It was very difficult for Piccolo to keep secret that the shark wasn’t real. Especially from his family. Ann wondered why she didn’t see many patrol boats on the lake during her walks. “Have you given up searching for it?” she had asked. He had told her there were other things keeping his deputies busy but she responded with, “well what about the Lake Authority guys. Are they too busy too?” He just shrugged his shoulders.
And now during dinner questions about the shark continued.
“You know dad,” Mike said picking at the vegetables that he hated, “you don’t tell us anything about the shark anymore. Like we wanna know if another summer is going to be blown off or are you going to catch the thing?”
“I don’t know Mike.”
“Well are you doing anything different to catch it?” Mark asked.
“I’m doing everything I can.” (It sounded like one of the answers he gave news reporters.)
“You know your father is trying,” Ann said coming to his defense despite her own doubts. “He wants to see the lake opened again too.”
“Not as bad as we do,” Mike said. “He’s working all the time anyway.”
Piccolo knew this was a sore point with Mike. He tried more than anyone he knew to be home as much as possible for his family. Every day he went in early, six-thirty sometimes to get a jump on his work so he could be home evenings. His disappointment must have shown on his face because Mike then said, “sorry dad.”
“It’s okay,” he said.
The telephone rang. Ann picked it up.
Hearing their mother’s end of the conversation, the boys knew Mrs. Goodwin, Brian and Donny’s mother was calling.
“Donny wants to know if you want to sleep over his house tonight, Mike,” Ann said.
“Yeah sure,” Mike replied. The two boys always had a good time at each other’s house.
A few seconds later Ann turned to Mark.
“Brian wants to know if you want to stay over too,”
This was the second time Brian had asked in two weeks. Mark said he didn’t want to go the last time. When asked why, he had simply said he just didn’t feel like it. But he later admitted to Ann that he was afraid he would wake up in the middle of the night screaming about the shark. He didn’t want Brian to see him that way.
“I don’t want to go,” Mark said without looking up from his food.
Piccolo was afraid to push him. But at the same time felt the experience of being outside the house for an evening might be good for him.
“Why don’t you go Mark,” he said pleasantly. “It’ll be fun.”
“I don’t want to dad.” His tone indicated the decision was final.
“Are you sure?” Ann pressed.
“Yeah mom. I don’t want to.”
Ann turned away and in muffled tones spoke to Ellen Goodwin, presumably making an excuse for Mark. Finally she hung up the phone.
“Mrs. Goodwin said to come over about seven Mike. So get your things together after dinner.” She walked over and patted Mark on the shoulder before she sat down.
The conversation steered to other things. Piccolo asked about upcoming baseball games the boys had in the summer recreation league. Mike was excited about the season. Mark didn’t have too much to say.
After dinner Mike left for Donnie’s house just down the street. Ann suggested the three of them play Monopoly for awhile which Mark loved.
“I think I’ll just go and play some video games,” he said.
Mark went downstairs while Ann and Piccolo went into the living room. Ann sat down hard in the sofa next to him and got straight to what was bothering her.
“Are you any closer to catching that damn thing?” she asked. Her frustration over Mark’s nightmares was obvious. “You don’t talk about it much any more.”
The reason he didn’t talk about it was because he didn’t want to lie to her. Any progress he was making now was to stop a mechanical shark from threatening the lake, not a real one. Telling anyone about it, even his own wife, could jeopardize the investigation. Whoever young Tom Puckett had become was right here on the lake. Within miles from where they were right now. And he was in a race with the Feds to find him. If he told Ann the shark wasn’t real and she inadvertently mentioned something to one of her friends, it could undermine any progress he and Tillitson were making.
And yet he wanted to tell her. For years he had seeked her advice on cases he couldn’t see any way of solving. Ann had come up with insightful suggestions that had ultimately helped to bring about convictions.
“We’re making progress,” was all he could say.
“That’s what you’ve been saying for weeks now. That might be good enough for the reporters but it’s not for me.”
“Ann it’s all I can….”
“No,” she said stopping him. “Something more has to be done. The only thing that will stop Mark from having these terrible nightmares is for that shark to be hanging dead on a hook somewhere. I don’t think he’ll be better until then.”
