Many Southwest Connecticut readers will recognize my fictitious Arrowhead Lake as actually being Candlewood Lake. The name was changed to make the plot’s time frame work. Candlewood was created in 1926, but the plot called for it to be 40 years later. As you read on the reason will become very clear.
It has everything to do with the shark.
Shortly after he left the hospital, Piccolo’s dispatcher radioed him about a bank holdup in Marbury. The Marbury police had been in pursuit of a blue van with the suspects in it, but had lost it in New Haddam. His second in command, Deputy Roy Tillitson, ran the 1050 from his office to locate the vehicle, while Piccolo monitored it on his radio. Within fifteen minutes one of his men spotted the van and gave chase. Another car was sent to intercept ahead and the vehicle was stopped. Tillitson radioed that the two men apprehended would be turned over to the Marbury police for booking.
He asked Piccolo if he would be coming back to the office for the start of the four o’clock shift, which he normally did. Piccolo said he wouldn’t be there.
“Have some personal stuff to attend to,” he said. For the moment he was still keeping this investigation to himself.
“Everything all right?” Tillitson asked.
“Yeah Roy. Tell the guys involved in the chase, good job. I’ll see them tomorrow morning.”
“Okay. Take care.”
Piccolo turned off the radio and headed up route seven to the Norton Utilities power plant where he had an appointment with Frank Izzo, the plant manager.
Izzo, a short man with a neatly trimmed beard and horned rimmed glasses, wondered why the county sheriff wanted a tour of his plant when Piccolo called earlier. Piccolo had simply said that a man had been badly bitten in the lake and wanted to know how water was pumped into it from the Pawkatuck. The request still sounded strange to Izzo, but refusing the local authorities wasn’t a responsible thing to do.
He met Piccolo in his office, a cramped room with a window that looked out on a maze of small towers dotted with electrical transformers. One wall had a map of Arrowhead Lake and the Pawkatuck River.
“So exactly what can I do for you Sheriff?” Izzo asked after they had exchanged formalities. He still wondered how someone bitten on the lake had anything to do with Norton Utilities.
“Well like I said over the phone someone was bitten pretty badly and I’d like to make sure it wasn’t something that got into the lake from the outside.”
“Something from the river?” Izzo asked.
“Yes, Piccolo said almost apologetically. He wasn’t going to tell Izzo it might have been a shark, so he used other possibilities he had thought of on the way over. “Like a water snake or anything that could have come upriver from salt water. Maybe an eel or sting ray.” None of them seemed like realistic possibilities and the reaction on Izzo’s face confirmed that. Nevertheless he acknowledged them with an answer.
“Let me tell you how the process of taking water from the lake for hydroelectric generating and then returning it later to the Pawkatuck works Sheriff,” Izzo said moving toward the map. “Then I’ll explain our filtering system.”
“That would be helpful,” Piccolo said. All he was interested in was how the water was filtered, but any other information could also be of use.
At the map Izzo began with how water was drawn off the lake. “You know we have two dams at either end of the lake,” he said pointing to one in New Haddam and the other in Marbury. “An aqueduct runs from the one here in New Haddam to the plant. You can see it right across the street going up the hill to the lake.”
“That pipe is six foot in diameter and can take seven hundred gallons a minute from the lake when we draw it down in November. A deep draw down every other year of eleven feet brings over eight million gallons of water through the aqueduct and into our generating turbines. Obviously we’re very concerned about the quality of water entering them, so we have two screening systems to filter the water before it goes in. The first, is a screening grid with coarse openings to eliminate large vegetation…weeds and such, and occasionally some small fish. It’s a grid with four inch screened openings. The second grid has two inch openings and captures stringy vegetation like Eurasian Millifoil which I’m sure you’ve seen in the coves.”
“Yeah I’ve seen it,” Piccolo said. Every other year it was visible in the shallow coves when the draw down was only four feet. “But could you tell me about getting water back into the lake?”
