Blair Kroeber, author of Remora, is a Los Angeles-based screen and fiction writer whose previous short fiction credits include Thuglit, Shotgun Honey, Looking Glass Magazine and the Mulholland Books genre fiction website Popcorn Fiction.
Their first two mornings on the beach, Capricorn hadn’t much spoken. But here on the third, she turned to Rudy from the driver’s seat of her fully trimmed Chevy Malibu and addressed him.
“Sometimes, for the empire to maintain, a prince has got to storm the throne, take control.” She lay slumped in the palm of the car seat, the lids of her eyes only barely parted. “That’s how we came to be here, understand me?”
Capricorn, as the rumors told it, had no more than a ninth-grade education, and yet she often spoke like this, as if she were quoting wisdom from ancient texts. She was prismatic, unexpected. She rubbed Florida water onto the jambs of the doors where she lived. She wore strange-colored makeup–modeled after Cleopatra, people said–and she had hair the color of motor oil, a rich black that shimmered with iridescent tones under light.
Rudy, barely seventeen, sat lacing and unlacing his fingers. Both of them were peering ahead to where old Papa Vin, stooped on account of the herniated disk in his L4, had initiated his regular morning stroll, shuffling along the paved ocean walk and onto the beach. Three consecutive days, they had come here to surveil the former boss, all at the behest of his sons, and now a spectral fog, low-lying and fast, had come creeping across the tidewaters, teeming over the sand like an invading horde. It was turning the air to milk.
Capricorn again: “And whenever new leadership comes to preside, they can’t have the old chieftains peeking over their shoulder. You got to close one book before opening the next, see? It’s the natural order, like how a tundra wolf will eventually challenge the alpha for dominance.”
She lingered a beat, scanning the beachfront parking lot they had utilized as their surveillance post these several mornings. That freaky mist, it came rolling across the Chevy, engulfing the vehicle, the sunlight burning down in such a way that the cottony tendrils seemed to glow with their own infernal light.
“Popes and kings, they gotta die. Papa’s no different.”
Capricorn was a top-tier operator. According to whispers, she had toiled under Papa Vin for a dozen years, spearheading his pill-shilling enterprise throughout the northeastern quadrant of L.A. But when his two eldest boys began angling to seize the helm of the outfit, she had cleanly swapped her allegiance. Adapting to survive, like every creature under heaven.
“Know how I been saying we’d know our opportunity when it came? Well, this is it.” She folded her arms over the steering wheel, flicking her head toward the glowing fog writhing beyond the windshield. “We gotta make our move, exploit these conditions. There’s no such thing as coincidence: this is a sign from across the veil.” She spoke plainly, methodically, as if reciting lines from holy writ.
Rudy fidgeted against the passenger seat. “How you wanna do it, then?”
“Know how I been saying we’d know our opportunity when it came? Well, this is it.”
“You know Papa from the neighborhood. He thinks you’re a lamb. You roll up, tell him Lombard sent you, tell him you need to chat.”
“Why not you?”
The question didn’t ruffle her. Her lips–painted lavender–twitched, almost imperceptibly, but her expression remained unbothered. “It’ll put him on alert if it’s me.”
Rudy wanted to get it done for her, and yet the tethers of his old loyalty held him fast. That, and another thing: He’d never dropped anyone before. He didn’t mention that second part, of course.
“Thing is, I’ve known Papa as long as I can remember,” Rudy said. “He used to buy me soft pops from the ice cream truck.”
“You’re faithful, I get it,” Capricorn said. “But you should know what the sons call you. They got a nickname.”
“Hold up. I never heard of any nickname.”
“That’s on purpose. They use it when your back’s turned.”
“What is it?”
Capricorn left him dangling a second or two, the hot mist clambering about the sedan. Her eyes went drowsy, as if she were utterly indifferent to the outcome of all this. “They call you ‘Remora’,” she said at last.
“It’s a type of fish. It latches onto sharks, trails alongside them. You know how the Remora survives?”
Rudy didn’t. He gave a headshake.
Only gradually did he unlatch his gaze from Capricorn and send it roving back to the stooped old gentleman on the sand, now a vague purple shape in the nethersphere.
“It eats the feces of the host animal. You know what I mean by ‘feces’?”
“Well… so that’s your nickname with the new honchos.”
The boy squirmed in his seat, gutted by the revelation.
Capricorn tilted her head, watching that weirdo fog swaddle the vehicle. They would lose all visibility soon.
“You’re more than just some suck-up to the old man, yeah?” she said. “Well then, prove it. To the sons. To all of us.”
Rudy cooked a second. Only gradually did he unlatch his gaze from Capricorn and send it roving back to the stooped old gentleman on the sand, now a vague purple shape in the nethersphere.
“So which way is it gonna go?” Capricorn said.
Rudy passed another instant in rapt consideration.
His fingers quit their lacing and unlacing. They flexed tight.
He pumped open the passenger-side door.
Capricorn observed, barely stirring.
The boy, prowling ahead, reached back to his drop piece, thumbed off the safety. The mist lay so dense he lost all sense of himself, a ghost in the thickets.