Smells Fishy

By Ruben Horn

“Moin!” the jolly woman greets me with this common northern German salutation, as I step up to the counter of her fish shack.

“Ein Bismarck-Brötchen… bitte!” I do my best to order my favorite, a Sauerlappen as they are also called, in her language. The woman with a short black tomboy haircut wearing a white apron smiles at me through her aviator frames.

“Sie sind Engländer? Sorry… you’re from England?” she asks, over-pronouncing consonants in typical German fashion. Relieved not having to further embarrass myself, I accept the offer to switch languages.

“I am.”

“Are you here on vacation?” she asks as I watch her assemble herring and raw onions into a sandwich while I freeze my butt off in the icy, salty December wind. Why anyone would want to vacation to the North Sea coast, let alone Schlüttsiel in winter, I will never understand. If any of the few dozend tourists at the Dagebüll ferry port had chosen a tropical island instead, they would have been spared the sight of a girl floating face down next to the pier.

“Actually I’m with the police.”

“Ooh…” she stops mid-realization, “and why investigates you exactly zis?”

“Long story–”

The six-hour drive had been predictably pointless. Local police seemed eager to confirm the stereotype of German bureaucrats. My friend Antje promised me that the coast guard would sweep the shallow waters come high tide. I pull a photograph showing a young couple and their two kids from my coat.

“Hoppla…” My fish jumps out of the sandwich and flops onto the counter. “Sorry, I do zis only since a few days.” The mother and teenage daughter in the picture have long, straight hair, while father and son have a short trim. All are blond and gray-eyed and dressed unremarkably. Standing shoulder to shoulder in two rows with straight, unsmiling faces, they give off an almost Victorian aura.

“This family from Norwich has been missing for a few months now. They were on vacation in The Hague. Last time somebody saw any of them was in Groningen… the father… two weeks ago.” Her smile fades. “You haven’t seen them check in at any vacation home or ferry, have you?” I add with an awkward smile. Some part of me feels bad for ruining the mood with this heavy topic, yet I desperately hope that by some miracle this woman knows something I don’t.

“Do you zink zat zey killed zeir daughter? Or… zat zey all are dead?”

“He’s a real prick!” I blurt out. “Been trying to get at him for years. Always locked his family away when people came. Never been able to talk to the wife or kids. Neighbors rumored he forced her to have ’em. Supposedly, he also threatened to feed his wife to the fishes multiple times. If I have to be honest, I expected to find her face down in the water.  Don’t have much hope for the wife and son now.”

I’m talking too much. I stop. My gaze drifts away from the takeaway on the dyke over the calm sea. Three fishing boats gently rock in the water. The middle one’s fishing nets are not hauled in and are hanging into the depth below.

“Here you go,” the woman finally disturbs my daydream to hand me my sandwich in a plastic bag, “four euro, please!” I pull out my phone, but she shakes her head. “Sorry–” I forgot. Germany. Cash only.

“Oh,” ashamed, I pull a five pound note out of my pocket, “I’ve only got this.”

“Haha… zat is O-K.” She laughs and rummages in a drawer before presenting a one pound coin. I smile and we finalize the transaction.

It’s a rental, so I don’t mind putting the half-eaten, smelly fish on the passenger seat. For a moment, I contemplate driving to Tønder today to light a fire under Danish investigators, before deciding to call it a day and head for a hotel in Flensburg.

I’m almost half way there, just about to turn on federal road 200, when it hits me. I slam on the break and stare at the fish bun riding shotgun, ignoring the angry honk of the car swerving from behind to avoid crashing into me.

The flat streets of Schleswig-Holstein and my heightened pulse let me shave a few minutes off the drive back, although I almost fly of the road while texting Antje: “suspect mother. Come schluettsiel”

I’m panting slightly as I arrive at the top of the dyke. The fish shack is deserted. I walk down the other side of the dyke towards the three boats that still sway there. Stopping in front of the middle one, I take a deep breath and draw my service weapon. Something hits my head and everything goes dark.

It is the cold that wakes me up. The freezing wind that is now ten times as strong as before. I hear the splashing below. I open my eyes. She smiles at me from the deck of the boat, speeding along at maybe seven knots. No glasses. No apron.

“Well done, inspector!”, she is definitely Norfolk, “but I’m afraid I’m not ready to face up to what I had to do… not yet.” Cold eyes still on me, she pulls the lever to lower me into the sea. Before I am overcome by the cold, I notice the lifeless figures of a man and a boy, strapped to the nets, being submerged. Then, salty water fills my lungs.


I cough and spit onto the deck of the police boat.

“Haha, that’s right… let it all out!” Antje laughs as she hands me a blanket. “You’re lucky. We were almost up to Sylt when I got your text.”

“Too bad the nutjob already got to her family.” I growl.

Antje nods and hands me a soggy printout with the address of a mental institute in Flensburg. “…was in his jacket.”

Then, we silently watch her boat being tugged to Schlüttsiel.

Bio: Ruben Horn is a computer science student from Germany, currently living in the Netherlands. Recently, he has started to write short fiction (mostly SciFi) and poetry in order to exercise his creativity. His stories/poems have been published in the Dark Stars anthology,, Aphelion Webzine and The Sirens Call eZine.

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