Labor Day ended the summer on Arrowhead Lake. Kids went back to school, vacations from work were over for parents, and the beginning of cold September nights cooled the water.
It was the time for one last summer get together. On Labor Day the lake always “kicked up,” as the old timers said, with waves crossing in every direction from boats speeding up and down it. Waves splashed into the swimming areas and moved docks from side to side. Small sailboats were tossed about by larger boats passing them too close at thirty miles an hour. Too much celebrating with too much drinking always brought about a few accidents every year, some of them serious.
But not this year.
The lake water was calm and still, devoid of boats, with just an occasional slight ripple from a gentle northwest breeze. Smoke from charcoal grills rose lazily in the air from the shore. Families sat on decks eating hot dogs and hamburgers, looking at water that could refresh them from the sweltering eighty-degree temperature.
But large red and white signs blocked all entrances to the water, as they had all summer with stark block lettering declaring, “Lake Closed.”
Piccolo sat alongside John Helmsley as they made their way down the lake in the Authority’s twenty foot Boston Whaler. They were one of twelve patrols that would take place until midnight both looking for the shark and keeping everyone off the lake. A loaded shotgun lie between them on the floor of the boat. It was the same boat from which Ray Marione had almost lost his hand.
They entered a narrow passage separating Deer Island from Arrowhead Isle. There was yet another For Sale sign on a lake front home with Sale Pending written below it. Of course the real estate agency was Benson & Stanley.
“How many does that make now?” Helmsley asked slowing down to get a better look at the house.
“About sixty,” Piccolo replied. “And that’s one of the smaller ones.”
“Think it’ll stop now that the season’s over?”
“Yeah,” Piccolo said still looking at the house. “I think the shark scared the people who were close to selling anyway, but now the die hards will settle in for the winter and see what happens next spring.”
“You don’t think that thing will still be alive in the spring do you?” Helmsley asked. “It’ll never live under the two foot thick ice like we got last winter.”
“To tell you the truth,” Piccolo said looking across the water, “I can’t imagine it not being in the lake. Even if the ice freezes that deep again.”
“I know,” Helmsley said shaking his head, “but a shark can’t live under the ice. It’s gotta freeze to death.”
“They said it couldn’t live in fresh water either, but it did.” Piccolo recognized the cynicism in his voice, but couldn’t help it. This thing was like the arthritis he had in his wrist. Every morning he woke up thinking it might be gone, but it was always there. For two years now.
“Well I think in the Spring we’re going to find it floating in the water belly up dead as a door nail. Then everybody can get back to enjoying the lake again.”
“Let’s hope so,” Piccolo said scanning the water, “it would make a lot of people happy.”
Helmsley nodded in agreement, but Piccolo wasn’t optimistic at all. Something in the back of his mind always told him this wasn’t any normal shark. It was a super being. One that would never be caught.
When he expressed those feelings to Ann, she told him that like everything else in life this too would come to an end. But then he would remind her of Loch Ness and the nearly sixty years that had passed. She would say it wasn’t the same. He would end the conversation by saying “Oh yeah?”
They passed by a wooden sign on a lawn. “Don’t Feed The Shark” was written on it. They were popping up all over the lake now. Somebody with a wry sense of humor was selling them down at the hardware store.
“Hey Sheriff,” a man called from the deck of his lakeshore home. “I ain’t sellin’ my house, ‘cause I know you’re going to catch that thing. Go get ‘em!” He pumped his fist in the air. Piccolo waved back.
They slowly made their way through the narrow passage. Some small boys were playing whiffle ball on the lawn. The batter hit it hard and the ball landed in the lake. The boy nearest the water instinctively turned to go in it after it.
“No!” the father shouted from the upper deck of the house. “Don’t go in the water,” but the boy was already in it.
Helmsley gunned the boat toward the ball and Piccolo reached in after it. He tossed it up on the shore and the boy went back for it. By then his father had come down from the deck and was running across the lawn.
He screamed at the young boy telling him he was never to go in the water, hit him across his rear end and sent him up to the house. Acknowledging Helmsley and Piccolo with a wave, he slammed the door.
It was just a small example of the impact the shark had on the lake all summer. Piccolo had witnessed the same panic with his own son. Most people had experienced fear in one way or another.
