Puff, Puff, Pass by Angel Luis Colón

Rock bottom.

Addicts talked about that, but shoplifters?

My rock bottom—or so I thought—was walking out of an adult video store with a stolen rubber fist firmly up my ass.

I rarely kept what I stole. Usually threw the items away or gifted them. Wasn’t like I shoved everything up my ass on the regular. I’d crafted multiple means of smuggling items out of stores: coats with secret pockets, custom pants, a prosthetic hunchback, even special boots with hollow soles.

The rubber fist was a low point, though. I couldn’t sit for a few days without the use of my mother’s hemorrhoid pillow and she was getting suspicious.

“How’d that interview go?” my mother asked.

“Good.” I nodded to my closet where an unworn suit hung. “Need to go to the dry cleaner soon.”

“We owe three months in back rent.”

Great. Real money. Shoplifting rarely net a big score unless I stole something like jewelry or electronics. Reselling was easy, but I needed to go big if I had any hope of pulling in three months of rent.

Those options a bust, I went to my bucket list of things I wanted to steal. There was the copier at my old job, a mannequin, those little things they used to keep pizzas from slipping in the box, and animals.

Wait. People paid good money for exotic pets.

That pet needed to be small and capable of handling a few minutes of stress. Normal-sized mammals were easily obtained. Birds were loud. Nobody cared about lizards.

That left one answer: fish.

There were plenty of aquarium fish that sold for crazy money. Ten minutes on Google and I found one going for $10K called a boxfish, a cousin to the puffer fish. Five more minutes and I found a store that had them in stock.

How would I steal it? Bagging would be too time-consuming. Taking a whole tank was insane. It was summer, so long pants or a big coat were out.

Maybe pull a fire alarm as a distraction? Too risky.

My best strategy would be to scoop the fish from the tank and transfer it to a container in my car.

I practiced my catching skills with my mother’s goldfish. I cased my target for two days. The shop’s name was Reef Encounters. Just a single employee named Bob who did more daydreaming than work.

 I made a list of what I’d need: a bucket, saltwater, my mother’s car, and a butt plug—that rock-bottom moment may have awakened something.

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A week, a shiny new butt plug, and three goldfish funerals later, I was ready.

I stood outside the store, took a deep breath, and walked in. It was approximately 72 steps to the tank. The walk to the tank went perfect; another customer had Bob’s attention. I plunged my hand into the open tank, grabbed my target, cupped the fish with both hands, and booked it to the front door.

Ten steps from the door I realized I had to pull it open. The next five steps were panicked, the next four inspired when I put the fish into my mouth to get out of the store unencumbered.

I ran to the parking lot, the weight of the fish on my tongue and my head spinning.  I dove into my car. My lips felt numb. I lunged towards the container I had ready and opened my mouth to let the fish out.

It was stuck.

The fish felt larger than before, inflated. My mind raced. Boxfish didn’t expand in duress.

Oh no.

I’d taken a puffer and the toxic fucker expanded in my mouth. That explained the lightheadedness and tightness in my throat. I reached into my mouth to get a grip on the fish and pulled. A hard yank and it came out, landing on my lap covered in spit and blood. It gasped for air.

I gasped back. There was knocking outside and Bob’s voice, but I didn’t have the energy to turn my head. Could only fight to breathe as my throat closed. As my limbs went heavy. As I remembered the plug up my ass once my muscles went slack.

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