Barb D. Hook
Barb D. Hook navigated her grey and battered 78 Corolla through the rain slick streets of Callabash City, Daily Catch reporter credentials swinging from the rearview mirror. It was 9 p.m. and she was ignoring the story she was covering and focused on her handwritten directions to the scene rubber-banded to the Toyota’s sun visor.
“Two?” she said to the empty car then, glancing up, answered, “Two.”
Five years at the Daily Catch and this was the first time Barb D. Hook, had ever been sent by her editor to the actual scene of a story. This was something new. And exciting.
The routine had become exactly that, routine. Two weeks on the job and she already knew she could cull all of her reports from the police blotter and emergency room logs. First thing in the morning, 500-1500 words and done. No story ever required a reporter on the scene. Never, in the moment.
But her editor
The Daily Catch needed only a few reporters to cover pretty much everything that happened in Callabash City that the Daily Catch needed to devote this kind of attention to.
Ford D. Halibut
It was a rare occurrence for Ford D. Halibut, the paternally stern editor of the Daily Catch, to give out a compliment. Barb had learned to accept the muted praise he offered as praise and move on, but she would never learn to accept the uncomfortable way Halibut would jest at her. Always just as she exited his office. Always loud enough so that everyone could hear.
“Don’t get crabs!”
Each time it happened, Barb wheeled around in her mind and screamed, “Fuck you! Shut up!” But not once in the five years she’d worked for him had she ever seen Halibut send a reporter to the actual scene of an actual story. Not once except for this time. Except with her. Now.
Except tonight was different. Barb’s mind wandered back to the relative comfort of her tiny, rundown apartment, its one room ringed with fading, neglected houseplants, the sink-full of dishes in the corner kitchenette, week-old laundry in a squashed pile under the empty, unkempt Murphy bed.
“Barb D.,” he had said, pronouncing it “barbed” in the strange manner Barb had come to recognize as one of his more particularly strange characteristics since she was the only Barb at the Daily Catch and since she was certain neither Ford, nor anyone else, had any idea what the “D” stood for. “Just got a call,” Ford told her. “Man’s voice. Said he had information about the murders. No name. Just an address.”
Barb stared blankly at the paper in Ford’s hand before taking it. Her last hope for a quiet dinner with her cat, Tuffy, faded as she read it aloud. “Forty-six Net Road?” Barb squinted at Ford, “Isn’t that near the docks?”
“Pier Two.” Ford swiveled his chair and gazed out the window. He gestured towards the window. “Just get the story. It’s out there.”
“Actually it’s there,” Barb corrected, jerking her thumb behind her in the direction of the actual docks.
Ford grunted, “Just get the story, huh?”
That was twenty minutes ago, another lifetime.
Now Barb was rolling slowly along Pier 5 convinced that there had been some mistake. The Pier was dark and the smell of seawater hung heavy in the air. A dank breeze rolled along the pier and Barb felt her hair slowly sagging as her Final Net lost its grip.
The pier was vacant. Barb grabbed the handle and wrestled the Toyota’s window down. She lit a cigarette and found she couldn’t stop thinking about the recent, bizarre murders plaguing Callabash City. Seven of the city’s eight Council members had been murdered. All in supposed safety of their homes. In each case, the Calabash Coroner had determined that the victim had been stabbed once in the heart with a large sword-like object. Police Commissioner Painting had been slow to react, only ordering police protection for the remaining Councilmen after the first three had been slain. But still, four more times the patrolmen had found their grisly morning check-ins. The city was in shock.
As she stood there smoking, Barb hoped no one would show up. She’d investigated a lot of crime stories. Ford seemed to get some perverse pleasure assigning the worst ones to her. But this one gave her a bad feeling and for an unchecked moment she felt alone and vulnerable. She shrieked as a huge orange claw slipped out of the darkness and snipped her cigarette neatly in two.
A deep voice said, “These things will stunt your growth, ma’am.”
Barb’s vision collapsed to pinpoints and the dank pier swirled and tilted up to meet her as she collapsed. She saw the claw reach for her as her world went black and she knew she would never eat seafood again.