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The Chinook Salmon

To catch his fugitives, the Marshal would have to bait a hook - with himself as the fish!

By Eric WolfPublished about a year ago 9 min read
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The Chinook Salmon
Photo by Denley Photography on Unsplash

Society says: Bye-bye to the human, hello to the new animal, but up in the place I had never expected to find myself, I was saying bye-bye to the world. I wanted to stay longer, do what I do, catch them that I still can catch, but these fellows? Bad men, they were; they added up my time, and counted it done.

When I get those case-files with that mysterious watermark, one that none of my coworkers can recognize, I know I am on the trail of un métamorphe, masculin ou féminin — one of my own kind! — no matter where in the U. S. it takes me. My handle is Charlie Lévesque. You may call me Deputy. That’s a smile—

Gruff voice in my ear, belonging, to my head kidnapper, I estimated, spitt-ing as he snarled to his coworker, “Bet he wishes he’d stayed Outside, am I right? Of course, I’m right.” They paused from their task — dragging me across that dirt road, covered in pebbles, making sure I got hit by damned near every one — to catch their breath. “You folks down in the Big Easy ever skip a meal, just for a fellow’s sake? You sure is heavy, Mister Fed-eral.” He didn’t sound too upset.

My captors must have smiled at how easily they took me into their clutches, or how easy I made it for them to do it. Like a jet-lagged old fool, I saunt-ered into their local diner, and spotted the three of them at the far booth, picking over a late breakfast. Frank Zupan was a self-employed automotive mechanic, thirty-five and looking at least ten years older, due to a losing battle against not only alcohol but a known, violent temper. He held court with Wes Sobol, who was twenty-eight, a two-time felon, with barely con-cealed swastika tattoos that he most likely picked up in stir.

Glass of water would be the end to my promising career? That is not a trick of the hand I would have expected to take me out, after so long; out in the field, you see and hear almost every possible show and trap the fugitives muster up to catch us bloodhounds napping. I introduced myself to the pair, and asked a pretty, dark-haired waitress for a cold drink. She shot my new companions a troubled glance, and Sobol signaled an all-right to her, so she brought me a glass of water. Why did she need permission from the two men? I found out.

“What do you know, Zupe? Swear, we thought we might get a nosy Federal, around here, but this looks like a horse of a different color.” Sobol must have thought there might be a risk — that I would forget, that I didn’t look like his version of an Alaskan. Well, he thought wrong. I began to interview them —

Because I am confident, you see? I didn’t know the three were going to drop a sip of something into my glass to help me sleep, and I am not in a profession of trust and forgiveness. United States Marshals cannot be cozy with the general population; when we’re on the hunt, like good hounds, on two legs or on four, we must be vigilant, and prepared to do battle. Woe, for on that summer’s day in nineteen ninety-three, I was neither…

Kalifornsky is the real name of a census-designated place — not a city, town or other incorporated community, just a small self-governing village in southern Alaska. It did not remind me of a Russian version of California. Best that I can recollect, Zupan and Sobol dragged me to the old pickup truck; their waitress, whom Zupan addressed as Marilyn, watched them truss me up like an animal (oh, the irony), and she climbed in with a shotgun.

^^^^

Many years, of chasing down one jumper or runner after another, brought me to a crossroads. Eugenio Vilar must had had enough of seeing me get worn by the load. He was my supervisor at the Baton Rouge office, a fair commanding officer but an excellent field man — he had the hunger for the road, too, only it hadn’t turned him almost blue from exhaustion. “Charlie, check out what’s on your computer,” he suggested with a hard look. He was not a hard man, by his features, but the work hardened anyone. “One of your old favorites, I believe. Hervé Tasse? A Metairie boy, wasn’t he?”

“Oh, yes, Bon-temps Harvey, we used to call him,” I acknowledged.“What’s he gone done this time? Something major? Stole the governor’s hubcaps? Went off with an actress, on rollerskates?” Heard myself sound as tired and useless as I felt. With fifty-eight birthdays behind me, and the fifty-ninth on the near horizon, I was one medical checkup — one job-related injury — away from an unhappy retirement.

I police my speech on the job — confusing witnesses doesn’t help me catch my quarry — so I still translate some of what I say, to those who don’t “pardon my French”. I still think in Creole French, and my brain’s “accent” is approprié, to Louisiana, so at heart, I am a green tree frog (sometimes, in the literal sense) from Atchafayala. None of this served me well, at first, when a runner lit out for the Last Frontier, which earned him a Federal warrant, or so I was told.

“Afraid it’s nothing so enchanting as that,” Gene said, like he would say to one of his children. I had helped train him, when he was coming up, but now, the boy was the Man, c’est vrai. He knew I was one of his best, and what he didn’t know was, I was something more than that. “Seems he lit out, where the wild things go. You’re booked on a flight for Fairbanks, Alaska. Report in after you con-fab with local badges. His playmates up there have expressed a… potent desire to ‘misbehave’ towards the federal government. Ever since Ruby Ridge, and now, Waco, these nuts are starting to worry us. And when he’s connected to the government…”

“Wait a second, daddy. You want me to poke around in Jack London terri-tory?” I yawned, without bothering to conceal said action. Gene was twelve years to the south of my age, but he tried to frown in a disapproving boss-like manner. “I like to have frozen, just thinking about it. Surely they got someone closer.”

