(Read the rest of this series here. It’s what gets my grandma out of bed every morning.)
Maria and I crouched behind a pair of well-used dumpsters on the outer edge of my former friend’s warehouse. It was a big, dingy place made of steel beams, corrugated metal, and neglect. It sat along the edge of the bay, a ways out from any residential or commercial district. Several boats were tied up to a creaking dock a short distance from the building.
We had ditched the stolen Scion about a quarter mile back, not wanting to have our approach spotted by Sid’s goons. Luckily the perimeter was guarded by just a few dipshits, so we didn’t have a hard time sneaking in.
Maria said, “So this is what a human trafficking base of operations looks like, huh?”
“Yeah,” I said, continuing to scope the place out. “Pretty stereotypical, isn’t it? They run a bunch of drugs and money through here too, so Sid’s got himself a nice little empire going. But if I’ve got anything to say about it, this whole building will be a pile of ash inside an hour.”
It’s amazing how many of my life goals end this way.
I shook my head. “I still can’t believe he fucked me over like this.”
She looked at me. “Really? The guy kidnaps people from their homes and sells them into sex slavery across the world. You’re surprised that he turned out to be an unsavory character?”
“I guess I just thought our bond of friendship was stronger than that. Bros before hoes and whatnot.”
She turned away, coughing. She smashed her hand against her mouth to keep from making any sound. Her body wracked in huge, silent spasms. When she stopped she pulled her hand away and spit blood onto the ground.
She said she’d cracked some ribs, but it was starting to seem way worse than that.
I said, “Hey, you’re really hurt, aren’t you?”
She waved me off. “I don’t need some aging frat douche feigning sympathy for me.”
“You know, usually women don’t insult me as much as you do until after I’ve had sex with them.”
Ah, pillow talk.
She said, “Can we just focus on what we came here for? How exactly do you plan on getting the manatee back? You can’t just light the building on fire.”
“Well, we gotta get closer. See what our tactical options are.”
The van we had used to transport Manatee Joe out of the zoo was parked down by the loading bay. Sid was likely to be inside the warehouse itself, the manatee no doubt nearby. All we had to do was sneak into the building, subdue the dozen or so armed smugglers roaming about, murder Sid, and then take back my manatee. Easy as baby shit.
I had just started to run/cartwheel over to the main entrance of the warehouse when a car came around the corner. I ducked back behind the dumpster and watched. The car, black with tinted windows, pulled up close to the main entrance. Someone, a bigger guy, got out and walked inside. I couldn’t see much more than that with car blocking most of my view. I had to move in closer.
When the door clanged shut I ran over to it. Maria followed. We flattened ourselves against the side of the building, glancing side to side in case guards were out and about. Slowly, I poked my head up to peer into the little porthole-like window on the door.
Inside, just a few feet away, was a whole group of people, about eight or nine. They stood in a circle around the makeshift tank of water that held Manatee Joe. The little guy was still alive, thank God, just floating there like nothing was wrong.
Classic Joe, always chill as hell.
Sid stood prominent in the group, his black hair matching the darkness of his soul. The majority of the guys I didn’t recognize, but took to be his goons. Then I did like three double takes in a row. The guy standing directly across from Sid, him I knew.
I couldn’t fuck my believing eyes.
It was Husk.
There was no mistaking him. His squashed face and wild goatee sat atop a body type that could best be described as “gallons of tapioca stuffed into an oversized sausage casing.”
I shook my head. The very guy who had put me up to stealing a manatee was now here, poking his fat kielbasa fingers at my prize catch. I couldn’t stand for this shit.
I kicked open the door and burst into the warehouse. “Yo, Husk!”
Maria tried to grab at me. “Chris! Get back here, you big idiot!”
I pulled away from her and strutted inside. All heads turned to look at me, except for Manatee Joe, who kinda just did his own thing.
Sid said, “Holy shit, you’re actually alive.”
I puffed out my chest and marched right up to the group. I couldn’t help but notice that all of the goons were holding guns. In less than a second each of them was pointed right at me.
Not that I felt threatened or anything.
Husk smiled. “Chris! How ya been, man? Hey, thanks for snagging this manatee. Sid told me how you guys did it. Pretty ballsy. You got a sweet specimen here, though. Kudos.”
I poked Husk in the chest. “What the fuck’s going on here, bro?” I pointed at Sid. “You know this manatee-stealing tub of shit? Did you put him up to this? You dicks are conspiring against me ’cause you don’t want me to win the Manatee Challenge, huh? Admit it! You’re afraid I’m gonna beat your record!”
Husk held his belly as he let out a rich laugh. “Oh! No, no, it’s nothing like that!”
I folded my arms. “Oh yeah? So what have I got wrong?”
“Well, I mean, there’s no Manatee Challenge.”
I stopped flailing. “What are you talking about?”
“It’s not a thing, Chris. As in, I made it all up. There’s no wiki. There’s no leaderboards. There’s just you, doing the hard labor of smuggling a manatee for me. With a bit of help from our mutual friend Sid here. And I thank you for that.”
I gaped at him. “What in the hell. Are you kidding me? I got personally invested in this shit, yo! I broke that manatee out of animal jail! I planned out our escape route to Canada! Hell, I named the little guy! And all for nothing?! What’s the fucking point? Why put me up to this?”
