Two days later Piccolo drove to Falls River, Massachusetts for a meeting with Milt Lowe, president of Marine Transport Services. The four hour trip gave him a lot of time to think about what he and Tillitson had learned from biologist Frank McClosky. The idea that the shark may have been transported now opened up the possibility that someone was involved in bringing the shark to the lake. The big question was why? Why would someone want to maim or possibly even kill people in Arrowhead Lake? What could their motive possibly be?
But then again, according to McClosky no one was even sure that a Bull Shark, even though it had the best chance among the species, could survive very long once it was put in fresh water. So if the shark had been transported, someone had to know it would survive. And again, according to McClosky, no one knew that.
He and Tillitson had decided that the next step was to investigate whether one of the two companies McClosky mentioned had brought a shark to the lake. A computer rundown of the two principles of Marine Transport, Bruce Talbot and Milt Lowe, came up dry in terms of any past criminal records. Both men were clean.
Piccolo had reached Lowe yesterday and set up a two o’clock appointment. It was just a few minutes before that when he pulled into the company yard. Parked against a chained link fence was a large tanker; a sixteen wheeler that had to be forty feet long. It was bigger than any he had ever seen, with a large sphere tank section rather than the typical cylinder. The truck was polished from end to end and the aluminum tank glistened in the sunlight. Piccolo got out of his car and walked around it, noting a number of hatches on the top with ladders leading up to them and numerous interconnecting pipes along the sides. It was clear this was a sophisticated piece of equipment designed to handle a complex and delicate task.
As he moved around the far side of the truck, he practically ran into a man coming from the other side. “Hello I’m Milt Lowe,” he said glancing at Piccolo’s uniform, “you must be Sheriff Piccolo.”
“Yes,” Piccolo said extending his hand. Lowe was a lanky guy wearing an open denim shirt along with neatly pressed jeans. He had a friendly smile that broadened when he glanced back at the truck. “Saw you from the office admiring our transporter here.”
“Very impressive,” Piccolo said.
“It has to be, the sharks and other fish we move around all suffer trauma while they’re out of their element, so this thing is really an intensive care unit on wheels.”
“How far can you take a shark with it?” Piccolo asked getting right to the point.
“We took a ten foot tiger shark three hundred miles; about a nine hour trip for us,” Lowe said seemingly proud of the accomplishment. “Went from Bangor, Maine to Norwalk Aquarium in Connecticut.”
“Seems like a long way to take a shark and still have him alive on the other end,” Piccolo said. He needed to have an idea of how it was done and felt that would get Lowe going. It did.
“Well it’s a delicate operation to say the least,” Lowe said eager to provide an explanation. “The shark has to be sedated with hydrochloride in combination with xylazine through a pole injector. Then it’s hoisted in a sling to the back of the transporter and put into the tank where there’s a second sling.” Lowe moved to the back of the truck and pointed out a larger circular door that Piccolo hadn’t noticed. “Once the shark is in, we pump in saline water that has to be at an exact temperature and constantly circulated during the trip. The shark is wired with electrodes that monitor it’s heart and other vital functions all the while. Ice is added to the water periodically to cool it.”
“So you need some highly qualified people caring for the shark,” Piccolo said trying to steer the conversation toward price.
“Oh yeah,” Lowe replied. “These guys are as qualified or more than the EMT people you get to rush you to the hospital. Their specialization makes for very few of them.”
“So what’s the biggest problem in transporting?” Piccolo asked.
“That the shark is immobilized but still able to make swimming movements,” Lowe replied. “ Sharks use their swimming muscles to pump blood through their bodies rather than relying solely on their small inefficient hearts. The flow of that blood, which must be highly oxygenated, slows if the animal stops swimming depleting oxygen to the brain.”
“When sharks stop swimming,” Lowe continued, “ they start to crash psychologically. It’s a lot like a person having a heart attack. So they have to be monitored closely and you have to be ready with lifesaving drugs. Plus,” he said opening up the rear door of the tank, “our sling enables the shark to move his rear fin so at least he’s partially swimming.”
Piccolo looked inside and saw the sling, a series of half foot wide straps on pulleys. He also noted the depth markings on the walls that indicated the tank held six feet of water. “Why is the tank round?” he asked turning to Lowe.
