Fish Out of Water - By Ros Baxter

Chapter One

The Beginning and The End of Days

Day One

Mermaids don’t wear nicotine patches. They don’t drink Southern Comfort from a hip flask, inhale Twinkies or watch Dr Phil. Mermaids don’t pack heat. And mermaids definitely don’t get their hearts broken by tattooed guys who look like pirates. In fact, mermaids have always been kinda down on pirates... but that’s another story. The cardinal rule is this: mermaids don’t live in bone-dry frontier towns. Ever.

But here’s the thing. Me, I don’t leave home without my patches, hip flask and Glock. My last moment of true moderation was back in kindergarten, when I stopped myself from using my awesome strength to rip Jamie Kennedy’s pecker off when he waved it at Julie Casey in the bathroom and made her cry. And don’t even start me on my penchant for pirates.

But I am, in fact, a mermaid. So go figure.

Well, technically, Mom’s folks call themselves Aegirans, and they don’t sprout tails, but they’re the closest thing to mermaids under the sea. And, as much as it used to hurt, I’m what they call a dirt-dweller, seeing as Mom was a runaway, Dad’s Sicilian and we live on The Land.

But not for long. You see, I’ve only got three weeks to live. Give or take.

As Aldus and I pulled up on Main Street and started to separate the spectators from their lascivious interest in their first honest-to-goodness corpse, I reminded myself that there was a little wriggle room. The Seer said I’ll die on my thirtieth birthday unless I can “change the course of destiny and save the world entire”.

Somehow I just don’t like my chances.

I’ve seen some wild stuff in my time and I know there are some things in life that just can’t be avoided. Death. Decay. The sticky fingers of destiny. Believe me, even if you could disrupt destiny, I’m not going to be the one to do it. I never even managed an A in math.

So, three weeks. And the countdown was ticking relentlessly in my brain.

I might be a cop, but I’m no Rambo. I’ve seen enough bodies to know being dead sucks. Just the thought of it makes me feel all tingly and need to take some deep breaths so I don’t have some girly meltdown. You see, I don’t cry. Not me. Too much depends on me being in control.

As I stopped Craig Henshaw from taking photos of the corpse with his iPhone, I reminded myself my own problems were pretty much beside the point. You know, mer-stuff. Impending death. Saving the world (entire). Only three things mattered right now.

One. I was staring at a spookily familiar dead blonde.

Two. I’d just taken a God-sized swig from my hip flask.

And three, I was wishing I’d worn a second nicotine patch for good measure, despite those warnings on the box about not double-patching.

“You know what really sucks?”

I could tell Aldus, the Sheriff and my boss, didn’t really care what I thought. He certainly didn’t care about the incessant ticking nagging at the back of my brain, counting down the seconds to my doom. Not because he was insensitive, but because he didn’t know. All Aldus knew was that it was Poker Night and it was as hot as death and he was wondering how the hell he was going to explain to the Dirtwater Beautification Committee why he had to put yellow tape around a dead blonde right at the “Welcome to Dirtwater” end of Main Street on the first night of the Dirt Wrestling Festival. My Mom, the Mayor, is also Chair of the Beautification Committee, and he’s been trying to get into her pants for twelve years.

Ever since my Dad, his best friend, got locked up in the county jail.

Some of which probably explains why he forced out a grunt of interest. “Wha’?”

I looked again at the blonde, her perfect tresses the color of moonbeams, and shook my head. Clucked my tongue a couple of times. “Highlights like that don’t come cheap.”

Aldus shot me a sidelong look that could’ve snap-chilled a beer. I knew what he was thinking: Chick cops, worrying more about hair stuff than the stiff. But he was wrong. My mouth was all gummy and my tummy was doing cartwheels. I looked again at the dead girl and realized I was going to dream about her for longer than Aldus would even remember her face, shocked and frozen in a moment of violence.

Well, for three weeks, at least.

Tick, tick, tick.

I’d been thinking a lot lately.