and swam away faster than I could swim towards him. We faced each other across the tank, treading water.
"What--what is this?" he asked. "Who are you? What are--" He noticed all the dead fish clogging the surface. "My God! What have you done?"
"Don't worry about the fish, Jamal," I said. "Your bomb would have killed them anyway."
"Bomb? What bomb? What the hell are you talking about?"
"You're a terrorist," I said, "and you're about to ride the yellow submarine to Hell." I swam towards him, the dagger held out in front of me. "Now, how 'bout some Alaskan stab legs? " I grinned.
"I work here, you idiot!" he yelled. "I'm a marine biologist! Did you kill my fucking fish?"
Damn, he was good. Very convincing. Too bad for him he was dealing with a pro.
"No stab legs for you, then? How 'bout some nice...Uh...How 'bout I just kill you?"
"I don't think so," he said, and I noticed he wasn't swimming away anymore. "I was a Navy SEAL, asshole," he added. That sounded even more convincing, and the diver's knife that appeared in his hand added credence to his story.
"Oh, well..." I began propelling myself away from him as he circled me like a shark. "I'm sorry," I said, "natural mistake, you know...No harm done, right? Hoo-Ya?"
"You killed my fish." He was still coming.
"Well, I...I just meant to stun them," I tried. "I was just gonna eat one or two."
"Stun them?" He noticed the truck battery on the edge of the tank. "You idiot," he said, "that battery puts out too many amps. You fish with a field telephone, for God's sake."
"Yeah." He swam closer. "You just run the wires in and dial. Stuns 'em--you grab the ones you want and the rest eventually recover." He sighed. "People just don't care about fishing responsibly with electricity."
"I'm sure sorry, Mr. Navy SEAL, sir," I said. "I didn't know any better. I'm more of a hunter than a fisherman, really."
"A hunter?" he grinned. "Hey, me, too!" He put away the knife. "What's your favorite spot?" he asked.
"Well, the National Park north of Fort Braggart ain't bad," I said, "though the Protected Wildlife Area down by the shore is better."
"Oh, man," he said, shaking his head. "You're missing out! The zoo downtown is the best! I took a giraffe just last week, big bastard."
"Yeah?" I put away my own knife. "Hard to sneak into?"
"Hell, no! The guard's an idiot, always falls for the ol' Belgian takedown. Say, let's get outta this water--I've got some beer getting cold in the turtle tank."
"Sounds great! I've got some wine coolers, myself."
My new friend clapped me on the back as we swam towards the edge. "My man," he said, "you've gotta try the zoo sometime. They're getting pandas, you know..."