Three days later Piccolo got the news from Roehrig that Senator Matson had failed to get any concessions from the Swiss to reveal who was behind the numbered account. He and Tillitson were back to either killing the shark or finding who was responsible for it on their own. The first option was gone now. The lake had frozen over.
With ice covering the surface, at least the danger of someone getting bitten had passed. Hopefully the shark had frozen to death. That would mean in the spring people could go back in the water unafraid. The person responsible for the injuries to the four victims would still have to be found, but until then Piccolo would be under less pressure.
However he wasn’t going to sit on his hands throughout the winter. Without having to run daily patrols looking for the shark and investigating its victims, he had more time to continue to find who was responsible. That brought him back to motive. And to Dolan. Who was out to get him and Norton Utilities and why? Of course that led you right back to the numbered account. It was a vicious circle.
He hoped that further questioning of Dolan would bring more suspects. Whoever was behind this had to have a connection with him.
In the meantime he and Tillitson were going to place the only bets they made all year in full view of the public. They pulled up in a marked patrol car in front of Wilson’s General Store. Wilson’s was located right on the lake road to Marbury which had four super markets in town. But if you only needed a few things and didn’t want to travel seven miles, Wilson’s could tide you over.
It was a true general store. Besides the normal supermarket food items, they sold hardware, electrical supplies, rope, lawn furniture, propane gas, you name it. But most importantly, if you wanted the local gossip, you could get it there. Ed Wilson collected it daily from anyone who wanted to give it, and what he missed his wife Emily never forgot.
Every winter the store ran a lottery. Lotteries were illegal in Connecticut except of course the state lottery. But everyone agreed this one was perfectly safe from organized crime ever taking it over and didn’t pose a danger to anybody.
It involved Harold.
Harold was a stuffed figure, ( hat with ear flaps, a winter jacket, patched jeans, and heavy work shoes,) who was placed out on the lake in back of the store as soon as the ice would hold him. There he sat in a lawn chair through the winter until Spring. For two dollars you could wager when the ice would give out under Harold plunging him into the lake. The winner took what was in the pot, usually close to three hundred dollars.
This year’s three hundred was what Piccolo and Tillitson were after as they entered the store. What always hit Piccolo first was the sweet aroma inside. It was a mixture of candy flavors, (licorice and mint) along with fragrant candles, (honeysuckle and ginger.)
“Well here’s the two guys who are the first to bet every year and were off by a mile last year,” Wilson said as they stepped up to the counter. He pointed to a display that showed Harold’s feet sticking up through the melted ice, chair askew. The date underneath was March twenty-fifth at 2:17 PM the winning time. “Both you guys bet on the second and third week of April.” Wilson threw his hands out from his side and in a loud voice said, “What were you two thinking?”
A few customers in the store laughed and Emily came out from the back room to greet them.
“I hope you can do better this year,” she said pleasantly. Emily and Ed were in their forties and had run the store for about ten years. They were probably the most loved couple in the Marbury area.
“They can’t do much worse than last year,” Ed said.
“Of course we can, just watch,” Tillitson said stepping up to the display that was also the official entry blank. Below the picture of Harold were two oversized calendar pages for the months of March and April. You picked your day and wrote in the exact time you were betting. Tillitson picked March 25th at 2:17 PM.
“That’s the winning day and time last year. It’ll never happen two years in a row,” Emily said.
“Who says?” Tillitson replied. Before anyone could answer he added,” Just to show how confident I am, I’ll take three more dates.” He marked them down on the calendar and handed over his money.
“What about you Sheriff?” Ed asked handing him a pen.
Piccolo looked at the calendar. The ice melting under Harold would be much more important to him than a stuffed figure falling through the melted ice. It would begin another season at Arrowhead where the shark would either be dead or threatening the lake for yet another season.
But like many others, he couldn’t see the possibility of it surviving under the normal ten to fifteen inches of ice. The damn thing had survived in fresh water where it wasn’t supposed to, but thick ice? From what he had read, no way. Other large mammals like whales and larger fish yes, but a shark? Never.
Piccolo picked three dates; April 2, 9, and the fifteenth.