They came through the passage out into the broad expanse of Echo Bay. Piccolo looked across to the marina and the blue shrink wrapped boats stacked up high on racks. Most of them had been there all summer, having never touched the water.
This summer had been the worst one of his life. Helmsley was right. If he was lucky ice would come and destroy the killer they hadn’t been able to find. If this thing was a freak of Mother Nature, maybe she would right the wrong by freezing it to death under the ice. Hopefully she would bring a cold winter like last year’s. And the thing would die.
Marlee and Phillip Atkins’ Georgetown home was unique in that its architecture was from the Federal Period rather than the typical Georgian or Victorian. The stately fourteen room sixteenth century home had been completely restored in 2010 down to the finest detail. The most impressive room was the dining room. It had been enlarged to seat twenty two at a massive mahogany table where dignitaries from both Capitol Hill and the world had dined.
Marlee, through her position as chief White House correspondent for the Washington Post, had acquired a group of friends that made her, according to Vanity Fair Magazine, “the hostess whose guest list the powerful aspire to.” When you were invited to the Atkins’ you knew you hadn’t just made it to the top of your field of endeavor, but had made it to the top of Washington society.
Tonight’s gathering was unusual. Outside of Senators Pierce and Matson, the guests didn’t include anyone from Capitol Hill. Instead there were people from the arts; a Hollywood director, the conductor of the Washington Symphony, a well known author, and two Broadway playwrights. Swiss Ambassador Franz Kuehl was the only foreign dignitary. (At Senator Pierce’s request, Kuehl was seated next to Matson) The dinner party was small by Marlee’s standards. There were only twelve guests.
As usual the conversation was spirited with Marlee bringing people into it from her end of the table and Phillip from the other. Topics ranged from the upcoming programs of the Washington Symphony to Britain’s soccer team’s chances at winning the World Cup, to an un-named Hollywood star showing up drunk on the set. She didn’t remain anonymous for long as the director was later seen whispering her name into Marlee’s ear.
And now Marlee brought up another subject that piqued her interest having been a native of Connecticut. It was of course the shark in Arrowhead. When Senator Pierce had asked her to invite Matson along with Ambassador Kuehl she had enthusiastically agreed. She had followed the news reports closely and knew that someone out to bring down Norton Utilities was suspected of being responsible for the shark. Pierce had also told her that whoever it was, held a numbered account in Switzerland. She had said she would bring Kuehl and Matson together.
“I used to swim in Arrowhead when I was a little girl,” she said looking at Matson and Kuehl. “It’s just terrible that a shark has taken over the whole lake and injured people. I just hope they find out who’s behind such a horrendous thing. Do you have any idea who it could be Senator?”
“Not yet,” Matson replied looking at the others around him who had begun to listen to the conversation. “But we suspect he’s trying to devalue lakeshore properties and Norton Utilities which owns a considerable amount of it.”
“So this person must be very wealthy,” Marlee said, “to have bought up all the property.”
“Yes, except Norton’s.”
“Well then you must be able to find out who he is,” Sally said sipping her wine, “with assets that considerable, they shouldn’t be that difficult to find.”
Matson hesitated realizing that Marlee was leading him straight toward the subject of Swiss secrecy. “They’re protected, I’m afraid,” he said. “We don’t have access to them.”
“Ahh,” Sally said smiling, “this person has a numbered account.”
Matson simply shrugged.
Sally turned to Kuehl.
“Well then Franz, can’t you help us find out who’s keeping me from swimming in my lake?” Sally sat with her arms crossed over her ample bosom waiting for an answer.
Kuehl was obviously flustered with the attention of most of the table, but recovered quickly.
“Now you wouldn’t want me to that Marlee,” he said looking around him. “Then I might have to reveal the identities of some numbered account holders at this table.”
“Oh no!” the Hollywood director said, then quickly put his hands over his mouth.
Marlee and the others laughed. “We don’t have one of those accounts do we dear?” she asked her husband at the other end of the table.
“Of course not,” he said gesturing to those seated around him. “We don’t have enough money after the grocery bills.”
“Well anyway,” Sally said to Kuehl, “I think you should find out know how much money Richard (the Hollywood director) has in his numbered account.”
