The previous week, Van stole a mako shark. It was easy enough: he went to the local aquarium, jimmied some doors, and there it was. Kato, the mako shark. He sat in a holding tank, his body jerking like an idling car. A mere pup at four feet long, one hundred twenty pounds. Van reached in, grabbed him and ran. A quick, precise operation, just as he had learned from Gustav Richtmann, his mentor . Kato wiggled in his hands, his caudal fin wagging like a dog’s tail. Children and adults screamed and cleared a path as he ran across carpeted floors, past aquarium walls revealing underwater cities of coral, silvery schools of pointy-nosed fish, lumbering sharks, hang-gliding rays.
Security guards chased him, hightailing it with drawn billy clubs and guns. But he was just too fast.
Van didn’t have a job but rather was a trust fund baby. The morning of the theft, he had no plans to steal a shark, until he had learned that Gustav, his spiritual leader, had disappeared two days before and was presumed dead. On the east coast of Australia, Gustav taught the art of shark stealing during his six-week long, residential, non-degree program: the physical coordination necessary to carry a heavy fish while running at full-speed, the proper grabbing and holding techniques to avoid bites, the spiritual discipline to become one with the shark.
The Australian government had pegged him as a dangerous cult leader and seized his school with plans to turn it into an international shark sanctuary. Gustav, though, was nowhere to be found. Perhaps he had finally transmuted as he had prophesied, Van thought. But wouldn’t I have felt something?
In his home, Van had a 1000-gallon salt-water aquarium tank, filled with mackerel and squid, that served as a holding tank for his acquisitions. A few days after stealing a shark, he would sell it. Buyers from the world over would come and browse. Swedish entrepreneurs, Saudi sheiks, Japanese eccentrics. Stolen sharks were a prize for the discriminating collector. He expected Kato to sell for $70,000.
But the money didn’t matter. As Van had learned from Gustav, stealing sharks was an art form worth suffering over, like music or painting. He had three missing fingers and many surgery scars to attest to such suffering.
Until he studied under Gustav, Van was just an average height, not so muscular, not so swift of foot slacker, possessing the miniscule resolve of someone raised in the MTV age while never working a day in his life. He had pale, smooth skin, lifeless blond hair, and, as the kids in school used to tease him, he somewhat resembled a Keebler elf. But Gustav had chiseled him into the man and shark-stealing artist he now claimed to be.
Kato the shark had tough, leathery bluish-gray skin. Black eyes, orbs like cursed jewels. Angry teeth sprouting from his mouth like weeds out of pavement cracks. Was he smiling or scowling? The shark is not angry or happy — something Gustav would say — instead, it lives in predatory bliss.
Every now and then, while sitting in front of the television watching rerun sitcoms, Van would hear the thwap of a tail hitting the tank, or a splash from Kato catching a fish or squid. He’s not unhappy, Van thought when he heard this.
Eventually, Van posted an ad. After one day, he received one inquiry, from Johann Diemand, a South African importer-exporter. South African — just like Gustav. On the phone, Van asked him, in a series of rapid-fire questions, what did he import and export, did he import and export the same thing, and how does one get started importing and exporting? Diemand responded with a snort, changed the subject to an appointment.
The day Diemand came, Van wore his ceremonial shark-stealing robe. It was satin, dark purple in color, decorated with gold shark heads reminiscent of Inca etchings. He wore the matching boxer shorts under his khakis.
He sat cross-legged on a recliner. This would be a posture where Gustav would encourage meditation on the vastness of the oceans, the primal nirvana of being an apex predator, but instead Van used it for eating popcorn, watching television. A loud splash came from the aquarium room. The doorbell rang.
Diemand had blond hair and rough, wrinkled skin, kind of like Kato. One day, Gustav once said, we, the chosen ones, will all become sharks. Van brushed crumbs from his robe, offered a four-fingered right hand for a shake.
He offered his guest coffee, wine, soda; caviar, coconut shrimp, chocolate chip cookies. Diemand declined. Just show me the shark, he said.
Diemand knelt and gazed through the glass at Kato. Shy Kato was at the tank’s opposite side.
Johann asked, what’s your price?
70,000 American dollars, Van said. He looked Diemand up and down, realized in a certain light he looked like Gustav.
Suddenly, Van heard a loud crashing sound. Glass from his bedroom skylight window. Diemand, now holding a walkie-talkie and speaking into it, rolled away from him. Two soldiers wearing helmets and camouflage appeared, grabbed Van’s wrists, bound them with cold metal cuffs.
Johann stood, said, you’re under arrest for grand larceny, reckless endangerment, and attempting to sell an exotic animal. His harsh accent had changed into a deep American voice. A set-up. Van wondered how he could be so gullible.
The two soldiers pushed Van into his bedroom. They both held onto him, grabbed a dangling rope, and all three ascended to a hovering helicopter, as Van said, bye bye Kato, his voice lost in the whirling blades, and wondered if he would see Gustav.
Christian Bell lives near Baltimore, Maryland. His fiction has appeared in JMWW Quarterly, Pindeldyboz, Skive Magazine, Tattoo Highway, Why Vandalism?, flashquake, Wigleaf, and SmokeLong Quarterly. Visit his blog, “I’m Not Emilio Estevez”, at imnotemilioestevez.blogspot.com.
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Camilla d’Errico: A character designer and artist who dances on the tightrope between pop surrealist art and manga inspired graphics. Explore her paintings, characters and comics: Tanpopo, BURN and Helmetgirls.