(On this wonderful Independence Day, I’m back with the final chapter of Operation Catfish! I had a lot of fun with this chapter, and I hope you enjoy reading it. Please let me know how you liked the story as a whole, as I would like to do more of these stories someday (assuming that sports fans continue to be crazy).)
CHAPTER 3 – THE GAME
Blair sat in her car, which was in a parking lot right next to PPG Paints Arena. Per Kenny’s request, she had to stay there until Austin and his catfish were safely inside the building. She tapped her fingers along the steering wheel as she waited for Kenny to call her with the results.
Blair’s phone started ringing, spinning on her thigh. She picked up the phone and held it to her ear.
“Hello?” she asked.
“Bad news,” said Kenny, “the fish got taken away from him. He said that the security guards were being prejudiced against Predators fans.”
“Great.” Blair sighed. “How do we get it in now?”
“Well, thankfully, I bought tickets earlier this year in case we’d need them, and I went ahead and forwarded you an email with one of them in it. Since you aren’t clearly rooting for Nashville – or rooting for Nashville at all -– you should be able to get in without too heavy of inspection.”
Blair sat up. “And as for the fish?”
“They threw it in a dumpster right outside of the arena. You’ll have to get it out of there.”
“So, wait – you’re telling me I have to dumpster dive for this?!”
“I’ll make it up to you, promised.”
Realizing that Kenny’s words could refer to a raise, Blair said, “Deal.” She pulled the key out of her car’s ignition and put it in her skirt’s pocket. “I’ll go get the fish.”
“Thanks Blair, we’re counting on you.” Kenny hung up.
Blair shoved her phone in her other pocket as she got out of her car. She could see the dumpster from where she was standing; it was located a block or so down from the arena. After taking a breath, Blair began walking to the dumpster. It took about two minutes for her to reach the forest green structure that was surrounded by a wooden fence. The woman looked around, making sure there were no security guards nearby, and then went into the enclosed area.
The overwhelming stench of rotten food filled the air as Blair began to scale the side of the dumpster. The container was filled to the top with garbage, rendering the two window-like openings on the front closed. Blair balanced on the outer wall of the giant metal bin while she looked down at the rubbish beneath, in search of Austin’s catfish. On the opposite side of the pile laid the fish, still inside the freezer bag that it had been put in earlier.
Blair stepped down from the top of the structure and started to walk across the garbage to the other side. As she walked, her legs sunk into the waste below. Blair curled her lip, resisting the urge to vomit as the odor increased. Upon making it to the other side, she quickly threw her arm out and grabbed the fish. Blair started to turn around, sinking further into the trash as she did so. All that was left was to make it back to the other side. Blair took one step further, causing her to sink down to her shoulders. She looked down, groaning at her body being nearly completely covered in garbage. It wasn’t the slightest bit pleasant for Blair.
Blair’s head shot upward upon hearing the noise. There was no light coming from above. It only took a moment for Blair to realize that the door on the top of the dumpster had been shut.
“No. . . ,” Blair muttered, her eyes widening and her mouth falling open.
As she stood there in the complete darkness, Blair wondered of her fate. Was the dumpster about to be taken away? Was she going to be thrown into the back of a garbage truck, and driven off to some landfill? Would she never be able to get the catfish back to Austin, failing her assignment, ultimately resulting in an unhappy client, and possibly costing Blair her job? She leaned sideways, her arm right arm bumping into the wall of the dumpster.
“Wait,” Blair thought, as she moved her arm along the wall.
To her side were the two square doors that were shut. Realizing that they could be opened, Blair turned to her right and placed both of her arms on the door that was in front of her. With all the force she could muster, Blair pushed forward.
The door swung open, sending both Blair and some of the garbage flying. Leaning out of the dumpster, her hips hanging on the sharp metal edge of the opening, Blair gasped for air, her face lighting up with joy as she acknowledged her freedom. She pulled her legs over the wall, and jumped out from the dumpster, the catfish in her hand. After quickly dusting her hands off, Blair ran out of the fence and sprinted towards her car, hoping that no one noticed her.
Once she reached her car, Blair knelt down, out of breath. The running had used up what seemed to be the last of her already depleted energy. She propelled herself back up using the side of her car as a support. As she stood straight, Blair looked at her reflection in the shiny, red metal.
She was covered in debris of the dumpster; her previously paper-white shirt was covered with dirt, and multiple stains adorned Blair’s skirt.
