“Fresh Fish” by Matthew J. Hockey
Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.
This week, Matthew J. Hockey takes us to Seoul, South Korea, where a fish auction takes a deadly turn.
“Nothing stops the bid,” Uncle Taeng said as he shoveled the squirming baby octopus into his mouth. “Nothing. If we don’t bid, Seoul doesn’t eat.”
We stood smoking on the warehouse’s second floor balcony, tipping our ashes down onto the vendors and customers below. There were seven hundred stalls on the soccer field–sized market floor, all spread out in a tangle of chopping blocks, hosepipes, and electrical cables. I wondered, and not for the first time, why the whole place didn’t explode.
Fishwives in gum boots scaled the salt tanks and hooked cuttlefish through their brains while barkers corralled customers from the passing throngs. Fishmongers scissored the heads off live sea bass before pushing them, still gaping, into trash cans, then sliced their bodies to slithers and wrapped them in cellophane, ready to eat. Customers and tourists pulled their faces at the sea-salt stink of the place and took pictures on their phones that nobody would ever look at again.
My father was somewhere among the ruck, staring up with his milky eyes, no doubt wondering where I was with the day’s haul. He’d be irritating my mother with questions and absently slicing whatever stock they had left. Blind as he was, he could still gut a fish as easy as opening an envelope.
We were missing the bid after I overpaid for what turned out to be a two-pound polystyrene tub of rotten abalone. I’d panicked then—got too scared to raise my hand and lost the best of the day’s eel to the Jung boys, yokels from up Suraksan that barely knew to take their shoes off indoors.
The smell of brine and fish blood boiled up sharply as we pushed back inside. A visor-clad fishwife hosed tar-black slime into the sluice. My gut clenched up. It was squid ink. I’d missed the squid. Maybe even the octopus. All those that were left were flushed and red, dying in their bags of seawater.
I never wanted this: fourteen-hour days, cold in the bones, and constant backache. My parents never wanted this for me either, my father especially. He sat me down when I was young and told me I had to go to law school. I didn’t. I studied accountancy instead, took a junior role with an agricultural supplies firm. Then my brother was killed and my father went blind, and if I hadn’t taken over the business Taeng would have. He wouldn’t have kept my mother on for long, and what would she have done then—collected bottles from the trash at the side of the road and turned them in for the deposit?
“Going once!” the bidmaster said.
I put my hand up without knowing what I was bidding for. It felt good. It made me feel like I had balls. Taeng nodded his approval. The bidding died off. The Jung boys eyed me under the bills of their matching baseball caps.
I won. Three crates of blue crab for about half of what we could sell it for. I got into it then. Raised my hand for every new sale. My blood pumped, money changed hands, Taeng and his crew ran the stock down to my father.
“Lot 441. A full net from the Pohang trawler.” The bulging net hung from the hook of a forklift; it rocked on its caterpillar treads with the weight.
I put my hand up. The three Jung boys talked among themselves before the youngest leapfrogged my bid. I hit right back and the Jung boys did the same; we exchanged body blows, and the older bidders backed off.
I won in the end, and the Jungs took their hats off to me. The hook lowered the catch to the floor, and the net spread. Everyone gasped. There, in the middle of the silver mackerel, was a boy. He was maybe sixteen, naked, blue-skinned and bloated from the water, kelp wrapped in strands about his legs. He must have been dead and floating when the trawler scooped him up.
We looked to one another: me, the Jungs, Taeng, the bidmaster, the fishwives. Eyes darting this way and that. All of us trying to figure how much extra weight the boy had put on the catch, trying to figure how much I was down.
“Lot 442 . . .” The bidmaster said.
“Nothing stops the bid,” Taeng whispered in my ear.
It didn’t occur to me until later to ask if anybody had called the police.
MATTHEW J. HOCKEY recently left a nice, stable, boring job in Northern England to teach elementary English in Seoul, South Korea. Though his days now contain more screaming and snotty noses, he finds it a hell of a lot easier to concentrate on writing. He has previously been published by Shotgun Honey and has short stories upcoming with Thuglit, All Due Respect Magazine, and Comma Press. He can be found most days at facebook.com/MatthewJHockey.
Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:
—Your story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission [email protected] paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Jul 6, 2015
Category: Mondays Are Murder | Tags: Mondays Are Murder, Noir Series, flash fiction, short fiction, Korea, South Korea, Matthew J. Hockey, Fresh Fish, Seoul, Fisheries Wholesale Market, Noryangjin-dong, Dongjak-gu
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