“Well obviously we’re not as concerned about foreign matter in the water coming back in because it doesn’t pass through the turbines. But it still has to go through pumps to get it uphill through the aqueduct and into the lake. So it only goes through a four inch screen filter.”
“What kind of things are filtered out?” Piccolo asked. But his main question had been answered. Water coming from the river was filtered and certainly nothing as big as a shark could have gotten through it.
“We filter out a lot of wood. Mostly rotted twigs and branches from fallen trees, along with grass and other debris. Occasionally a small otter or beaver will get caught if the current is strong.
“As far as salt water sea life is concerned Sheriff,” Izzo continued. “The tidal basin doesn’t extend from the Sound this far north. Actually the Pawkatuck turns to fresh water just five miles inland from Norwalk. We’re a good forty miles north of there.”
“Of course,” Piccolo said. “I should have realized.”
“And the river’s current is also southward,” Izzo continued, driving the point home further, “so it would be next to impossible for any salt water marine life to get here.”
“I see,” Piccolo said realizing that by now Izzo must think he was just curious about the plant’s operation or crazy thinking something big enough to inflict a serious bite could have gotten from the Sound, through his plant, and into the lake. Piccolo was beginning to feel uncomfortable and looking to leave, but Izzo was becoming curious himself now.
“What type of bite did this person get?” he asked. “Was he hospitalized?”
“He was,” Piccolo replied without adding more.
“What did the doctors say?”
“They weren’t sure, but it probably came from a water snake,” Piccolo said trying to put some closure to his words.
“I see,” Izzo said.
“Well, thank you for your time.”
“No problem, sheriff. I hope I was of some help.”
“You were. Thanks again.”
Izzo watched Piccolo get into his Cherokee from his office window wondering what really had brought him to the plant. A man bitten in the lake? From something that might have gotten in it? The whole thing didn’t make sense. What was Piccolo really looking for?
Izzo didn’t know it but within twenty four hours he would have the answer. Everybody would.
Piccolo thought about everything Izzo had said on his drive home. Bottom line was that the aqueduct entrance was too far north for any sea life to get to. Even if it did, anything over six inches wide, let alone a seven foot shark, was not getting through Norton’s filters.
So did he still believe Pazman had been bitten by a shark?”
Impossible according to Izzo.
And yet…Dr. Morton had clearly thought it was a shark. “The thing was six or seven feet long and had twisted him around in the water,” Pazman had said.
So what did he really believe? Bill and Kathy and Morton? Or did he now accept the fact that it couldn’t have been a shark.
Then a cold reality hit him.
He turned on the siren and flasher over the cab of his Cherokee. Within seconds he was going eighty down route seven towards Arrowhead Shores, the lake community where he lived. He suddenly remembered there was only a half day school session for both his kids because there were teacher’s meetings in the afternoon. Ann said they were going to the lake with their friends to swim.
They could have been at the lake since two o’clock on. He spun the Cherokee into the entrance to the Shores. Just a quarter mile over the hill and he would be at the lake. He came roaring over the crest, siren wailing and scanned the beach. There was no one on it or in the water.
He turned left into Berkshire Drive, sped down the street to his house and pulled into the driveway. In seconds he was through the front door and in the kitchen where Ann was preparing dinner.
“Is everybody all right?” he asked catching his breath.
“Yes, why wouldn’t we be?” Ann said startled.
“Where are the boys?”
“In Michael’s room. I told them they could play video games until dinner.” She cocked her head to one side looking at him from head to toe. “Are you all right?” she asked. “Was that your siren I heard coming over the hill?”
No he wasn’t all right. He had been scared out of his mind. Did he believe there was a shark in the lake? When it came to his own kids you bet your ass he did. And that was the true test.
“Yeah,” he said, “it was a false alarm. I’ll tell you all about it after dinner.” He had to tell someone.
They ate dinner with the usual small talk. Both Michael and Mark, ages thirteen and eleven had tests tomorrow, so with a lot of prodding and even a few threats, they went to their rooms to study. Piccolo would check on them in a half hour to make sure they were hitting the books and not sneaking more video games.
