Over the next three days Piccolo and Tillitson thoroughly investigated the names of individuals supplied by Lowe. Credit card spending, telephone records and bank accounts were checked as far as the law would allow. All three men were clean.
Piccolo also called Peterbilt and Busbee/Hancock, builders of the trucks and tanks used in transporting sea life. No sales had been made to anyone other than the four legitimate transport companies located in the United States. Lowe of course was right. Marine transporting was a small, specialized business and relatively easy to check on.
That left Piccolo with no clues as to how the shark had gotten into the lake. And yet the damn thing was there. The lake was closed and the media were after him on a daily basis. “No comment” wasn’t a phrase they wanted to hear so they never let up. Mobile camera trucks were constantly parked outside his office building in Marbury and one truck even feigned a flat tire in an attempt to interview a deputy forced to stop for the vehicle.
As far as the lake was concerned, there was pressure from the five towns for it to remain open to fishing and boating for craft over twenty two feet. These were considered too large for a seven foot shark to threaten. Piccolo and the Arrowhead Lake Authority resisted, saying they feared people would still be tempted to swim off the boats. Finally the issue was settled by lawyers. No town wanted to be responsible for lawsuits from people because they had been injured or even killed in the water. The lake remained closed to everyone except authorities looking for the shark.
One evening after dinner Piccolo took his sons Michael and Mark down to the community beach to fish off the dock. The sun had just set leaving the sky a brilliant display of pink, yellow and gold. The colors reflected in the water almost up to the dock. Piccolo looked out at the lake which glistened with beautiful color and couldn’t stop thinking that below the surface lurked a silent killer, a monster that he had no clue as to how it had gotten there or how to get rid of it.
“Hey dad, I think I got a bite,” Mark said suddenly. His float had bobbed underwater and then popped back up.
“Maybe you got the shark,” Mike said from the other end of the dock. He never fished close to his brother, having almost caught Mark’s hook on several parts of his body over the past month.
“Yeah then we can go back into the lake,” Mark said reeling in some line.
Piccolo stood watching. He wasn’t a fisherman but enjoyed being with the boys who loved it. They never caught much besides small sunnys except when Mike once caught a good sized bass off this very spot. Mark’s bite again turned out to be a sunny which he unhooked and set free into the water.
“When are we going to be able to go into the lake again, dad?” Mike asked. “All the kids in school are saying sharks can’t come into real shallow water. We should be able to go in.”
“No way,” Piccolo said firmly. “Sharks can attack in just three or four feet of water. Tell your friends to stay out of the lake.”
“Well when are you going to catch him anyway? The summer will be over and we won’t even have gone swimming,” Mark said baiting his line again.
“I don’t know guys,” Piccolo said looking up at the changing sky. The sun had receded behind the mountains and color was disappearing from the clouds. All the pink was turning gray. He really didn’t know how long it would take to catch the shark. If they didn’t catch a lucky break, it could be out there indefinitely.
“I don’t think it’s a plain old shark anyway,” Mark said. “I think it’s a monster that lives in the lake.”
“Like the Loch Ness monster,” Piccolo said still staring out at the water. He didn’t know why the words had come out of his mouth, they just did.
“What’s that?” Mike asked.
“It’s a creature that lives in a lake in Scotland. People have seen it moving through the water and some have even taken pictures of it, but it’s never been caught.”
“How did it get there?” Mark asked casting his line out toward an empty mooring.
“No one knows. It’s been in there over seventy years.”
“And they haven’t caught it yet?” Mike asked, his interest now piqued by the story.
“Jeez dad, we’re never going to get back in the lake are we,” Mark said innocently.
Piccolo thought his son’s concern wasn’t that far fetched. Right now they weren’t any closer to catching the shark than they had been on the first day it attacked Bill Pazman. No one knew how it had gotten in the lake or if it would even survive. All the rational explanations had been disputed. Maybe all that was left was the irrational. The thing was a creature of the lake. Like the Loch Ness monster it existed without any scientific reason. The Scots said it looked like a dinosaur. But dinosaurs can’t live underwater. And yet it does. A shark, even a Bull Nose can’t exist indefinitely in fresh water. And yet this one does. Two unexplained phenomena with one difference.
This one was a killer.
Every Friday night Hal Evers and Jerry Wright met at Lakeside Grill, a bar and restaurant on Arrowhead. It was a ritual that had gone on during the summer for two years now. There was no better place to pick up chicks or to plan the next days fishing trip. Both were always on their minds after a week of hard work.
With the lake closed, their sole purpose now had been picking up women, but Hal wasn’t about to waste what the weather predicted to be a perfect fishing day for tomorrow.
“Jerry, we’ll be in an eighteen foot boat with a one seventy five Mercury. How the hell is a shark going to get us in that?” Hal said nursing an ice cold Coors.
“I dunno man, the thing is supposed to be over six foot long. If it comes up under the boat…” Jerry was eyeing a tall brunette at the end of the bar which right now held his interest more than fishing.
“It’s not going to tip over the goddamned boat.” Hal moved closer to the bar blocking Jerry’s view of the brunette. “Listen to me,” he said, “they don’t even know if the shark is still in the lake. The news guy said last night that if it’s a bull shark, even if it could survive in fresh water it wouldn’t be for long. The thing is probably dead by now.”
“Yeah maybe, maybe not. The whole thing gives me the creeps. And they’ll be patrolling out there you know. It’s the weekend. They got “No boating” signs up all over the lake. The fine’s five hundred big ones. You wanna pay that?”