“The fifteenth is income tax day,” Wilson said. “You know what they say about the fifteenth. You can be sure of two things; death and taxes.”
He looked at Piccolo and quickly realized what he had said.
“No way Sheriff. It’s not going to come back and kill again,” he said apologetically. “Impossible. The winter’s going to kill it for you.”
“Next season we’re all going in the lake again,” Emily said. “And I want to tell you, you both did a wonderful job last summer. You may not have caught the shark, but you did everything you could and people appreciate that. We’ve heard nothing but good about you guys.”
“Thanks,” Piccolo said for himself and Tillitson. “Let’s hope Ed is right and the thing will freeze to death.”
“In the meantime I plan to enjoy the lake the rest of the winter,” Ed said. “Couldn’t all summer, but now I got my snowmobile ready to go as soon as there’s a few more inches of snow over the ice. Going to do some serious ice fishing too. Had good luck last year.”
“Well enjoy it,” Piccolo said. “We’ll come by again in April to collect the prize money.”
“Maybe you will,” Ed said shaking both their hands.
Piccolo and Tillitson paid their money, talked a little longer with the Wilsons and then left.
Outside they took the time to walk across the ice to where Harold was sitting in his chair. They stood in front of the figure who seemed to be staring up at them with its two sewn button eyes. The pillowcase head was cocked a little to the side and a velcro strip mouth was curved into a crooked smile.
“Friendly looking guy isn’t he,” Tillitson said.
“Yeah,” Piccolo said looking down at Harold’s work shoes resting on the ice. The ice was clear with frozen air bubbles trapped below. He wondered where the shark was now. Was it struggling somewhere on the lake trying to stay alive? Or was it already dead decomposing under the surface. Something told him it wasn’t dead. It was lying in waiting. In the same place it had hidden from the Orion and Sea Hunt.
“You think it’s still out there don’t you,” Tillitson said.
Piccolo looked out at the frozen lake behind Harold. The mountains in the distance were gray, the trees having shed their leaves. They would remain barren for the rest of the winter months, but Spring would bring new buds that would flower, bringing the trees back to life for another season. Was the same thing true for the shark? Would the Spring bring it new life to again roam the lake threatening and maiming people?
“Yeah I do Roy,” he said still staring at the frozen lake. “I think it has the ability to live under the ice and will come back to haunt us in the Spring.”
“Well Frank McCloskey doesn’t think so,” Tillitson said.
Piccolo and Tillitson had again contacted the Florida marine biologist about three months ago in anticipation of the lake freezing. McCloskey had told him that certain sharks such as the Mackeral, Great White and Thresher were “warm bodied” sharks capable of surviving in water far colder than their body temperatures. The Mackeral in particular, had a blood supply system that takes cold water from their outer flanks inward through a dense bundle of small arteries while larger veins carry metabolically warm de-oxygenated blood in the opposite direction. The arteries and veins pass very close to each other. Because of this close counter current blood flow, they were able to survive in very low temperatures.
The Bull Nose (which the Arrowhead shark had been identified as) had not been known to survive outside temperate waters. But again McCloskey cautioned no one knew for sure. Piccolo reminded him he had said the same thing about a Bull Nose surviving in fresh water for an extended period of time. McCloskey had said then no one knew for sure and it had. Was the same thing true as far as it surviving in frigid water?
McCloskey had finally admitted that the Arrowhead shark was unlike any other he had ever heard of.
“But he didn’t say the shark definitely wouldn’t survive either did he,” Piccolo replied.
“No, not really.”
“And there’s one other possibility I’ve been thinking of,” Piccolo said shaking his head.
“If this shark freezes and dies, what’s to keep the person who put it in the lake from putting another one in? We don’t know how he did it. He could do the same thing again.”
Tillitson let out a deep sigh at the thought of the possibility. The warm air from his mouth turned into a puff of vapor. “Man, then we could be going through this thing all over again,” he said.
“Yeah Roy, we certainly could,” Piccolo said. “We certainly could.”
