Piccolo was as brief with the media waiting in Sunset Cove as he possibly could. He also tried to remain optimistic (as difficult as it was) saying that although the Orion search had failed they would continue to keep looking for the shark until they found it. When they asked how he planned to do that, he said he would pursue the search with the Navy (although he had no idea how or if they were still willing.) When the questions and answers both got repetitive, he said he had to get back to his duties.
He got into his car, drove about a mile and pulled off the side of the road. From there he radioed Tillitson who was already back at the office. Tillitson had also faced a swarm of reporters who had been waiting to hear about the Orion search. He had tried to stall them saying the sheriff would be there shortly, but they were persistent and he finally told them about the failure to locate the shark.
“Just as well Roy,” Piccolo said. “They got the same message here from me.”
“Yeah, didn’t turn out to what we hoped for did it,” Tillitson said. They both were beyond trying to hide the disappointment from each other now.
“That’s for sure.”
Piccolo didn’t know what else to say. He and Roy were too close for him to give false hope in a pep talk. Sure he could say they’ll keep on plugging away and sooner or later they’ll catch this damn thing, but he didn’t know how they were going to do it. Ahab had no idea how he was going to find Moby Dick.
“Well tomorrow’s another day,” Tillitson said breaking the obvious pause in the conversation.
“Anything else I should know about at the office?” Piccolo asked.
“Nothing that can’t wait until tomorrow. See you then.”
Piccolo hung up the phone and headed out to the main road toward home. He drove past Lakeside Grill, the bar and restaurant where Hal Evers and Jerry Wright had been the night before they were attacked by the shark. Normally at this time Lakeside would be overflowing with people who had just gotten out of work. Friday night was Singles Night and women got free beer. There were three cars in the lot and a sign that said the place would be closing indefinitely next week.
Farther down the road was East Bay Marina. They had racks stacked with boats that hadn’t been put into the water yet with the season almost a month old. Blue shrink wrap was still on them. The docks were in the water, all of them empty.
He passed three lake shore homes with For Sale signs on them. They had all been posted within the past week.
Even the Catholic church had a sign out saying Tuesday night Bingo was cancelled. There weren’t enough summer residents at the lake to justify the games. Many of the “snow birds” had simply stayed longer in Florida rather than return to a lake they couldn’t use.
Businesses off the lake were suffering also. Gas stations, restaurants, retail stores, home repair services, all were feeling the impact of the lake being closed. It had been estimated that Arrowhead fueled an economy of over sixty million dollars annually. But a shark in the lake was on the way to destroying all of that.
Right now everyone was looking to him to find and kill the thing. From his boys, Michael and Mark all the way up to the governor. And he didn’t have the slightest idea of how he was going to do it.
The radio crackled on his dashboard. It was Tillitson.
“Took a phone call just as I was going out the door sheriff,” he said.
“Who was it?”
“Navy Commander Spencer at Stuart Air Force base.”
Piccolo wasn’t surprised. The commander probably was calling to express his disappointment at the Orion not being successful. “What was the message?” he asked.
“He said the Navy wasn’t giving up,” Tillitson said quickly. “He wants to talk to you about another way to catch the shark.”
Sally Benson and Beth Stanley were putting in ten to twelve hour days regularly now. Million dollar lakefront houses on Arrowhead were selling at a rate of three or more a week. Everything was selling at close to half price, all to the numbered account in Switzerland.
The Murray house had been typical. They had wanted one-point-two million, had settled for seven hundred and fifty thousand, (They had called back. Sally and Beth had agreed to another fifty) and the house had closed last week along with three others. The pace was grueling for both of them. Between negotiating with the sellers, communicating with Switzerland, attending inspections and closings, they could barely keep up with it.
With each new report that the shark hadn’t been found came more sales. At first, people who had been on the fence about selling were finally pushed into it by the shark. But now, even those who wanted to stay at Arrowhead were selling out of sheer fear of losing the value of their homes. People saw a For Sale sign on their neighbor’s lawn and it spread panic down the street. By now everybody knew that Benson & Stanley would buy everything that came on the market so they were called immediately. Once Sally or Beth met with them and gave their price, typically they would hold out for more. But eventually they accepted. They didn’t have any other choice. There were no other buyers.
“I don’t know how we’re going to keep up with this,” Beth said returning from yet another closing. They had hired a paralegal last week to do some of the preliminary paper work but she wasn’t up to speed yet to make a difference.
“Well of all the numbers running around in your head, just think of our twenty percent commission, Beth,” Sally said looking up from her cluttered desk.
“I’m trying to,” Beth said slumping down in a chair across from her partner. “It’s great money, but my feet are hurting.”
“Get a massage. We can afford it.”
“Yeah, but who’s got the time.”
Sally didn’t answer because since Beth had left this morning she had gotten three more calls from people who wanted to sell their lakeshore homes. But sooner or later she would have to tell her. It might as well be now.
“Guess what?” she said picking up her notes on the home’s specifications.
“Oh no, don’t tell me.”
“You got it. Practically right next to each other in Sail Harbor. The lowest,” she said emphasizing the word, “asking price is one point eight million. They go up from there.”
They both knew they would knock forty percent off the prices but the commissions were still huge considering they didn’t have to look for a buyer.
“You’ll have to follow up on two of them,” Beth said letting out a deep breath. “I’ve got two closings tomorrow one right after the other.”
