Captain Toby Morrison sat at the controls of a Navy P-3C Orion headed for the airspace over Arrowhead Lake. He and his co-pilot along with a flight engineer had departed Stuart Air Force base in Newburgh, NY for the forty minute trip to the lake.
This was the nuttiest assignment Morrison had ever gotten after six years of flying Orions. In fact yesterday’s briefing at Stuart had started with a lot of wise-cracking until their commander had reminded them that four people had been badly injured already. Their training had taught them to hunt submarines, but the shark they were looking for today was also deadly.
Their sendoff from Stuart had been anything but routine. The media had been out in full force. Since Piccolo had used them to request a Navy search for the shark, they had been at the base nearly every day. Today was no exception. Morrison and his crew had been interviewed before they took off and asked what their chances were of finding the shark. They had said exactly what they had been ordered to. “We’ll do our best to find it and hopefully we will.”
The Orion was a submarine’s worst enemy. Like an eagle searching for fish, it could circle for hours stalking its prey. The four engine turbo prop even resembled the bull nose shark it was looking for. It had a snub nose in front of a bulbous fuselage which housed sensitive sonar equipment whose signals were capable of distinguishing between a large fish, a submarine or even an earthquake. If the shark they were looking for was six feet long, they would have a good chance of finding it. Unlike the ocean, where there were other marine life as big or even bigger, the shark would be the only thing that size swimming in Arrowhead. It should stick out like a sore thumb.
“There’s the lake up ahead at two o’clock,” Rob Watson the co-pilot said. “I’ll be damned. It really looks like an arrow head.”
From a thousand feet looking south, Vaughn’s Neck was a peninsula that split the lake in two. At the tip were two points of land on either side that jutted out giving the appearance of an arrowhead.
“Yeah, must have been a pilot that named it,” Morrison said. “It’s a real pretty lake… with a killer shark in it somewhere.” He banked the plane to the left and headed south where they would begin their first sweep. “Let’s make contact with our Sheriff Piccolo,” he said a few seconds later to sonar operator Mike Cataldo.
The plan was for Piccolo to be in constant contact with the Orion. He was in one of three boats at the Marbury end tied up at a dock with their engines off. Deputy Sheriff Tillitson was in a boat at the northeast side of Vaughn’s Neck and another deputy Bob Wysocki was on the northwest side. Once the Orion picked up a signal from the shark, the boats would head for it. Every man was armed with a shotgun.
As the Orion swooped over Marbury contact was made with Piccolo.
“We’re going to drop our sonar buoys on this sweep,” Lieutenant Cataldo told him. Cataldo would be Piccolo’s contact for the entire mission.
Four sonar buoys were dropped into the lake. The buoys were the size of large fire extinguishers and sunk to predetermined depths. Once activated, they were capable of detecting movement within a three mile radius. Over ninety percent of the lake would be covered.
After the last buoy had been dropped, Morrison steered the Orion into another turn and began the first pass. Cataldo watched monitors which would display audio signals that he might not hear through his headphones. As they passed over Buoy One all he saw was a pulsing green light that indicated the buoy was functioning properly. Indicator lights went on for the other three also, but so far there were no distinguishing sounds.
Piccolo sat in an Arrowhead Lake Authority boat with two volunteers. It was a hot humid day with temperatures in the eighties and not a puff of wind blowing. A perfect day for the Orion because there wasn’t any movement on the water. Arrowhead was as flat as a sheet of glass. But he and the others were dying of the heat. He wished he had allowed beer on the boat rather than sticking by the old adage that beer and guns don’t mix. But if in the end they killed the shark, sweating in the heat would be worth it.
Piccolo held the two way radio provided by the Navy against his ear and waited for the Orion. Suddenly Cataldo’s voice crackled over the radio.
“We’ve got blips from Buoy Two. Dropping down for a closer listen. Hold your position.”
“Copy that,” Piccolo responded. “Holding position.”
Morrison banked the Orion into a left turn over a group of lakeshore homes in Arrowhead Shores. Cataldo listened.
“Negative sounding. Someone’s building a retaining wall at the waterline with a concrete mixer running. The vibrations from it were in the water.”
Piccolo slammed his fist down on the gunnel of his boat. Goddammit. They had been running radio, TV and newspaper ads for two days asking people not to run lawn mowers, power tools or anything else that would make a lot of noise near the lake. But some jackass was doing it anyway.
Morrison put the Orion back into a climb up to a thousand feet where again it could circle over the lake picking up signals from all four buoys. The crew was aware that Arrowhead was stocked with over twenty thousand fish earlier in the summer and Cataldo picked up some of their movement in the water. He would hear staccato sequences of blips heading toward a buoy but then they would disperse. This indicated groupings of larger fish, possibly bass, but not one large object emanating sound that would be constant.
Everyone knew there was a shark in the lake, but so far it hadn’t moved.