The ambassador reached into his breast pocket and took out a pen and notebook. He looked directly at several people at the table and said, “then you don’t want me to look into the other accounts here.”
“No, no please. Don’t blow everybody’s cover,” she said laughing.
Pierce was very pleased with Sally’s light tone in handling the matter. Nobody really expected Kuehl to start looking into numbered accounts, but the subject had been broached for a meeting between Matson and Kuehl later in the evening.
The conversation switched to other subjects and when dinner was over the party moved to a large sitting room where cordials were served. At a point when small groups were being formed, Sally saw to it that Matson and Kuehl were able to be alone for a few moments out on a terrace adjoining the room.
After she returned inside, Senator Pierce thanked her for her efforts.
“It’s nothing,” she said turning pensive. “I remember once swimming in Arrowhead when I was only about six or seven. My mother and father were up on the beach watching me do the back stroke which they had just taught me. Just as I stopped to wave to them, I felt something nibble at my back. I screamed and ran out of the water saying that something had bit me. My parents looked at my back and didn’t see anything. Then my father explained that sometimes little sunnies will nibble at you in shallow water and not to be afraid. Well it had scared the life out of me.” She looked out at the silhouettes of Matson and Kuehl on the terrace. “Now it’s not a sunny nibbling anymore, but a shark taking large bites. I still have friends on that lake and they’re either losing their shirts or terrified to go in the water. So if I can help in any way I will.”
Outside on the terrace Senator Matson found Kuehl to be both friendly yet guarded. He of course questioned Matson as to whether he had any proof that the numbered account he was seeking was directly involved with the shark.
“No,” Matson replied, “we haven’t been able to make a direct link, but it’s becoming very obvious to us that whoever is responsible for the shark is also trying to bring down Norton Utilities.”
Kuehl smiled while taking a sip of his after dinner brandy. He was a good looking man in his sixties, impeccably groomed and dressed in a traditional black tuxedo. “But unless you can prove criminal intent on behalf of the account holder I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do for you Senator.”
“I was hoping you might make some private inquiries outside of normal channels,” Matson said. Having served two terms in the Senate had familiarized him with making deals “outside of normal channels,” but there was still some embarrassment attached to it when a foreign diplomat was involved.
“What sort of inquiries?”
Matson hadn’t anticipated the question. He had assumed Kuehl would simply say yes or no to his request.
“Well uh to officials of the bank involved…Union Suisse in this case.”
Kuehl looked at him over the top of his brandy sniffer.
“That’s not possible,” he replied. “What you’re asking me to do is against Swiss law and Swiss banking tradition. There are only a few exceptions, none of which apply here.”
Matson looked at him as if to say “you don’t get it do you Mr. Ambassador. I’m not asking you to deal within the law. I’m asking you to use your influence to go around it to do a favor for a Senator from a country with a lot of business inside Switzerland.”
But Kuehl did get it. He wasn’t going to get involved with a senator making a request that was illegal. Maybe the Americans could make their shady deals matter of factly but he would not. Besides, nothing was held in confidence anymore. Everything leaked into the newspapers especially when it involved a high profile news item like this shark. There wasn’t any way he would get involved.
The only thing that disturbed him was that Marlee Atkins was a good friend and it was obvious she had arranged for the senator to make his request and supported it. Marlee had also volunteered to serve as chairperson on the committee to celebrate the opening of the new Swiss embassy scheduled for later in the year. But the law was the law. He could only make one small concession; and that only because of Marlee.
“The only thing I can do Senator is speak on your behalf to the Banking Commissioner,” Kuehl said, but quickly added before Matson got his hopes up, “but only after you can supply evidence that links the account holder to the shark. This would insure that your request was handled promptly without waiting on a docket that could take months.”
“Thanks for nothing, was what Matson wanted to say. How the hell were they ever going to link the account to the shark? There was no way to prove who had put it in the lake, only who was benefitting by its presence. And that wasn’t enough.
They had to know who the account holder was. But they weren’t going to get it from the Swiss.
Other ebooks by Bob Neidhardt are
Kill The Author, Mr. Best Selling Author and Tarnished Bronze.
All are available on Amazon.com