“I know,” Sally said. She didn’t mind visiting the homes in the most exclusive section of the lake. For years she had been impressed with the three story high foyers, cathedral ceiling family rooms and kitchens to die for. Now she was in a position to buy one.
That got her to thinking for a moment. Would she? People were selling them because they were afraid of losing even more if the shark couldn’t be found and killed. What would she do in that situation? Hold out for awhile and see if the thing was caught? Or would she be like Mr. Numbered Account in Switzerland and buy one at forty percent less having confidence that the shark would be killed and the prices would return to normal. If she felt that way she should scoop one up right now.
No way she decided. Right now she was in the best position she could be in. No matter what happened she stood to make her commission. Let everybody else gamble. She was sitting on a sure thing.
“I’ll set up appointments with the first two,” she told Beth. “If they go easy and I have time I’ll also take the third while I’m there.”
“Thanks,” Beth said. “Have you been in touch with Switzerland today?”
“Yes,” Sally replied checking the information on her computer screen. “We need more money wired into our account.”
“How much did you ask for?”
“Another fifteen million.”
“Welty spoke to his client and he’s wiring twenty million.”
“Why twenty?” Beth asked.
“Because he said we’d need it.”
Two days later Piccolo stood on an empty dock at East Bay Marina awaiting the last Lake Authority patrol boat. Again it was a beautiful sunset over a lake still threatened by a killer shark. The day had been cloudy so the setting sun was illuminating clouds with reds, pinks and thin lines of gold outlining their edges. The spectrum of colors reflected on the water became a beautiful liquid tapestry.
Off in the distance Piccolo saw the boat turning toward the marina. Two men were silhouetted against the sky, one holding a shotgun at the ready. Piccolo knew they were John Helmsley and Ray Marione, Lake Authority volunteers for close to ten years.
Their boat came up to the dock and Piccolo helped them tie up.
“Another day of same which means we didn’t see anything,” Marione said.
“Lot of fish jumpin’ around because nobody’s fishing for them,” Helmsley added.
“Yeah I know,” Piccolo said, “same old stuff, but I wanted to come down here and thank you guys for still trying. I appreciate it.”
“Well we keep goin’ out but John and I were saying that we don’t know how much sense it makes anymore.”
“Why do you say that?” Piccolo asked.
“Because if that Navy plane with all its sonar couldn’t find the shark, our chances are just about nil,” Marione said getting the boat cover from the stern locker. “We’re thinking this is just a waste of time.”
“I don’t think so,” Piccolo said. “The shark could have been in a narrow inlet where the sonar didn’t pick it up. There was still five or ten percent of the lake that it didn’t cover.” He knew the explanation sounded weak, but he didn’t want to give up the searches. Until they actually had a dead shark to show everyone, he couldn’t possibly open up the lake.
The continued search also said they were still doing something and not sitting on their hands. Maybe it was a waste of gasoline and men’s time, but he had to keep their morale up so they would keep looking.
“Well maybe,” Helmsley said hesitantly, “but that plane was up there a long time for the shark to have been in one place.”
“It made an awful lot of noise when it swooped down a couple of times there. Could have spooked the shark into hiding quietly somewhere I suppose,” Marione said tightening the cover around the boat.
“There’s one other possibility,” Piccolo said. “That it’s dead. We’ve been told that Bull Noses can live in fresh water, but nobody knows for how long. Well it’s been in here for close to a month now and maybe the fresh water killed it.”
“Then for all we know it’s laying on the bottom somewhere while we’re still running around looking for it,” Helmsley said shaking his head.
“Not really,” Piccolo replied. “From what I’ve been told, if it dies decaying gases will bloat the body and it’ll float to the surface. For that reason alone we should keep looking out there.”
“Yeah I suppose,” Marione said.
“And one other thing,” Piccolo said hesitantly.
“If the shark is still out there it needs something to attack.”
“Oh really?” Helmsley said surprised at Piccolo’s directness. “So we’re the bait.”
“Let’s say well armed bait John. The shotguns you have will blow a hole in that thing if it gets anywhere near you so you’re well protected.”
“So we should make ourselves more of a target you’re saying.”
“I’m saying buzzing up and down the lake isn’t going to find the shark. It’s going to have to come to you.”
“Well it came to those two guys fishing pretty good. Tipped the damn boat right over,” Marione said.
“That boat was a lot lighter than this patrol boat and a lot more unstable. Weighed less than five hundred pounds,” Piccolo said. He pointed to the boat beside them. “This one is four feet longer and weighs three times that.”
Helmsley nodded in agreement. There was no way a shark was going to roll the Whaler over. He and Marione finished securing it and the three men walked away from the dock.
“By the way,” Piccolo said, “I’m meeting with the Navy again tomorrow up at Stuart. They’re not giving up yet.”
“They going to send the plane back for another shot?” Marione asked.
“No something else.”
“No. A small two man sub with cameras and sonar that can move around the lake. They’re also equipping it with two spear guns that can be fired from inside. We’re bringing in the heavy stuff guys. If that shark is still alive, they’ll find it and kill it.”
“Maybe save us the trouble,” Helmsley said putting his shotgun into his pickup.
“Let’s hope so,” Piccolo said.
The Navy had raised his hopes again. But something inside told him that it was false hope. This wasn’t just a shark, it was a monster and it wasn’t ever going to be found.
Other ebooks by Bob Neidhardt: Kill The Author, Mr. Best Selling Author and Tarnished Bronze.
All are available on Amazon.com.