Millard didn’t know much about tropical fish, but he knew enough to know that those piranha should

not be in his hot tub. He was really starting to think his wife hated him. On the bright side, if the gnawed remains of a body floating face-down at his feet was who he thought it was, that wasn’t going to be a problem any more. The shredded tatters of cloth surrounding the corpse in a colorful halo, bright against the weakly pink water, certainly looked like her favorite swimsuit. That would be just like her, to booby-trap the hot tub with killer fish and then fall in. It wouldn’t be the first time she’d tripped over the raised edge and stumbled into the in-ground tub. Donna’s clumsiness had been endearing at first. In fact, it was how they met—she’d tripped running up the steps at a high school basketball game and fallen in his lap. After a while, though, it had started to grate on his nerves, and as the years of their marriage wore on, he looked forward with dread to her next accident. As she stumbled her way through their life together, she’d left behind a trail of shattered plates, dented fenders, broken appliances, and a 55” flat-screen TV with a Wii controller protruding from it like a splinter in a big glass finger. A very expensive finger, one that Millard had looked forward to buying for months. Goddammit, he’d loved that finger. Afterward, always the apology, the rueful grin, that head tilt plus shrug combination that meant, “Hey, that’s life, what are you gonna do?” In the last year, he’d begun to suspect she was doing it on purpose, the tone of that unspoken question changing from a self-deprecating joke to a smug challenge. What are you gonna do about it, huh? But that was all in the past now, as was, apparently, Donna. Down in the cloudy pinkish water, wisps of flesh drifted like ghosts haunting an alien planet. A piranha would occasionally snap at the larger bits, or return to the body to snip off a chunk of meat with a flick of its tail and a snap of its underslung jaws. He was surprised there wasn’t just a skeleton lying in a tangle of bones at the bottom, but then again, he supposed there was only so much that these little fish could eat. Thinking about it made him realize just how much of his knowledge of exotic nature came from cartoons and bad movies, and he felt vaguely stupid. Not stupid enough to load up a hot tub with piranha and then fall in, though, which made him feel better. He wondered what she’d been thinking. Did she honestly believe he wouldn’t notice that the hot tub was full of flesh-eating fish, and just jump right in? Then again, with the jets going, maybe he wouldn’t have seen them. Of course, even assuming the piranha wouldn’t be too terrified by the churning froth of the bubble jets to attack, any sane person would climb the hell out of the hot tub when he felt the first bites. She’d probably gained her knowledge of killer fish from the same horror movies he had, and expected him to be overwhelmed by a writhing mass of teeth that would drag him under before he could escape. Why hadn’t she just climbed out, though? Knowing her, she’d probably hit her head in the fall and knocked herself out. Maybe even drowned before the fish ate enough to kill her. He found himself staring at her corpse, slowly rotating in the water. He was glad he couldn’t see her face, if there was anything left of it. He hadn’t been happy in their marriage, and lately of course he’d come to believe she was just as miserable, but his feelings hadn’t quite graduated to outright hatred. He didn’t feel much emotion, though. Apart from her unmarked back, floating out of the water, the body was a mess, like a badly butchered carcass, exposed tissue pink and grey, stark white bone emerging here and there like rebar exposed by crumbling concrete. It was hard to think of this floating chunk of tattered meat as his wife. Millard supposed he would have to call the police at some point. Thanks to the thick trees along the east and west fences of their yard, the neighbors were unlikely to spot her body. The privacy was great for hot-tub skinny-dipping, but it also meant he was going to have to make the call himself. So much for wandering away for a few drinks to let someone else handle all this.

What would they do with the fish? Did you call Animal Control for something like this? Would the cops just scoop them out and toss them on the lawn to die? Did they need to do fish autopsies to check for... for drugs, maybe? On one of those CSI shows, they would probably do a fish autopsy and detect the exotic poison which had actually been the cause of death, and which was only available in a specific store, where they’d spot the killer on the surveillance footage, but since his wife’s body was right there for testing, that was probably an elaborate waste of time. He realized he was putting off making the call with all these questions, but didn’t care. The thought struck him that most people, upon finding their dead wife floating in a hot tub full of piranha, would not assume that she’d died while laying a bizarre trap for her husband, but rather had been the victim of a particularly twisted serial killer. That might be the case, but dying in her own piranha trap was just so her. With a weary sigh, he dug his cell phone out of his pocket and dialed 9-1-1. This being the suburbs, the call was answered quickly, and a brisk, professional voice asked, “9-1-1, what is your emergency?” He hesitated. He didn’t really have an emergency, as such. The crisis was over. Nothing left now but the long process of cleaning up and straightening everything out. Should he just call the regular police number? The voice interrupted his meandering thoughts, “9-1-1, what is your emergency?” Well, hell. He’d committed to it now, might as well just talk. “Uh, yeah, I, uh... I mean, I found my wife. She’s dead. She’s in the hot tub, dead, I mean. I think... uh, it’s complicated.” Oh man, was this call going to come back to haunt him? He tried to sound bereaved. “I don’t know, some kind of accident? It’s, it’s weird.” The voice came back. “Are you in any danger, sir?” So professional. The voice knew what to do. The voice would make everything all right. He took a few steps back from the hot tub, just in case. No sense both of them accidentally falling in, though it would make a great Internet meme. “No, no, I’m fine. I mean, she’s been dead for a while, I guess? I don’t... I mean, I didn’t check or anything. I wouldn’t know... she’s, just, I don’t know.” Did killers babble like this, or were they cold and collected? He hoped it was the latter, if detectives ever listened to this call. Yeah, Sarge, you shoulda heard him. No way he’s a killer, rambling like that. Kind of a doofus, actually. The operator asked, “OK, sir, what is your address? I’ll dispatch police and an ambulance right away.” He dutifully gave his information, resisting the urge to tell her there was no rush. Not a very bereaved thing to say. In fact, he threw in a request to hurry, hurry please. He even managed to get a hint of tears in his voice. He closed the phone and walked on unsteady legs over to the deck, sitting down with a thump. He still honestly didn’t know how he felt about this. Despite what movies would have us believe, he was aware that serial killers didn’t actually do things like fill hot tubs with piranha and feed defenseless women to them. That left Donna as the fish-wielding would-be killer. Things had been increasingly tense between them for sure, even if he was imagining some of it, but murder? It was easy to imagine her bungling a murder attempt, but making it in the first place? That was a bit much. He slouched down so he couldn’t see her naked back in the hot tub. He wondered how they would identify her with so much flesh eaten away. His eyes widened and he bolted upright. Of course! Grab a blonde with about the same build, club her unconscious, toss her into a hot tub full of piranha, and while they’re eating away all the flesh so the body can’t be identified, you’re jetting off to Cancún to start your new life! It made perfect sense... assuming you were a hack TV writer banging out a script for a buddy cop show. Millard slouched back down.

