The shark slithered through the water picking up the purr of a distant motor. The sound was familiar now, its frequency and volume registering on the shark’s sophisticated sonar system. It was an Arrowhead Lake Authority patrol boat making its daily run over the lake from end to end.
Besides looking for the shark, the men in the boat also had the duty of checking water samples at twenty locations on the lake. Prior to the shark it had always been done as a check of the water’s bacterial level. If it exceeded EPA standards, the beaches affected would be closed for swimming. Since there were no swimmers now, the Authority had discussed whether or not to continue sampling. It was decided that the information was still useful and twice-weekly sampling would continue.
The boat was slowing now, the vibrations decreasing on the shark’s sonar. The sound volume also decreased from a steady hum to a staccato sound of the engine running at a lower rpm. The shark dove to a depth of three feet hiding its dorsal fin and waited. Now the hull was coming into view, a cloudy white shape slowly getting larger.
The boat stopped, the engine still idling. Voices were heard.
The shark slowly turned underwater to position itself to see the side of the boat now fifty feet away.
Edging closer to the boat, it kept its body movements to a minimum. Any quick movements created air pockets resulting in bubbles on the surface.
Slowly, ever so slowly.
But ready to respond quickly when the opportunity came.
Twenty feet away.
Closer to the surface now.
Ten feet away. More voices.
Now a shape. Leaning over the side. A hand holding something. The hand reached down below the surface. It stayed there while water filled what it was holding.
With a violent thrust the shark lunged forward, its mouth open baring fifty three sharp pointed teeth. They tore through the hand ripping through small bones and ligaments. Blood filled the water blinding the shark’s vision, but its teeth clung to the raw flesh and bone.
Now there was resistance. The hand was trying to pull away with the force of yet another person’s strength. The shark held on but needed to reposition its grip if it was to satisfy itself with more flesh and blood.
It let go, hoping to bite more of the arm. But the arm was pulled away. Out of reach now.
With a quick flick of its tail the shark turned violently and dove under the boat to the opposite side.
A sharp sound. Then another.
A small object zipping through the water just off to its right. Very close.
Get away from the boat. Faster.
Another loud sound followed by something coming through the water.
Vibrations of the motor running very fast now.
The boat passed overhead leaving a whirling swirl of bubbles behind it.
John Helmsley didn’t know whether to stop and take the time to put a tourniquet on Ray Marione’s arm or keep the boat headed full throttle for the Authority’s headquarters three miles away. Ray was on the floor of the boat holding what was left of his hand moaning in pain.
Helmsley grabbed the radio and got the Authority.
“Ray’s been bitten by the shark,” he told the deputy on duty, trying to maintain his professional composure. “Get an ambulance to the dock…right away. I’m about six minutes out.”
“How bad is he?” the deputy quickly asked.
“Bad. The shark got most of his hand. There’s a lot of blood.”
Helmsley turned to look at Ray.
“Oh Jesus,” he said into the hand held mike. “The hand is completely off. Get the ambulance. I gotta go.”
Helmsley yanked the throttle back bringing the boat to a quick stop. He jumped out of the seat and knelt down beside Ray who was delirious holding his wrist. The hand was lying on the floor beside him.
Helmsley could feel his stomach go sour and the need to wretch. Keep it together pal or your friend’s not going to make it. He looked to his right and saw the styrofoam cooler that had a six pack of Coke in it. Thank God. He yanked the cold cans out and saw there was plenty of ice left. He reached over and carefully lifted the severed hand up and placed it into frozen cubes.
Next to the cooler was a length of dock line. He grabbed it and knelt beside Ray. “You’re going to be okay buddy,” he said as calm as he could. Quickly he wrapped the line around Ray’s arm just below the elbow. Getting it as tight as he could, he knotted it. Immediately the blood flow lessened.
Satisfied that he had done all he could, he jumped back into the driver’s seat, rammed the throttle forward and headed for the Lake Authority building which he could see in the distance.