“Closer, yes, but not with your knowledge of the suspect. Besides, it will give a top deputy a chance to get in some ‘informal vacation’. Go hunting, Charlie — then, go fishing.” He turned to answer his desk phone. I wanted to argue with him further, but I opened my computer and saw the file — and the watermark. The Society wanted me to fly to Alaska! At least, I wouldn’t have to turn into a bird myself. I knew what Gene meant by hunting. I just didn’t expect to be the one in the crosshairs, which was another sure sign I was getting sloppy, which led me to the back of my kidnapper’s truck.

Followed it up with the worst road trip I had taken in years, over cruel terrain. Zupan and Sobol got me out, looked at me with weird interest, as Marilyn said those few words that changed everything: “Let’s see if he can swim, boys” — to which they were seemed only too pleased to concur, dragging me onto grass, as tall as my knees, towards the waiting Kenai River.

I could more than swim. Even in my human form, I was a strong swimmer — a born swamp creature, like I said. I staggered to my correct footing, and threw the two idiots off of me, and spun off. I could hear the water, rushing past us, the shouts of profane observations from the two, Marilyn urging them not to run, but to walk with care, and I reached the water’s edge and looked down.

^^^^

This wasn’t my hallowed home down in Louisiana. I didn’t think of any green tree frog. I tried to remember what the Chinook salmon, also called the king salmon, looked like… and then, I became one. I flew out of my clothes, and I leapt into the roiling currents below me.

I’ll always wonder what a marvelous astonishment that must have caused them. Must have been almost as shocking to them as the end of this brief swim was to me. I found myself hurtling through the water, leaping above white caps and diving through them again, with other fishes; I did not get familiar with the other contestants, I just wanted to get well clear of three criminals who lacked my shapeshifting abilities. I launched myself again

Something intercepted me, something brown-furred and clawed, and then, it… dropped me onto the opposing side of the river. We’d traveled quite a distance from where I had taken my plunge, but I could still hear Marilyn’s barked exhortations to her confederates. This was a strange sound, but not half so strange as what I heard next. “I’m crushing your head, I’m crushing your head,” someone had borrowed Hervé Tasse’s voice to say. “I love that show.” He was pinching the air with one index finger and one thumb.

He saw fit to laugh, too, at my predicament: I was naked, and soaked to the skin. I had changed back, into my human body. “I went ‘North to the Fu-ture’, but I almost wound up having no future. I figure you know how I feel, right about now.” Harvey was standing just beyond a mass of trees. “I got to hand it to you, Marshal, you are one hell of a swimmer. You know, the Kenai opens out, into the Pacific. You could-a kept right on swimming, mon ami. It must be true what I’ve heard: Shapeshifters stay young, much longer.”

“Maybe so. I’m a freshwater salmon, at heart.” I appreciated his laughter. “You have got some powerful folks looking for you. It don’t pay to make your uncle, or his charming friends — who now live in the White House — pale with worry. I know you didn’t ask to be related to a Congressman, but he is your uncle, and the Society doesn’t like for its members — or their boisterous nephews — to get noticed on that scale. We leave politics for full-time humans.”

“Settle down, Beavis,” Harvey grinned. He was wearing blue jeans and a work shirt, opened to show off his Public Enemy T-shirt, but he was barefooted. “If they’re that worried, tell them, I’m doing my part to lay low. You can’t hide in a more beautiful place than this. I’m not even doing anything illegal, Charles. I’m just having my wild summer, like that kid who died in the abandoned bus, but I can survive out here —”

“And if he can’t, he can always count on me,” I heard Marilyn say, behind me, a moment too late to find cover. She stood a few paces behind me, holding what looked a lot like my clothes, and my belt and holstered gun. “I may be a rotten waitress, but I always have a fellow lawman’s back.” She set down my clothes, and turned her back. Once I had dressed myself, she smiled, and stuck out her hand. “Marilyn Laska, with the ATF. My name is just too perfect for this place, I know; I’ve heard the jokes. You must be Deputy Marshal Lévesque — we were told you were coming. Figured you’d run into Harvey out here. Sorry about that whole act, but I had to get you a good distance away from them. He’s not a suspect, as far as we can tell.”

“Laska? That is too perfect a name, cheri.” I shook my head and checked on my service weapon, ensuring it was still loaded. “Gene Vilar was right.” I turned back to Harvey. “You know about Saint Vincent Ferrer? He’s the patron saint of prisoners and fishermen. He looks after France and Spain, too. I’d say he’s watched over me, good, today — not that I don’t appreciate the help from you two. Is she ‘one of us’, Harve? Au revoir à l’humain, Bonjour au nouvel animal.”

“She’s full-on human,” he said. “She’s just sympathetic to our cause, you might say. I think Marilyn’s needed to get back to her undercover thing.” He could read my troubled expression; the Society gets a sour stomach at the possibility that a lot of normal humans could know our Great Secret — but we also need their help, too, sometimes. "You found me, right? Why don’t you take in some of this gorgeous scenery? Maybe, do a little fishing? You might even meet people you know.” He grinned at the absurdity of that very real possibility.

© Eric Wolf 2022.

[Read more about the Society: https://vocal.media/fiction/the-cape-buffalo.]

SatireMysteryHistoricalFantasyAdventure
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About the Creator

Eric Wolf

Ink-slinger. Photo-grapher. Earth-ling. These are Stories of the Fantastic and the Mundane. Space, time, superheroes and shapeshifters. 'Wolf' thumbnail: https://unsplash.com/@marcojodoin.

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