New Year’s Eve was celebrated in the Piccolo household the same way it had been since he became sheriff. The family stayed home and watched a movie from Blockbuster followed by television coverage of the ball falling in Times Square. Piccolo believed that New Year’s Eve was the most dangerous night of the year to be on the road. His cell phone supported his belief. Although on call for the entire evening, he would not be interrupted unless there was an accident involving a fatality or a serious crime committed. Last year he had been called out when three teenagers were killed because the driver had been intoxicated. It was unusually mild this year so he hoped he would be able to stay at home the entire evening.
Piccolo was glad to see the year draw to a close. The shark had made it a nightmare. The winter months had taken pressure off him, but he wasn’t any closer now to finding out the identity of the numbered account holder than he had been at the end of the summer. Another interview with James Dolan hadn’t yielded any new information as to who could be out to destroy him and Norton Utilities. Dolan had been adamant that he didn’t have any enemies, certainly none that would put a shark in the lake to maim people. It was clear that any further attempts to question him would be useless.
Norton Utilities had dropped the lake early in November to expose the shoreline and kill undergrowth. This year was the deepest draw down ever; eleven feet. Norton Utilities would profit from it. With more water passing through its turbines the utility would generate more electricity. Every dollar counted now as Norton was on the verge of bankruptcy. If the shark appeared in the Spring, there would be no choice but for the company to go into chapter eleven, the first step toward financial collapse.
So for the moment, Piccolo and Tillitson, along with everybody else, hoped that the thick ice on the lake would kill the shark. The story had disappeared from the front pages and people were enjoying the lake with their snowmobiles, ice sailboats and cross country skis. Every time Piccolo heard of an ice fisherman bagging a record catch, it reminded him that fish do survive under the ice. Hopefully a Bullnose shark wouldn’t.
Ann brought out a big bowl of popcorn and the family sat down to watch Spiderman II which they had somehow long ago missed in the theaters. As Spiderman swooped from building to building in search of his latest arch enemy Mike and Mark got into the movie.
“Man he is cool,” Mark said missing his mouth with the popcorn.
“Dad if you could fly like that with sticky fingers you’d catch all the bad guys,” Mike said without taking his eyes off the screen.
“Yeah but I’d never fit into that costume,” Piccolo said patting his stomach that had gotten larger since the summer. Frustration had led to overeating. Overeating had added ten pounds.
Ann as usual remained supportive.
“Your father does a pretty good job of catching the bad guys,” she said. But then she blew the whole thing by adding, “he might not fly around looking like Spiderman, but he does look like Santa Claus.”
Piccolo bent over feigning a blow to the stomach.
“Oooh that hurt,” he said.
“Only kidding,” she said, leaning over to kiss him on the cheek.
“How do you think Spiderman would catch the shark?” Piccolo said as the superhero was zapping his octopus nemesis on screen.
“He’d swing down from the trees over the lake on a web and grab the thing by the neck,” Mark said.
“Then he’d drop it out of the sky on some rocks and it would die,” Mike added.
“And if it didn’t he’d tangle it all up in a web so it couldn’t get back into the water,” Mark said relishing the thought.
“Boy you guys are cruel,” Piccolo said wincing.
“So is the shark,” Ann said before the boys could answer. She said it in all seriousness. In that moment Piccolo realized what she had been going through too. All through the summer she had tried to keep his spirits up, but he knew she hated the damn creature as much as he did. Mostly for what it had done to Mark.
The boys looked at her surprised, then turned back to the movie.
When it was over at eleven thirty, they switched to a New York channel which showed the large crowd in Times Square waiting for the ball to drop at midnight. Ann poured four glasses of champagne, two smaller ones for the boys. This was the first time they had ever drank it.
As the ball came down, the Piccolo family echoed the crowd; five, four, three, two, one…Happy New Year. Everyone kissed each other (except the two boys who preferred high fives) and sipped their champagne. Mark nearly spit it out not liking the taste, but held back the urge.
“Let’s hope the New Year is a happy and healthy one,” Piccolo said raising his glass.
“Yeah,” Mike said, “for everyone but the shark.”
“I’ll drink to that,” Piccolo said. Then he hugged and kissed each member of his family. When he got to Mark, he held him the tightest.
Because he was the one he had almost lost.
Other ebooks by Bob Neidhardt are
Kill The Author, Mr. Best Selling Author and Tarnished Bronze.
All are available on Amazon.com