“Well, there goes my boots,” she said as she looked down at her soiled and scuffed thigh-highs. “Didn’t even get to have them for a year.”
Thankfully, Blair was well-prepared in the case of such an incident. She clicked her keys to unlock her car, and opened the hatch. Folded neatly in a small tote bag was a change of clothing that she had packed back at the beginning of her job, when she was told of the circumstances old Eastwood Company employees had to endure. After she started working, Blair didn’t think she would ever need the spares, but she never bothered to remove them from her car. She was eternally thankful that she didn’t, as she closed the hatch and jumped inside the car to change.
After taking off her dirtied clothing and spraying on liberal amounts of strongly scented body spray, only one task remained for Blair: getting the catfish to Austin. Despite its mucky condition, Blair grabbed her work vest and laid it open on her lap. She leaned across the car and opened her glove box, grabbing a roll of duct tape out of it. Blair placed the catfish on the lining of the vest, and taped it down, keeping it in place. She then got out of the car, slipping the vest on herself and fastening its buttons. She was now ready to enter the arena.
Blair walked up toward the building. She hoped that she didn’t stand out from the crowd in the sea of gold that surrounded her. It was simple enough for her ticket to get verified; the lady at the ticket counter simply scanned the ticket off of Blair’s phone, and gave her a physical copy. All that Blair had to do now was get through security, which was much more of a concern.
The woman gulped as it became her turn to get checked. First up was the metal detector, which was easy. Besides her keys and phone, which were placed on a tray, Blair had no metal on her. Then, it was the physical inspection. Blair clenched her sweaty hands as the security guard did the usual security check of patting his hands along her, checking for anything that felt off.
“You’re good to go,” said the guard.
“Thank you,” Blair replied.
Finally, Blair was inside the arena. The place was flooded with hockey fans; most of the people around were wearing some sort of team merchandise. Blair looked around, trying to find Austin.
“I’m over here!” hollered a familiar voice.
Blair turned in the direction of the noise to see Austin waving at her. She ran over to where the man was standing.
“Did you get it in?” he asked.
Blair took off her vest, handing it to Austin. “It’s right here.”
Austin took a moment to look at the inside of the vest, and then returned his gaze to Blair. “Do you want this back?”
Blair started to look down at the shirt she had on. While getting dressed, she never looked at what was printed on her tee, as it was promptly covered by her vest. As she slowly shifted her gaze towards her shirt, Blair hoped that she wouldn’t need to take her filthy vest back.
“Uh.” Blair was surprised to see the logo of the Pittsburgh Penguins on her tee, opposed to some embarrassing high school’s. Content with her apparel, she replied with, “Nah, you can keep it. Have a good game!”
Blair walked away from Austin, waving at him as he disappeared from her sights. Once she found a semi-secluded space, she pulled out her phone and dialed up Kenny.
“Did you get it to him?” answered her boss.
“Yep,” Blair replied. “Almost died, but I got it to him.”
“That’s great and – wait, how did you almost die?”
“I’ll talk to you about it later. I’m currently holding a Stanley Cup ticket, I think I’m going to go watch this game.”
“Have fun, then,” Kenny replied, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Talk to you then, Kenny.”
Blair hung up the phone, and made her way towards where the seats were, holding her ticket in front of her. She took her seat upon finding it, and looked down at the arena. Sitting on the other side of the section was Austin, holding Blair’s vest in his lap. She took note of his location, and then looked away.
As the game began, Blair’s eyes were glued to the illuminated rink. She had never imagined she’d get to see her team playing in the Stanley Cup in front of her eyes. Just like the rest of the Pittsburgh fans in the arena, Blair cheered for the team as they skated along the rink, their names being announced through the speaker. Then, out of the corner of her eye, Blair saw it happen: Austin hurled the catfish over the protective glass and onto the ice. Blair smiled as she watched him do so, knowing that she helped create such a happy moment. She then went back to cheering on her own team as security entered the section.
Blair stayed at the game until the third period ended, which was near eleven ‘o clock. She was happy as she made the walk back out to her car; Pittsburgh came out with a win. More importantly, however, Blair was happy that she fulfilled Austin’s wish. While the security guards had him promptly kicked out, Blair knew that the moment would find a place in Austin’s mind as one of his happiest memories. The process to create that moment might not have been pretty, but every minute of it was worth the joy it brought. And that’s why Blair Winslow would say that May 29th captured the essence of her job: it was a perfect example of the hard work that goes into fulfilling the wildest dreams of sports fans nationwide.