A hammering on the front door interrupted his ruminations. He hurried across the deck, wrenching the sliding glass door open so hard it nearly jumped out of its track and almost running through the living room. He’d gotten the impression from the news that police enjoyment of kicking down doors had increased substantially as of late, and didn’t want to take any chances. “I’m coming, I’m coming!” he yelled, hoping they could hear it. The hammering resumed as he reached the door, fumbling it open. Two uniformed officers stood on the front porch, hands on their guns. Behind them, two paramedics loaded with gear looked on. He realized he’d forgotten to look bereaved, but decided looking bereaved all of a sudden would be even more suspicious. Jesus Christ, was he ever overthinking this. “Mr. Whittaker?” asked the taller of the two cops, stern eyes peering past him into the house. “Yeah, yes, that’s me. I called you guys. My, uh, my wife, she’s... Donna’s dead.” He swallowed hard and gestured for them to come in. The two cops stepped into the foyer, looking around cautiously. The paramedics stayed on the front porch. “She’s in the backyard, back this way,” Millard said, leading them through the hallway to the living room. The cops followed, the paramedics a few paces behind. Stepping through the back door, Millard suddenly didn’t want to see Donna’s body again, not with police and paramedics around her to make the whole thing look real. He stepped aside, and pointed at the hot tub. “She’s in there. There’s something... uh....” The cops stopped, looking bored more than anything else. Maybe they didn’t think a suburban housewife drowning in a hot tub was worth their time. He imagined they would change their minds soon enough. In the living room, one of the EMTs was inspecting his DVD shelf, head cocked to one side as he read the titles. He wondered if calls like this made them feel like janitors, just fishing a corpse out of the water and bundling it off to the morgue. Not the stuff of action-packed reality television. Well, today was definitely one for the cameras. “It’s just that, there’s....” He heaved a sigh, knowing how this sounded. Get it over with. “Well, there’s piranha in the water. I mean, I think they’re piranha. They ate her, and that’s piranha, right? I mean, they’re not sharks, I can tell that, I’ve seen sharks in the movies, you know? Big fins and all.” He could see in the cops’ eyes that this case had just graduated from “housewife accidentally drowns in hot tub” to “drug-crazed husband drowns wife in hot tub.” He sighed again. “Look, just go check it out. You’ll see.” He gave a feeble wave in the direction of the hot tub. The tall cop took hold of his arm above the elbow, none too gently, but not yet at “come with me, asshole” level. “Why don’t we all go look together, sir, all right?” He wished he could make direct orders sound like friendly questions the way cops did. It would really come in handy at work. He accompanied them all to the hot tub, where they stood in a semi-circle looking down at the pale white island floating in the pink water. The younger paramedic, looking like a teenager seeing his first real-live naked breast, said, “Is that what I think it is?” The short cop leaned over the edge, staring into the murky depths. “There’s fish in there.” With a heroic effort, Millard refrained from rolling his eyes. “Yeah, I know, I... I don’t know what happened. I came home from work and found her there, with the... the fish.” The cop holding his arm let go and stepped to the edge. The two paramedics looked at each other, unsure how to proceed. The older one scratched his head and said, “Do we call Animal Control for this? I mean... fish are animals, right? I’m not sticking my damn hands in there to haul her out.” The other nodded emphatic agreement, his usual response to anything his partner said.

“Fuckin’ fish, man. What the fuck?” This from the short cop, now crouched on the rim of the hot tub, craning to see through the murk. “There’s a couple dozen of the fuckers in there.” The other officer, knowing somebody else’s problem when he saw it, said, “Nobody’s touching anything until crime scene gets here. Everybody step back. Sir, I’m going to ask you to have a seat over there and wait.” He gestured to the deck. Millard was happy to comply with any command that got him away from the hot tub. Bury my head in the dirt? Yes sir, right away, sir. Millard watched from the deck as the forces of law and order maintained a respectful distance from the scene of the crime, but not so far back that they couldn’t get a good look. The tall cop was talking into his radio, presumably calling in reinforcements. Maybe they had a special squad for animal-based deaths. Law & Order: Critter Homicide Unit. The paramedics were alternately pointing at the hot tub, chatting about something he probably was lucky not to be hearing, while the short cop stood on his toes, maybe trying to count fish. Millard put his head in his hands, eyes closed, thoughts churning, and waited for someone to tell him what to do next.

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