After cleaning up the dishes he and Ann settled into the living room to discuss the day’s events. Piccolo rarely talked shop because of an agreement made early in their marriage. Drug deals, rape, kidnappings, even murder weren’t things he wanted to bring into his reasonably quiet home. Ann had agreed to that. “Just tell me about anything you ever get stuck with where you think I might be able to help,” she had told him. Two years later he had come to her for advice as to whether or not he should run for sheriff’s office. It would mean their leaving New York City and moving to Connecticut. That request wasn’t something he was “stuck with” though. He really wanted to do it, but never would without her approval. She had given it enthusiastically.
Tonight he really needed help with something that fell into the “struck with” category. Was there a shark in Arrowhead Lake or wasn’t there? Right now he had evidence on both sides of the argument.
Ann listened carefully as he told her the whole story. He always loved the way she toyed with her blond pony tail when she was really listening. She initially took the idea of a shark in the lake as totally insane and Frank’s meeting with Izzo made it even more so, but she heard the whole story through. When he finished, she curled her legs under her on the couch and said, “Forget about the facts supporting whether there’s a shark of not. Forget about it being freaky. What’s your gut feeling about this?”
“My gut feeling hit me right over the head when I remembered the kids might be swimming in the lake. That’s when I really believed it’s in there,” he said.
“Then you’ve got to do something about it. And quickly. Who knows when it’s going to hurt somebody again. Maybe even kill them.”
“I know,” Piccolo said. She was stirring up his worst fears now. “You’re right. The lake will have to be shut down. But can you hear me explaining to people it’s because of a shark. They’ll think I’m nuts.”
“And can’t you hear yourself trying to explain away the fact that you suspected it when someone gets attacked.”
“That I wouldn’t be able to live down,” he said looking at the picture of his two boys on the end table.”
“Then get whoever you need to close down the lake. Do it tomorrow.” She moved closer to him and put his hand in hers. “I hope you’re not taking this on all by yourself,” she said softly. “Don’t tell me that nobody else knows about this.”
“Just Dr. Morton and the ambulance people who brought in Pazman and his fiancee,” he said avoiding a fuller answer.
“What about Tillitson? Haven’t you told him about it?”
“No, I wanted to check out the Norton plant first. And I know if Roy would have heard what the plant manager said, he’d have closed the whole book on the thing.”
“But you can’t.”
“Look,” she said kissing him lightly on the cheek, “the season’s early yet so this shark isn’t going to attack anybody tonight. Sleep on it. If you feel the same way in the morning as you did coming home tonight, do what it takes to close the lake.”
Piccolo didn’t wait until morning. At eleven o’clock he called Tillitson at home. He told him the whole story just as he had Ann, but got a lot more questions. Tillitson asked details about Morton’s report, about Pazman and Willis’ character and his visit to the Norton plant. After twenty minutes he netted out the same as far as the evidence was concerned; it came out fifty-fifty. In one column was Morton’s report, Kathy seeing a fin, Pazman grappling with something as big as him. In the other column: sharks don’t exist in lakes, the screens in Norton’s plant, and that nothing from the Sound could have come upstream that far.
But when all was said and done, he couldn’t dispute Piccolo’s feeling that if the lake wasn’t shut down and someone else was attacked, they would never be able to live it down.
They decided that an emergency meeting needed to be called with the Arrowhead Lake Authority. The Authority was responsible for patrolling the lake and all matters relating to safety and water quality. It was funded by each of the five towns bordering Arrowhead who each had representatives on the board of directors. Tillitson was a good friend of Peter Larkin, the executive director, and felt an emergency meeting could be set up as early as tomorrow.
“I hope so,” Piccolo told him, “the weathers calling for high seventies and it’s Friday, the beginning of the weekend. There’s going to be a lot of people on the lake.”
Other novels by Bob Neidhardt:
Kill The Author, Mr. Best Selling Author, Tarnished Bronze
All are available as ebooks on Amazon.com.