“We’re not gonna pay it. We’ll go out early, like five in the morning,” Hal said lighting up a Marlboro. “You think they’re going to be out there then? Hell no. We’ll just go up into Echo Bay and fish close to the docks. Tomorrow’s going to be beautiful man. We’ll be the only ones out there. Just think of all the fish to be had.”
“Well yeah, but I don’t have no five hundred bucks if we get caught.” Jerry took a slug of his beer and knew what Hal was probably going to say. He had just gotten a big electrical contracting job a couple of days ago and right now was feeling pretty good.
“All right, I’ll pay the goddamn thing. But ya know why?”
“Because it ain’t gonna happen. Those Lake Authority guys are all volunteers and they won’t be around at 5 AM.”
Jerry simply shrugged.
“So you’re goin?”
“Yeah I’m going.” Jerry turned away to look at the brunette. A guy had sat down next to her and had his arm around her. He knew where that guy would be at 5 AM. “I’ll bring the beer.”
“Wow…big whoop.” Hal said giving him a shot in the arm.
5 AM found the two friends shoving off from the Marbury public ramp at the southern end of the lake. The sun hadn’t come up yet from behind the hills and the water was a steel gray with mist rising off it. A few geese scattered as soon as the engine started and the sound echoed across the small bay.
Hal headed his eighteen foot Hurricane bow rider up the lake toward Echo Bay marked by pastel shaded purple hills in the distance. Jerry had already started on a Coors while they sped along leaving a long thin wake on the calm water. As they zipped close by lakeshore homes, Hal was aware of the loud sound of the motor, but the hell with it, he wanted to get into Echo Bay quick without being spotted on the open lake. Five hundred was a lot of money.
The bay was quiet as they pulled in with lights on in a few of the lakeshore homes. Hal turned off the inboard/outboard and started the small electric trolling motor on the bow. Jerry balanced the boat by fishing off the stern.
For half an hour neither of them got a nibble and Jerry was beginning to wonder what he had gotten up at four o’clock for.
“Man there’s one jumping over there,” Hal said suddenly, seeing what looked like a pretty good size bass breaking the surface.
“Yeah,” Jerry replied, “that’s why my hook is over here.” He had a run of bad luck the last three times out and hadn’t forgotten it.
Hal turned the boat around to give him a shot at the bass. Jerry cast out toward it and waited. Nothing.
They continued to fish along the lakeshore docks, which normally was a good place this time of day. Bass liked to feed on the cool surface before it got too warm and found food in the shallow water under the docks. But now the boat had drifted out into deeper water. Their depth finder measured six feet, but neither of them was looking at it.
The shark heard the trolling motor from five hundred feet away. The low hum set off a vibration in the water even more apparent than a larger gasoline engine. It slowly closed in on the sound keeping its dorsal fin just below the surface. Visibility was limited without overhead sunlight, but the shark now saw the stern of a boat up ahead.
“Hey man I think I got a big one here,” Hal said as his float took a dive underwater. Jerry turned and saw him begin to reel it in. It did look like a big one. He moved toward the bow to get a better look.
From about thirty feet away the shark circled underwater planning its attack. He could hear the voices of his prey above the surface. The boat was wobbling in the water. The motor was tilting from side to side. The boat was unstable. Now was the time. With a quick thrust of its tail fin the shark sped forward right toward the motor.
Neither Hal nor Jerry saw it coming. Suddenly the boat pitched sideways and the gunnels on the far side went underwater. The boat tipped to a downward angle and capsized throwing both of them into the water. Hal managed to grab onto the overturned boat, but Jerry had been thrown away from it. Hal tried to reach him with his hand, but couldn’t. Instead he grabbed one of the inflatable cushions nearby and tossed it to him.
“What the hell was that?” Hal said catching his breath, “Jerry, swim back to the side of the boat. With both our weight maybe we can right it.”
But Jerry ignored him. Instead he was turning to swim toward a dock that was just a few feet the other way.
The shark saw both their feet in the water and went for Jerry first. Its teeth locked around his left leg and tore into it. Blood gushed out almost blinding the shark temporarily, but the bloody water was sending it into a frenzy. It shifted its weight downward and pulled Jerry to the sandy bottom where it let go for just a second to clamp its teeth again on his thigh.
There were bubbles everywhere as Jerry struggled to get free. He was in only ten feet of water but he might as well have been in fifty. His lungs were burning as he held his breath, but the shark held its grip. Just when he thought they’d explode, it let go and was pushed toward surface.
Hal saw the water around him swirling as if he were in a whirlpool. Jerry had screamed once before he was pulled under and now there was blood where he had gone down.
Hal’s immediate thought was that in this whole goddamned lake it had found them. He didn’t have time to think any longer though. The shark suddenly crashed through the surface just a few feet from him with it’s mouth open, teeth covered with blood. Hal desperately tried to pull himself up into the capsized boat. His hands clawed at the gunnel while he kicked his feet to keep the shark away. But now it had him around one ankle and with a quick jerk of its head pulled him completely into the water.
The shark had been thirsting for human flesh for days. It released the ankle and tore through Hal’s right arm as he tried to fight back. Hal flailed at it with his other arm but the shark wouldn’t let go. It sunk its teeth into his thigh, then with a powerful thrust of its tail and side fins lifted Hal’s body through the surface twisting it violently on top of the water. Hal’s one scream was a piercing shriek that no one heard because it was cut short as the shark finally let go dropping him back into the water.
Other books by Bob Neidhardt include Kill The Author, Mr. Best Selling Author, and Tarnished Bronze, all available on Amazon.com.