It Otter Be Illegal


“We’re all dressing as Thanos,” he said. Like an idiot, I asked him to repeat the answer, just to be sure I’d heard right. Was he really talking about a villain from the Marvel Comics movies?

“Baby Thanos. Mama Thanos. And…”

I cut him off. “Papa Thanos. I got it. Just sounds stupid.  Keep paddling, man. I’m freezing my ass off out here.”

Ernesto cast me a dejected look. We were side by side in our two red kayaks off Moss Landing and we couldn’t see shit. I angled close to him to get a picture of the corpse on his bow, promising Ernesto I’d blur his face before texting it to Carlos. We paddled away from the beach, further into Monterey Bay, not that we could see it.

“You’re no fun, man. Don’t you like Halloween?”

The fog was thick as pea soup. Of course I wasn’t in a fun mood. I took pics like I was told, making sure Carlos would see the rope tied to the dead man’s ankles. We’d tied the other end to two cinder blocks at Ernesto’s feet. I understood the hit, sure, but Carlos and his flair for the dramatic made no sense to me.

“Why you suppose he wants us to sink the poor bastard?” I asked Ernesto. “We put a bullet in his head. Why couldn’t we just bury him in a field?”

Ernesto kept paddling. He sailed more weight than me, so it took him longer to get his glide on. It was like we were the only two people in the Bay. “He likes to send a message to his dealers, that’s why. You steal a cut from Carlos; you die in a bad way.”

“This is just stupid. Keep going, man. We need to be further out. Don’t want him washing up.”

Ernest lifted his paddle from the still sea, suddenly afraid. “Hold up. You see that?”

“See what?” But then I did see it. A black shape darted toward us. A second later it emerged. A damn sea otter. It shot itself out of the water and landed right onto Ernesto’s bow.

He nearly choked on his own spit. “Holy shit! Get it off!”

“Take it easy!” I reached behind me for my pistol and watched the otter settle right on top of the corpse near Ernesto’s boots, its big black eyes scanning the sea. It couldn’t care less about the kayak’s pilot. “It won’t hurt you,” I said. “I read about otters doing this sometimes when there’s danger in the water.”

“My heart is pounding!” Ernesto laid his paddle in his lap, sucked in a calming breath, and smiled nervously at his passenger. “Never seen one this close. It’s right on top of Manuel; like it doesn’t even care it’s on a dead dude. Quick! Take a picture for Carlos before it jumps off.”

I put my gun away and grabbed the phone again. The otter kept scanning the gray water, its whiskers twitched just inches above Manuel’s dead eyes.

Ernesto started to laugh. “Add this to the text. Tell him it otter be illegal. Get it? It otter be…”

He didn’t get a chance to finish the rest. Next thing I knew the kayak flipped over. The man, the corpse, and the otter went into the drink at the same time. I saw what looked like a giant black fin dip beneath the craft in a fury of whitewash. Definitely wasn’t the otter. This was huge. The wake crashed against my kayak, making me drop the phone in my lap. Not a single thing surfaced, but I didn’t wait around long. I left Ernesto’s kayak to float upside down on its own and got a safe distance away. My body felt hot and flushed. My hands wouldn’t stop shaking.

“Ernesto? Hey, you out there?” I got no answer.

Manuel had to have sunk like a two-ton anchor. Who knows about Ernesto? Could be his last words were a stupid otter joke. Could be he got ate by whatever that big dark fin belonged to. Could be he drowned.

One thing I knew for certain. There’d be one less Thanos on October 31st.

~ fin ~

P Whitehurst headshot

Patrick Whitehurst writes fiction and nonfiction, the latter of which includes the books Haunted Monterey CountyMurder and Mayhem in Tucson and the forthcoming Eerie Arizona. He’s written three Barker Mysteries novellas and his short stories have appeared in Punk NoirShotgun HoneyHoosier NoirMystery TribunePulp ModernGuilty Crime Story FlashDark Dossier, and elsewhere. He’s been featured in the anthologies Bitter ChillsWild Violence and recently in Trouble in Tucson. Find him online at