He pat me on the back and it felt like being slapped with a raw pork chop. “Because you’re a man of action, Chris. I knew you’d be able to accomplish your goal. I just had to point you in the right direction and I knew you’d find a way of bagging me a manatee in no time. I mean, it took me weeks to capture my first manatee. You got one in just two days! Remarkable!”
Eh, it’s not like it was a big deal. Just gotta be willing to cause some collateral damage, that’s all.
Husk paced. “I just had to make you think it was your idea. Not that it was difficult to convince you to undertake this incredibly illegal operation. Put something out there as a competition, a challenge, and you’re all over it before you even stop to think about it. You’ve done a really fantastic job here, Chris.”
I shook my head so vigorously my lips flapped against my cheeks. “I don’t get it. Why do you want want a manatee at all? If there’s no challenge then what’s the fucking point? You get real bored with your pet turtle or something?”
Husk chuckled that deep, confident laugh of his that I was really starting to hate. “Chris, some people think of manatees as a bit more than a simple pet. There are those of us who see the potential for this beautiful creature to be our… companion.”
I stared at him long and hard. “Oh. My God. You want fuck this manatee, don’t you?”
Sid let out a slight cough. His goons shuffled around a little, avoiding eye contact. Husk, for his part, didn’t blink.
He said, “I would never describe our relationship in such crass terms.”
I took a step back. “Holy shit. You really are planning on fucking this manatee.”
Maria, it seemed, had had enough. She made her entrance, striding in even more aggressively than I had. In retrospect, neither of us were any good at this tactical stuff.
I’ll be honest though, the scowl on this short, angry Latina’s face scared me more than any of the guys with guns did.
She said, “You kidnapped that manatee from my zoo so that you can have sex with it?!”
I held my hands up. “Yo, I didn’t. This was all their idea. I just thought it was a contest.”
She got right up into Husk’s face, their noses an inch apart. He flinched from her spittle. “That manatee is a calf who was struck by a boat at two months old. We’ve had to keep her in the rehabilitation tank until she fully healed and we could wean her off nursing. She is in no condition to be abused! Nor is any manatee, for that matter!”
Husk took a polite step backwards. “You must be the angry zoo employee Sid mentioned. While I appreciate all that you do for manatee-kind, I can assure you that I know so much more about them than you do. Your love for them is only superficial. My passion extends to a more spiritual level. I understand these creature’s souls. Their wants and needs. Their cravings. This manatee is so much more mature than you give her credit for. The bond we share is so, so deep.”
I said, “Bro. That is fucked.”
He ran a single finger across Joe’s wet snout. “I don’t expect you people to understand.”
Maria balked. “The only people who say things like, ‘I don’t expect you to understand’ are serial killer pedophiles in movies. And you’re actually being even creepier than any of them right now.”
I tried to appeal to the others around us. “Sid, bro, you’re cool with this? And you guys, nameless henchmen. No moral objections? Really?”
Sid smiled and shrugged in his lopsided way. “Business is business. We’re making an ungodly amount of money on this transaction.”
I turned back to Husk. “Husk, listen. I love to fuck. Feels real great and stuff. I understand the urge. But you don’t fuck animals, bro. ‘Specially baby animals. That’s like Sex Ed 101.”
Did she teach you nothing?!
Husk closed his eyes. “I expect resistance from those who have not had their sexual chakras awakened. Whether you like it or not, by bringing her to me you have participated in our union. So please, try to be happy for us.”
“You had some crazy shit done to you as a kid, huh?”
Maria advanced on him again. “I’m not going to let you do this! You think your asshole friends and their guns scare me? They don’t! Not when it comes to stopping a pervert like you.”
Sid cleared his throat and stepped in. “Yeah, yeah, you tried to stand up to me earlier too. You’re very brave, we get it. Unfortunately, you two have stuck your noses a little too far. I tried to warn you back there on the bridge to stay away. But now that you’ve insisted on coming here it looks like we’re going to have to take more drastic measures.”
As if on cue, another group of smugglers appeared from the depths of the warehouse. One of them pushed a dolly loaded up with a large wooden crate. Another couple carried the lid. The goons with guns moved in, fully surrounding us.
Husk’s attention was elsewhere as he crouched down by Joe’s tank, petting the manatee with a look in his eye that I don’t even want to begin describing. One hand had started pinching his own nipples.
Yeah man, totally acceptable to do that in public.
Sid stepped right into my line of sight. “All right, you two. We’re just going to confine you for a little while, until we figure out where best to ship you.” He took Maria’s chin in his hand. “You, pretty girl, I’m sure will command a decent price on the market. Chris, I’m not so sure about you. We’ll have to try different channels. Maybe pop out a few of those internal organs. Or find you a nice sulfur mine in Uganda to call home. Either way, we’ll probably have to sell you cheap. Oh well, sometimes you have to make sacrifices in this business. Load ’em up, boys!”
I looked at Maria. “Hey, you know what? I’m starting to think stealing a manatee out of your zoo was a bad idea.”
She just stood there, jaw hanging like a tire swing.
Then several pairs of rough hands grabbed us and nailed us inside a giant wooden crate.