The Mermaid Case

 

The moonlight shadows on the water trembled slightly, shivered by the pre-dawn breeze. “Not too fast, Eochaid. Not too fast. Wait for the wind to be still,” whispered Fintan.

My wet fingers were numb. I had a frozen snot stalactite forming on the end of my nose. “What are you whispering for, you daft old bodach,” I said, trying to stop my teeth from chattering. The icy water wanted about three inches before it would come fountaining over the top of my waders. It would probably drown me, or worse, let Fintan rescue me. He stood about 6’2″ in his bare feet and dirty white robe, so the water would be barely up to his underwear, if he ever actually wore any. I could always hope it would freeze his testicles off, and save me a lot of trouble in future. But I knew from bitter past experience I wouldn’t be that lucky.

“The fish feel the vibrations. And the king is older and wiser than all of them. It’s him I need,” whispered Fintan, his tone as tranquil as the sway of those robes in the river. Fintan doesn’t do waders. And he’s enough of a fish not to feel the cold. “He’s the only one that right for my working. The magic needs it.”

“It’s not just because you’re a poacher born, Fintan,” I muttered stepping forward cautiously into the ooze underfoot. “Alby’s fish market sells king salmon for seven dollars a pound, which would do for the spell and your fish dinner.”

It was full moon and I could see Fintan’s teeth gleam out of the acres of tangled face-lichen he calls a beard. “The magic is in the hunt, and in the blood in water. You want to find her, don’t you?”

I did. “That’s my job,” I growled stepping forward again, foot sinking slightly deeper, forcing me to stand on tip-toe… and there, half hidden by the slow swirl of dark water weed, the pattern of spots separated the great fish from the pebble bottom. I began to ever so glacially slowly raise the spear, tensing. And behind me, Fintan Mac Bochra, seer, shape-changer and magician, advisor to Kings and called the wise, began the chant for the living and the dead. Finally he said: “Get on with it, boyo.”

I plunged the spear downward, and, in a flash of silver and thrashing water, I pulled the fish up on the barbs. Blood dripped on the water…. and flowed upstream against the current, forming rune-letters in the old tongue. Nothing simple of course. It never was.

“You have your pointer, Eochaid,” said Fintan, “And I’ll have my breakfast,” he said gleefully, plucking the big rainbow trout off my spear.

“Let’s just get away from the Fish and Game boys first,” I said, heading toward the reedy bank, pointing at the bobbing torch coming towards us at a run.

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