Piccolo and the others watched from below as the Orion continued to make lazy turns over the lake. He had anticipated that the sophisticated probes listening for it would hear the shark almost immediately. But that hadn’t been the case. The Orion had been circling for almost half an hour now and Cataldo hadn’t had anything significant to report.
If the Orion came up dry, Piccolo wondered what his next move would be. Right now the plane was listening over the entire lake and so far nothing had been heard. The Navy commander in charge of the Orions had bragged to him about their capabilities. “If it’s in the lake we’ll find it,” he had said. “The plane’s equipment is so sensitive, if that shark of yours moves twenty feet through the water we’ll hear it. There’s no escaping once an Orion locks in on it. It’ll direct your deputies right to the target. Guaranteed.”
The Loch Ness monster came into Piccolo’s mind again. In 1977 seven boats with sonar equipment on board went side by side down the entire loch looking for it. They didn’t find a thing. Not a single blip. That’s when they came away truly believing they were dealing with a monster. A creature. Not something real that could be heard by sonar.
Was that what he was facing now? Was it also a monster that could escape the probing eyes and ears of modern technology? If that was true, his guys could run up and down the lake in their boats forever hoping to find this thing and they never would.
The radio crackled beside him.
“Blips picked up at Buoy three. It’s nothing though Sheriff. Just some kids skipping stones on the water from the shore.”
Lieutenant Cataldo didn’t even want to report the finding. The only reason he did was to impress upon Piccolo just how sensitive the Orion’s equipment was. He was hearing a lot of irrelevant sounds; a flock of birds landing on the surface, a pump drawing water from the lake to water a lawn, a boat banging against a dock near Buoy Four. But no large object moving through the water for almost an hour now. He couldn’t imagine the shark being that immobile for that length of time. Unless he was somewhere just off the periphery of a buoy’s range. But that would be unlikely. Sooner or later he would have to move into range.
Captain Morrison had just told him they would remain aloft for another three hours and then call it quits. By that time the plane would be low on fuel and they would have exhausted their chances of finding anything. They did have two more buoys that could be dropped though. Cataldo radiod Piccolo for location suggestions.
Piccolo looked at a chart of the lake that showed where the buoys had been dropped. Red overlapping circles around them indicated the listening range from them. There were two small coves though outside the circles. One was Puckett Cove, the other Sail Harbor. The new buoys would cover them. He radiod Cataldo the locations and waited.
“Roger,” came the reply. “We’ll drop them now.”
Piccolo looked up and saw the Orion bank to the right, turn north and begin its descent. It disappeared over the hills on Vaughn’s Neck heading for Puckett Cove where Bill Pazman had been attacked. Minutes later he saw the plane again now circling directly over Vaughan’s Neck to include the new buoys in its monitoring.
One more hour passed with little communication from the plane except to report all buoys were functioning, but still nothing large moving through the water. Two more hours passed. Late afternoon shadows fell over the lake and the sweltering temperature began to drop making it a little more comfortable for Piccolo and his men.
He knew there would be a swarm of media back at his office when he returned. Though there had been hope of having some positive results to report, it was rapidly disappearing.
His radio came on.
His hopes shot up, but only until he realized that it wasn’t Cataldo on the other end of the line, but Captain Morrison.
“I’m afraid we have to pack it in, Sheriff,” he said. “Our fuel is low and we have to head back to base. “Sorry we weren’t more help.”
“Thank you and your crew for trying, Captain. We certainly appreciate it.”
Piccolo watched as the Orion turned and headed farther north eventually disappearing into a cloud miles away.
“That’s it,” he said to the volunteers in the boat with him. “Let’s call it a day and hope there will be better ones.”
They untied the lines from the dock and headed for the boat ramp at Sunset Cove where their vehicles were waiting. But so was the press. They would be asking what had happened and he would have to say “nothing.” A sophisticated Navy plane capable of hearing anything of any size moving through the water had heard nothing, nada, zilch. Then where was the shark? “Damned if he knew,” he’d like to say. “Damned if the Navy knew. Damned if anybody the fuck knew.”
He was living a nightmare day and night now. There was no end to it. He thought about it from the moment he got up in the morning to the end of every exhausting day. And then there was the tossing and turning at night. If he did doze off it was just for an hour or so, then he would be awake again.
He was irritable with Ann and the kids and hated his own behavior toward them. But there was nothing he could do. This goddamn thing constantly ate away at him. When was it going to end he asked himself. He thought today might have been the day. The Orion was going to find the shark, lead them to it and they were finally going to blow the fucking thing’s head off. They’d hook it and drag it to the shore to show the press and everyone else that this monster that had maimed people was gone from Arrowhead. Now everyone could go back in the water. Everything could return back to normal, including his life.
But that wasn’t to be. The thing was still out there somewhere. Hiding. Where? In a place where no one could find it. Maybe they never would.
Other ebooks by Bob Neidhardt: Kill The Author, Mr. Best Selling Author and Tarnished Bronze.
All are available on Amazon.com.