Piccolo didn’t know what to say. What the shark had done to Mark was the very reason he wasn’t willing to let the person responsible for it off the hook. And yet Ann might be right. The government said they would ensure that the shark was eliminated from Arrowhead. How they were going to do that he wasn’t sure, but it could take away Mark’s fears. But one thing he was sure of. Puckett (or whoever he was now) wouldn’t go to jail. He would never pay for what he did to their son. The Feds would shut down his radio controlled shark operation and he’d probably be sent to a safe house where they could keep an eye on him. Then he could continue doing whatever was so goddamn important to the government.
There was another dilemma he was grappling with. It involved principle. He couldn’t conceive how the government nevertheless, could absolve somebody of a crime they knew he was guilty of. They were the FBI and the CIA for chrissake. It just went against everything he stood for.
And yet his son was having terrible nightmares and he could most likely stop them.
“Ann,” he said, struggling for the right words, “this investigation has gotten bigger into something that goes far beyond Arrowhead. There are other people involved in the case now. That’s making it real complicated.”
“Too complicated for me to understand?” She had that look of confrontation on her face which he had seldom seen during fifteen years of marriage but it was there now.
“Of course not,” he replied. He wanted to take her hand, but was sure she’d pull it away.
“The investigation,” she said, putting emphasis on the word, “had gone beyond the lake last year Gary. Have you found out who’s behind the Swiss account? Because you said then, whoever it was, was also responsible for the shark.”
“That’s right. And we think we know who it is but we can’t prove it.”
“So from there it gets complicated.” Her arms were folded across her chest now and she wasn’t looking at him.
Piccolo wished now that he hadn’t shared any of his work with her in the past. He knew guys that never said a word about their jobs. They left everything at the office and came home to a separate life away from it. But that hadn’t ever been his style. Ann had helped him campaign for the sheriff’s job six years ago. She had been there right at his side through the days of handing out campaign brochures in shopping malls and delivering “Vote For Piccolo” signs for people to put on their lawns. After he was elected he felt he owed it to her to share what was going on at work. And when she was actually helpful in his doing the job, he had kept it up. Now he wished he hadn’t.
He leaned forward on the sofa and put his head into his hands. For a moment neither of them said anything.
“Ann,” he said without looking up, “Believe me if I could tell you what’s going on I would. Right now no one except Roy and myself know where we are in the investigation. Not any of our deputies, no one. Roy hasn’t told anyone and I’ve got to do the same. If you ever slipped and it got out, the whole thing would be blown.”
He waited for a response. There wasn’t any.
And then he felt her hand on his shoulder. He turned to look at her. There were tears in her eyes.
“All right,” she said. “I’ll accept that you can’t tell me, but only on one condition.”
“Anything,” he said taking her hand.
“You have got to promise me that the shark will be out of the lake before the end of the summer. I can’t have Mark like this any longer than that.”
He drew her close to him and stroked her hair as she sobbed in his arms.
“I promise you,” he said softly. “By then it will be over with.”
Now he had a deadline. Now there was a limit to how long he could either hold on to his principles or accept the fact that he needed the government to rid the lake of the shark and accept the consequences.
At 3Am the all too familiar crying from Mark’s bedroom awakened him. Ann was already out of bed putting on her bathrobe.
“I’ll go,” he said pushing back the covers.
“No,” she replied opening the bedroom door. “I’ll take care of this. You take care of your work.”
Roy Tillitson sat in his office watching an image being created on his computer screen. The scanner was inputting Tom Puckett’s graduation picture from MIT’s 1974 senior yearbook. Slowly the black and white image filled the screen showing a twenty-two year old Tom; a handsome young man with wavy dark hair, a square jaw and piercing eyes. His one distinguishing feature was his eyebrows. They were a little too thick, more like you would see in an older man.
Tillitson made several adjustments to the scanned image. He heightened the contrast slightly and changed the gray background to pure white. This would aid in getting the best results from a program he now brought up on the screen.
The program was called Crime Sketch that in many cases eliminated the need for a police sketch artist. It enabled a witness to pick out various features such as nose, mouth, eyes, hair and general shape of the face, which the program then assembled into a composite. After viewing the completed image the witness could then request changes until he or she was satisfied that it represented what the perpetrator looked like.
Tillitson however wasn’t interested in that part of the program’s capability. Crime Sketch also was able to show what a suspect would look like as he aged. It was invaluable in portraying what missing children who had been kidnapped many years ago looked like today.
