by Jason Fischer
We jumped the man called Barnaby, the ugly stranger who brought more money than sense to our crooked card game. Danny handed him our flagon of grog, and when Barnaby lifted it to his pale wet lips we made our move.
‘Grab him!’ someone said, and Sad John and I tried to pin him down. He was slippery and slick, this Barnaby, and he twisted in my grip, sliding through my fingers an inch at a time. At first he tried to fight back, but when Danny pulled out his fishing knife Barnaby pulled towards the edge of the wharf. His skin was a bit oily, like some foreign fella, and I nearly lost my grip.
‘He wants to make a swim for it,’ Sad John laughed, and even though Barnaby wriggled and squirmed we had him pinned. He felt flabby and soft.
‘That was quite a rich stake, Barnaby. I bet you’ve got more.’ Danny said. The stranger really was simple. If you’re going to bet with hobos, stake a cigarette, a can of beans. Not gold sovereigns.
Danny sliced his throat, one economic stroke, just like he was gutting a fish. Barnaby squirmed and gargled and bled his life out on the wharf.
It was hard to tell, by the light of our little fire, but the blood we were kneeling in was wrong. It was black, like tar or ink, and stone cold.
‘Sweet Mother Mary,’ Danny said, and we backed away in disgust.
‘He must be one of them circus-folk, one of the freaks,’ Sad John said. The dead man didn’t look quite right, his eyes were a bit too large, a bit too far apart.
Barnaby had a rotten old coin-purse in his pocket, full of jingle-jangle. We tipped it out, and found a fistful of solid gold. The coins looked old, minted in Spanish or French or something.
Danny said we needed to cut Barnaby into bits, and put the different bits in weighted sacks to sink out in the harbour. As he hacked away at his rubbery flesh, he whistled through his teeth.
‘Look at this,’ he said. ‘He doesn’t have any bones.’
We hid the evidence good; it was the Depression, and a man’s gotta eat. Besides, no general store's gonna take gold from a bum, not without calling the cops. We were right starved. I don’t care what the others said though, Barnaby didn’t taste nothing like no squid.