by Duette Bennett
Gracie’s Fish is the third place winner of KRL’s Father’s Day Mystery Short Story contest. Our first place winner goes up on Saturday morning, and several other entries have gone up this week-you can find them in our Terrific Tales section. These are all never before published short stories.
“Hey Dad, how deep is it here?” Gracie asked from the front of the boat. She was watching the line from her fishing pole continue to roll out from the reel. It had been going out for what seemed a very long time.
Gracie’s dad glanced at the Fishfinder unit mounted next to the steering wheel.
“It’s about twelve feet,” he told his daughter.
“Ha ha, very funny,” she said.
“No joke, bloke, it’s twelve feet,” he told her. The water level in Pine Flat Reservior was low due to the ongoing drought in California.
“What?” She exclaimed. Then, knowing that the weight and lure should have hit the floor of the lake well before now, she cranked her reel and jerked her pole back in one fell swoop. She had the immediate satisfaction of a hard pull on the line and then the feeling of a fish trying to yank away. “I’ve got a fish!” She announced laughing.
Her dad set his pole in the holder at the side of the boat and hopped up, rocking the small bass boat a bit.
“Didn’t you just cast that?” he asked as he grabbed the net.
“Yeah,” she said, reeling steadily with occasional pulls on the pole. “He must have grabbed the lure as soon as it hit the water.”
“Well, get it up here!” he told her, happily.
“That’s what I’m doing, Daaad.” She drawled out the word “dad” as she gave another long pull on the rod.
“Well, take your time and don’t break the line, Graaacciiiie.” He drawled out her name as she had his. Gracie giggled as she continued to reel in the fish.
“I think it’s a big one!” she told him.
Indeed, it was a big one. Once on board, the largemouth bass measured eighteen inches and was the biggest fish Gracie had ever caught. Her dad took a picture of her on the dock while she held up the fish by its gill plate. Her smile was enormous. A few of their fellow anglers sauntered over to congratulate her on the catch. It was a great fish.
And now she had to clean it. Often when she and her dad went fishing they released their catch. Tonight, though, they would dine on the fruits of Gracie’s labor. The household rule was if you catch it, you clean it, even if you are ten years old. So Gracie was at the mud room sink with her knife in hand. On the shelf above the sink were several bass tournament awards and a picture of Gracie’s mom holding up one of her winning catches. It had been her mom who had taught her dad, then later, Gracie, how to fish. Her mom had died eight months ago of breast cancer. Gracie and her dad missed her terribly.
She had finished scaling her big fish and now ran the knife up through its belly. She pulled out the insides and as she went to throw them into the trash, she felt something hard and out of place among the soft organs. Grimacing a bit, Gracie held the mass of fish innards over the trash can and felt through them until she located the hard thing. She found it in the stomach. She separated the stomach from the rest of the innards then placed it in the sink. When she sliced open the stomach she found a bunch of goopy stuff, some partial pieces of fish, a nearly whole frog, and a ring. The smell wasn’t so great and, wrinkling her nose, she put everything but the ring into the trash can. She then washed her hands and the ring at the same time. When she finished washing she held the ring up and stared in wonder.
“Dad!” she yelled.
The fish, which her dad had named Bilbo, “Because it steals the Precious,” he had hissed to Gracie when she asked why, tasted quite good. Her dad had pan-fried it with a bunch of butter and garlic and lemon. They were eating Bilbo with some Rice-a-Roni and a pile of peas. The ring rested on a drink coaster sitting on the table between the two of them. Gracie picked it up.
“It’s so cool,” she said. The ring was large, a man’s ring. It was gold with a big square red stone set front and center, surrounded with little sparkly clear stones. Gracie was sure it was a real ruby ringed with diamonds. Even cooler was the inscription etched inside the ring. It read, “For my Dad, Enzo, on Father’s Day. Love, Gina.”
“What do we do with it?” she asked her dad. “Do we go to the police, or put out an ad or something?”
“Heck, no,” her dad told her around a mouthful of rice and peas. “We’re going to sell that off. I’m sure it’s worth at least half a mil. Then we’re going to live on a beach in the tropics.”
Gracie rolled her eyes. “Great idea. Just pick a country with no extradition laws, Dad.”
“Meh, we’re small beans. They won’t bother with us down in, say, Costa Rica,” he said, taking a big bite of Bilbo.
“Seriously, what do we do with it?” She set the ring down and took her own bite of fish.
“Well, I expect we should take it to the police tomorrow. They can see if anybody reported it missing and we will go from there,” her dad said.
“Okay.” Gracie said. “But maybe we can do a search on the internet to see what we can find.”
“Oh, my, God! You are totally trying for extra computer time tonight,” her dad said in a ridiculous Valley accent.