Within minutes he was at the dock and waiting hands lifted Marione out of the boat. Ray was unconcious now. Helmsley knew it was because of blood loss but also because he was in shock.
Five minutes later the ambulance arrived. Helmsley insisted on riding with Ray to Marbury hospital, closest to where they were on the lake. The cooler was put on board and the ambulance sped away.
The EMT in the back with Helmsley told him there was no way the hand could be reattached at Marbury. Ray would have to be transported to Yale-New Haven hospital but the ambulance would never make it in time. “I’m going to tell Marbury to request a LifeStar helicoptor. That’s the only chance he’s got to save that hand.”
“Then do it,” Helmsley said. He looked at Ray lying on a stretcher beside him. He was being given intravenous medication for shock and the EMT had stopped the bleeding completely with a surgical tourniquet. He would be further stabilized at Marbury before being put aboard the helicopter.
Luckily for Ray, the helicopter arrived promptly. The weather was clear and the winds calm so he arrived at Yale-New Haven within thirty minutes from Marbury Hospital. After a five hour operation his hand was reattached to his wrist and the prognosis for a partially functioning hand was good. It would take months of physical therapy but Ray was lucky. He still had a hand.
Later in the afternoon Piccolo and Tillitson caught up with John Helmsley back at the Lake Authority headquarters. Helmsley was still shaken but they wanted to question him while details of the attack on Ray were still fresh in his mind. The three men sat in folding chairs in the small Authority cabin that contained a sparse amount of office furniture, most of it secondhand donated by local establishments.
Helmsley detailed the attack as best he could, but Piccolo and Tillitson had more questions afterward.
“Did you get a look at the shark?” Piccolo asked.
“Yeah. And I gotta tell ya that thing is big. When it got Ray’s hand a lot of it was out of the water and it’s six or seven feet long. Maybe even more.”
“What else did you notice about it?”
“The nose. It was flat like it had been pushed in.”
“Yeah, well it’s a Bull Nose,” Tillitson said. “Same description as the others gave.”
“And the skin was very shiny. Rubbery,” Helmsley said. “Very sleek.”
“Anything you noticed that seemed a little odd?” Piccolo asked. So far just about everything Helmsley said jived with the description others had given.
“Well yes,” Helmsley said scratching the side of his bald head. John was a big man in excellent shape for his fifty years. “Not something about the shark but about the attack.”
“What?” Piccolo asked.
“Well the thing had Ray by the arm and was pulling him down towards the water. That’s when I held him by the waist. I didn’t think I was going to be able to keep him in the boat. And I wouldn’t have been able to unless the shark let go. Which all of a sudden it did.”
“So it could have very easily pulled Ray out of the boat into the water…and then…well it would have been easy to kill him.”
“You think for some reason it backed off?”
“Yeah, I don’t know why, but it did. Good thing though because Ray would have been a goner. That thing was strong.”
Piccolo ran the other attacks through his mind. The very first one on Bill Pazman was where the shark had let go of his leg when it could have done much more damage. At the time Piccolo hadn’t thought it unusual. The second attack on young Nick Jansen was the same thing. Nick had been in the water long enough for the shark to have attacked a second time and killed him but it didn’t. The attack on Hal Evers and Jerry Wright was another example. Wright had tumbled into the water and was dragged to the bottom. His injuries had been severe, but the shark had backed off at the critical moment and swam away. Finally, what Helmsley had described now was yet another opportunity to kill, but the shark hadn’t.
From what Piccolo had read, this was unusual. Sharks, especially Bulls were known to attack with the intent to kill their victims. It was true that any of the three could have died had they not received prompt medical attention, but as far as the shark itself was concerned it hadn’t continued any of the attacks to the point of being fatal.
The shark not going for the kill was only one of a number of things driving Piccolo crazy. Where had it been hiding when the Orion searched the lake from end to end with its sonar buoys? Where had it been when Sea Hunt II probed the entire bottom and hadn’t seen or heard anything? And finally, why didn’t it kill when it had the opportunity?