But Tillitson needed the program to show a much greater span of time, which it also was capable of. He punched in a series of instructions that called for a time difference of thirty-two years. Then he sat back and waited.
After about a minute a new image appeared to the right of the original one. It scrolled on the screen from top to bottom.
The computer’s version of sixty nine year old Tom Puckett showed a high forehead with just a few strands of white hair covering the top of his head. His overly large eyebrows were thicker and snow white. Like most older men his skin had succumbed to gravity. There were small bags under his eyes and the tight skin around his jaws had settled into a jowl. The veins and muscles of his neck now were defined under a chin that had doubled.
Tillitson hit the print button and the printer produced a side by side comparison of the two images.
But more variations were needed. What if Puckett hadn’t lost his hair? What if he had a full crop of white hair or hadn’t lost much color in it at all? What if he wore glasses now? What kind: wire framed or thicker rims? In all, Tillitson made seven more variations.
When that was finished he created yet one more.
This last one cropped off the top of Puckett’s head across the middle of his forehead. Tillitson gave him sunglasses with varying frame sizes and put shadows over his eyes that would have been created by a floppy hat. If the man Emma Rawley had seen hurriedly leaving the Brookdale town park was Puckett, this was what she would have seen of his face.
Tillitson gathered up the prints and went into Piccolo’s office closing the door. While he had been working with Crime Sketch, Piccolo had been doing research on his computer. He had accessed the name of any company involved in radio controlled weapons for the military. They included smart bombs, radio controlled aircraft, miniature submarines, guided missiles long and short range. There were close to a hundred companies large and small.
“So this is what our Tom Puckett would look like today,” Piccolo said looking at the prints spread across his desk.
“It’s what the program says, and it’s helped us out once or twice before,” Tillitson replied.
Piccolo picked up one of the prints.
“Looks like a mild mannered guy doesn’t he.”
“Don’t they all,” Tillitson replied with a shrug. “Even the worst ones.”
“It kills me to think this guy is just a few miles away from here sitting behind his shark controls and we don’t know who he is yet. And worst of all…the FBI does.”
“I know,” Tillitson said slumping down in the chair across from him. “But if Puckett’s going to serve time we got to get him first.”
“It’s not going to be easy,” Piccolo said handing his partner the printouts from his computer. “This is the list of possible military contractors involved in remote weapons.”
“So we need the annual reports from every one of these. Hopefully one of them has a top guy that looks like Crime Sketch’s version of Puckett.”
“Yeah and quick.”
“How are we going to do that?”
“I called my Wall Street friend Steve LaSala at Goldman Sachs. They should all be FedExed here in a day or so.”
“Let’s hope we get lucky.”
Piccolo picked up the picture of Puckett cropped at the forehead.
“Can you get a floppy hat on him?” Piccolo asked.
Tillitson took the picture from him and studied it.
“Why not,” he replied. “I got one at home that I’ll take a digital picture of tonight, then put it into Crime Sketch in the morning. It should work.”
“The beauty of computers,” Piccolo said.
“Yeah. You can even use them to control a shark so it bites into someone’s leg,” Tillitson said getting up from his chair.
Piccolo watched Tillitson return to his office through his glass wall partition. He was lucky to have a second in command like Roy. There was just the two of them now hunting down Puckett in a race with the FBI.
Not only did they have to keep the fact that the shark wasn’t real from their wives, but from their own deputies. That meant the hunt for a real shark had to resume with daily patrols by them and the Lake Authority. The men were told at each morning’s briefing to watch for anything unusual along the lakeshore streets on Arrowhead, but nothing more than that.
Some deputies had reported satellite dish vans in the area, but were told that occasionally satellite companies had several cruising to check signals to their customers.
Piccolo and Tillitson had seen them too over a widespread area. They knew the FBI was obviously trying to catch Puckett emitting a signal, but had several trucks roaming all over the place to protect his real location
Piccolo still believed that Puckett was within a few miles of the Brookdale Town Park. He certainly wasn’t sophisticated in radio control technology, but assumed that Puckett’s laptop didn’t have the same capability to control the shark as what he must be hiding on the lake somewhere.
They had to find it. Time was running out.
Other e books by Bob Neidhardt are
Kill The Author, Mr. Best Selling Author and Tarnished Bronze.
All are available on Amazon.com