“Oh, my, God! I am totally not!” Gracie shot back. But she was blushing and busted. Of course she was angling for extra internet time. Two hours a day was never enough. “But really, we should do a search. Somebody might really love this ring,” she said. It was pretty lame, but you worked with what you had.
“One hour,” he acquiesced. “You caught the fish, I’ll do the dishes. See what you can find.”
“Thanks, Dad!” She jumped up, grabbing the ring.
Gracie didn’t need the hour her dad had given her to find something on the internet about the ring. In fact, she only needed twenty minutes. She started by looking up missing rings and Pine Flat Lake. She got nothing from that search. From there she moved on to searching for the names Enzo and Gina. She didn’t get any hits from the names in a general search. Then she searched the news for the two names. That was where she found the hit.
“Dad!” she yelled.
Gracie and her dad peered at the computer screen, reading the article that Gracie had found. It was one of a few articles about the disappearance of a man named Enzo Moretti. Apparently, Mr. Moretti had been scheduled to testify in a trial two weeks before. His testimony was in a criminal case being brought against a suspected crime boss in Las Vegas. The day he had been scheduled to testify, Mr. Moretti had been a no-show. Two days later Mr. Moretti’s car had been found abandoned just outside of Baker, California. There was blood in the car. The police suspected foul play. The crime boss was a suspect, as was his mistress. The mistress was none other than Mr. Moretti’s daughter, Gina.
“Wow,” Gracie’s dad said.
“I know,” she said, “and look at this.” Gracie enlarged the picture of Enzo Moretti that accompanied the article. It was a decent color photo that showed Mr. Moretti exiting a posh restaurant. In the shot he had his hand up to his lapel, clearly showing the ring on his hand. The ring was shiny gold with a large red stone.
“That’s the ring, Dad,” she said, in a hushed tone. “I know it is.”
“I think you’re right,” her dad said. “No joke bloke.”
“Should we call the police now?” she asked. “This is huge!” Gracie was getting pretty excited. She had just realized that this was indeed huge. Her friends were going to flip.
Gracie’s dad thought for a moment then pointed to the lower corner of the computer screen. “It’s almost nine ‘o clock,” he said.
“But, Dad, the police work all night,” she said.
“True,” he conceded, “but the police working on this, that would be the detectives, are likely done for the day.”
“But…” Gracie started, but her dad cut her off. “I know, you’re right, it is important. It will, however, wait until tomorrow morning.” Her dad added,” Besides, I might not pawn it now, I might sell it to the tabloids.”
“Well, at least that way we won’t have to go on the lam,” Gracie said.
“Exactly,” Gracie’s dad said and poked her in the forehead to prove his point. “Now go get ready for bed.”
Gracie went through her nighttime routine of brushing her teeth, peeing, and changing into pajamas. But she knew she would never sleep. The ring they had found was tied to a murder. It was so exciting! She flopped into her bed and snuggled in the covers. Her dad came in to “tuckle” her in goodnight. It was a goofy word, a combination of tuck-in and snuggle, but they had used it ever since she could remember. Her mom had made it up.
“I can’t believe it,” Gracie said as her dad arranged the blankets around her chin. “We are going to help solve a murder.”
“Yep,” Her dad answered. “Of course, all I can think about is whether Bilbo only ate the ring, or the whole finger. Imagine, we may have just eaten the remains of Enzo Moretti.”
“Ewwww, Dad!” Gracie whined. “That’s so gross.”
“I know,” he admitted. “Sweet dreams,” he said and gave her a kiss on the forehead.
Gracie snuggled up to her pillows and as she hugged underneath the pile she felt something weird. She pulled back the top pillow and saw the head of Bilbo the Fish in a plastic bag. She grabbed the thing and marched out to the living room. Her dad sat in his big easy chair and looked at her with innocently raised eyebrows. She promptly threw the fish head at him and stomped back to her bedroom. She was having trouble keeping her giggling in check. Gracie’s dad had his own troubles stifling his laughter as he threw the head in the trash.
Gracie woke up the next day full of excitement. Her dad called the police first thing in the morning. After some back-and-forth on the phone, the police got in touch with the detectives in charge of the case. Gracie and her dad were told to hang tight until the police could get to their house. They sat at the dining room table staring at the ring until the police came.
The police collected the ring in an official evidence bag, just like on the TV shows. They wore gloves too, which Gracie knew was procedure, but figured was entirely unnecessary considering the ring had first been inside a fish, then washed, then handled by her and her dad.