The press would be waiting when he and Tillitson got back to the office. The local newspaper had been the first to hear of the attack when they monitored Helmsley’s radio call to Lake Authority headquarters. The reporters had rushed to the hospital, but didn’t get much information because Marione was put on the helicopter almost immediately. Helmsley managed to get out of the hospital before they found him.
By now the national media would also be waiting for their return. He and Tillitson would describe another attack. And once again the news would continue to drive Norton’s stock down in value.
Who the hell was behind it all?
Would they ever find out?
Piccolo heard Tillitson ask,” Was there anything else you wanted to tell us John?”
“Yeah, I got two shots off at the bastard.”
“Did you hit him?”
“I don‘t know.”
It was 2AM when Piccolo awoke in his bed. He reached over to Ann but she wasn’t there. There was light coming through the space under the bedroom door and he heard voices in Mark’s room. It was the third time this week Mark had awakened from the same recurring nightmare.
The shark having almost bitten him and his friends had left him emotionally scarred to the point where he dreamt it was attacking him over and over. When he awoke he was screaming and sweating. At first Piccolo had gone into Mark’s bedroom with Ann to calm him down but soon found his being there only made things worse. Finally Ann had told him that Mark was too embarrassed for his father to see him afraid and crying. So now Ann went alone.
Yesterday they had kept Mark out of school and Ann had brought him to a Dr. Stephan Richmond who after examining him had said he suffered from post traumatic syndrome. It wasn’t uncommon in children having experienced a threat to their lives. When Ann asked why the other boys weren’t affected, Richmond explained that Mark had taken a leadership role by utilizing a long tree branch to save his friend Donny. He was now reacting not only to the threat to his own life but Donny’s also. That, added to the guilt of being the son of the sheriff who was responsible for closing the lake, was just too much for him.
The prognosis wasn’t good. Mark’s nightmares could continue for weeks, even months. Richmond prescribed medication that would make him sleep, but the mind was often much stronger than the rest of the body. Until it was freed of the vivid memory of the attack, the nightmares would reoccur.
Piccolo’s reaction was intense hatred for the shark and whoever was responsible for it. Every fiber within him wanted to see the thing dead. Tillitson often had to remind him to hold back his emotions when he might suggest the irrational in an attempt to vent his hatred of this monster.
He wanted it to go away. He wanted to have it rear its vicious head out of the water so he could blow it away with a shotgun. But he knew it wouldn’t end that way. The shark was too cunning. It knew when and where to hide. When to attack and when not to. He kept telling himself though that sooner or later they would kill it, but he had no idea how.
Ann came back into the room and slipped into bed beside him.
“I gave him more of the medication and he’s sleeping now,” she said taking his hand.
“Did Michael wake up?” he asked.
“I think so, but he didn’t let on. He’s been so good about this.”
Ann gripped his hand tighter and began to sob.
“He said to me, mom am I ever going to get better? And I told him yes. Your nightmares will go away and you’ll forget them. Then he said when? And I said soon. But I don’t know that they’ll ever go away.”
“They will. Sooner or later they will.”
“That’s what we keep saying,” she said wiping her eyes. “Sooner or later the shark will be caught. Sooner or later the lake will open again. I know you’re doing your best, but it doesn’t seem to be good enough.”
“It’s going to end Ann and whoever is behind it is going to pay. I promise you that. I don’t know when and how but that shark will be killed and whoever put it in the lake is going to be locked up for a long time.”
He kissed her on the cheek and soon felt her go off to sleep.
He lie in the darkness thinking he had never lacked incentive to go after the shark. He hated it. But now he would devote more energy than ever. He knew the only thing that would end Mark’s nightmares was to see it lying dead on the shores of Arrowhead.
Other ebooks by Bob Neidhardt are
Kill The Author, Mr. Best Selling Author and Tarnished Bronze.
All are available on Amazon.com