“Because the shark moves even inside the sling. There can’t be any angled edges for it to hit while the truck is moving.”
“You guys have just about everything figured out.”
“Well when you’re taking marine life out of its element, it’s a risky thing and you have to not only know how to do it but be prepared for just about anything.”
“Someone apparently knew how to do it and got a shark into Arrowhead Lake,” Piccolo said shaking his head.
“How, I really don’t know,” Lowe said closing the rear port of the tanker. “But why don’t you come into my office and we’ll talk about it.” He gestured to a small gray shingled building that looked like it had been freshly painted in contrast to the typical weather beaten gray look of the buildings around it.
Inside Piccolo and Lowe sat on opposite sides of a heavy wooden desk filled with neatly arranged folders. A mounted shark on the side wall stared down on them. “We always tell our customers that’s the one that didn’t make it,” Lowe said offering Piccolo coffee which he accepted.
Piccolo told him the whole story about the shark in Arrowhead. He began with the first attack and ended with a rundown of his call to McClosky with his suggestion that the shark could have been transported. Lowe listened politely, asked few questions and finally said, “Well I’ll tell you one thing, Sheriff, we didn’t bring it there if that’s what you came up here to ask.”
“I didn’t think so,” Piccolo answered, “but I wondered if you had any thoughts on who might have.”
Lowe leaned back in his chair fiddling with the end of a ball point pen clicking it in and out. “Well like McClosky told you there’s Peterson Transport in Orlando and they aren’t about to transport a shark twelve hundred miles,” he said. “Besides Bill Peterson and I have an agreement not to invade each other’s territory. He never has and neither have I. Both of us have enough business to keep us happy. And I gotta tell you, Peterson would never do that. He’s a straight up guy. No way.”
Piccolo nodded. He thought awhile and then asked, “If it wasn’t either of you, then what about an individual? Say someone who worked for you in the past and maybe left the business. Someone who might for the right amount of money do something criminal?”
Lowe shook his head. “This is a real small business, Sheriff,” he explained. “Maybe twenty people working in it on the east coast. We pretty much all know each other. Most of the technicians and biologists work freelance for either Peterson or myself. As for guys who left the business? Maybe four or five at most because it’s still very new. It’s only been in the last five years or so that we’ve had the equipment or the know how to do this stuff.” He thought for a moment and then added, “besides you’d need the truck and other equipment.”
“How much does the truck cost?” Piccolo asked.
“Two hundred thousand.”
“Who builds them?”
“Peterbilt makes the chassis. An outfit named Busbee/Hancock custom builds the tanks and supplies the monitoring devices.
Piccolo wrote down the names. “Let me ask you,” he said watching Lowe carefully. “If someone called and wanted you to deliver a Bull Nose shark from say Norwalk to Arrowhead Lake, how much would you charge them to do it?”
Lowe smiled and shook his head. “First of all I’d think the guy was crazy to bring a shark to a fresh water lake, second…I’d think he really wanted to harm people if not kill them and thirdly I’d report him to the cops as soon as I hung up.”
“Okay, but put all that aside and just tell me what the price would be. Arrowhead is about sixty miles from Norwalk.”
“You can’t put a price on it, because no one would do it.”
“You wouldn’t do it and from what you tell me neither would Peterson’s company, but what about a guy not actively working but with the know how to transport a shark?”
“I hate to give you names,” Lowe said clicking the pen down and putting it on the desk. “There’s only three guys, one retired, the other two working for aquariums in Florida.”
“I’d like their names if you don’t mind,” Piccolo said turning on his lawman authoritative voice.
Lowe shook his head and reluctantly wrote them on a piece of paper which he handed to Piccolo. They talked awhile longer about the possibility of a shark living in fresh water for an extended period of time. Lowe told him that he had already spoken to the right guy. Frank McClosky was the expert.
Later Piccolo left Falls River and began the trip back to Connecticut. Two things kept running through his mind. One: somebody had enough confidence that a Bull Shark could live in fresh water and had brought him to Arrowhead. And two: that it would cost a lot of money to have transported it there.
Tillitson had been right when he said the person behind this “was a very rich man.”
Other ebooks by Bob Neidhardt: Kill The Author, Mr. Best Selling Author and Tarnished Bronze.
All are available on Amazon.com.