Things after that were a bit boring as they waited for the detectives to show up. Gracie’s dad and the officers sat around drinking coffee. Finally two detectives wearing suits arrived. The detectives interviewed Gracie and her dad, and asked for copies of the pictures of Gracie with the fish. They asked if Gracie’s dad could show them where she had caught the fish. He had told them he could do one better and they went out to the boat to get the exact GPS coordinates stored in the Fishfinder. The detectives thanked them, said they would be in touch, and headed out to the lake.
That evening, the local news reported that a body had been discovered in Pine Flat Lake.
“I knew it!” Gracie announced. “It’s got to be Enzo Moretti.”
“I knew it too!” Gracie’s dad said. “We ate his finger!”
“Daaaad! Gross!” Gracie answered.
It took three whole days for the police to identify the body to the public as that of Enzo Moretti. During that time Gracie was a minor celebrity. At school she told the story about catching the fish and finding the ring at every class break and lunch hour. She had become the most popular girl in school. When she was at home she used her allotted two-hour internet time to search for information on the Moretti case.
One night her dad took them out to dinner at Sal’s, her favorite Mexican restaurant, and then to a movie. When she reached her hand into the popcorn tub she felt something weird and pulled out a fake rubber finger.
She threw the finger at her dad and hissed “Daaaad!”
A couple of people in the darkness turned to glare at her and hiss at his stifled snorty giggles. Those people turned again when Gracie’s dad gasped as he felt ice cubes slide down the back of his neck. When they picked up their empty popcorn tub and drinks on the way out, Gracie grabbed and pocketed the fake finger.
Within two weeks of the discovery of Enzo Moretti’s body, arrests were made in his murder. The main arrest was of Gina Moretti, his daughter. She was accused of the actual murder, with accomplices being named in helping dispose of the body. Apparently, Gina Moretti had been quite vicious in the murder of her father. It was said that she did not appreciate the threat of her father ruining her lavish lifestyle. All in all it was quite sensational.
Gracie’s life eventually mellowed out and her short-lived school celebrity faded in the excitement of the ending school year. While glancing at the calendar one day, counting the days to summer break, she realized that Father’s Day was coming up. She suddenly had the best idea. Ever. Gracie called her grandpa.
“Grandpa is picking me up tomorrow at ten.” Gracie told her dad.
He raised his eyebrows. “Well, okay. Any reason I haven’t been included in this outing?”
“It’s secret spy stuff,” she said. Her dad grinned. “Secret spy stuff” had always been the code words Gracie’s mom had used to indicate that she needed to buy presents for Gracie or her dad. Gracie’s mom used to close the door to the office and announce, “Stay out, I’m doing secret spy stuff!”
“Well, okie dokie, then,” Gracie’s dad said.
Gracie’s outing with her grandpa went perfect. First they went to a pawn shop. That had been Grandpa’s idea. Gracie thought the idea of going to a pawn shop seemed very sinister. She was slightly disappointed that it wasn’t more seedy, like in the cop shows. However, there was one guy who was browsing that looked a little shady, so that gave her some satisfaction. She found the perfect item in the shop for eight dollars, which she paid with her allowance money.
The next stop was at the local trophy shop, where, as advertised, they could meet all your engraving needs. The engraving could be finished within an hour, so she and Grandpa went to lunch at Wilkin’s Drive-in. After hamburgers, fries, and root beer floats, they went back to pick up the finished product. The business owner was confused at Gracie and Grandpa’s hilarity over the finished piece, but they seemed pleased, so he let that go.
The next Sunday was Father’s Day. Gracie and her dad sat in the back yard with Grandpa and Grandma. The barbecue was still smoking after Gracie’s dad had grilled a tri-tip, potatoes, and corn on the cob. Gracie set a card and her present on the table with a flourish.
“This is for you, Dad,” she said, rather seriously.
“Well thank you, Gracie,” he said back, smiling.
The card had a big fish on the front, and on the inside it read, “Fishing You a Happy Father’s Day!”
He set the card on the table and opened his present. Gracie was having a very hard time containing her giggles. Inside the prettily wrapped box was the fake finger that Gracie had retrieved from the movie theater. Adorning the finger was a very gaudy ring, with a very large, very fake ruby.
“Oh, man, that’s just gross,” Gracie’s dad said.
Gracie was outright giggling by that point. She said, “But look inside the ring, Dad.” She was all but dancing with anticipation.
He pulled the ring off the fake finger with exaggerated disgust and peered inside of the gold band. There he saw the engraved words, “For my dad, James, on Father’s Day. Love, Gracie.”
He threw the ring at Gracie and she dodged it, laughing all the harder. He then ran after her with his half-full glass of iced tea until he was close enough to tackle her and dump the tea over her head. The entire family was in gales of happy laughter. Gracie’s dad started thinking about exactly what to give Gracie for her upcoming birthday.
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