Piccolo watched as a mobile crane lowered the Navy’s two-man submersible off the causeway connecting Arrowhead Isle to the town of New Redding. This was the deepest part of the lake with access to a roadway for the sub to enter it.
Roads were jammed for miles around the area and the press was again on hand in full force. The Navy under Admiral William Hogan had made it clear they were committed to “ending this terrible menace to Arrowhead Lake.”
The submersible called Sea Hunt One had been developed by the Navy and partially funded by a private researcher investigating the ruins of the Titanic. The vessel was capable of diving to depths of three hundred meters and could remain underwater for four hours. Its sonar, radar and underwater cameras were able to transmit images immediately to a land base for study. In this case, the land base was a mobile van serving as a command post parked in a marina near the causeway.
Piccolo saw the two underwater spear guns mounted on each side of the submersible. Air hoses went through the sides into the cockpit where they could be fired. The guns were accurate up to fifty meters, far enough to kill the shark as soon as it was seen.
Piccolo hoped that this time they would find it. It was their last chance as far as cutting edge technology was concerned. Sure, the Navy was committed to finding it, but at the same time he knew they wouldn’t be continually embarrassed either.
Sometimes he thought the only way they would find the shark was to drain the entire lake. But now as he looked at the Navy personnel working to get the yellow painted baby submarine into the lake his hopes began to rise. Maybe this was the day they would find the damned thing and kill it.
Commander Brian Connor who was in charge of the operation came over to him. Connor was a tall, gangling southener in a blue jumpsuit whose swagger told everyone he was running the show without him saying a word.
“We’ll have Sea Hunt underway in about a half hour Sheriff. Then we’ll go inside the van and watch everything she sees with her underwater cameras. If that shark is out there we’ll find it.”
“Great,” Piccolo said. He had heard the same thing from the Navy Orion crew a week ago.
“We’re goin’ to catch him this time,” Connor said mixing enthusiasm into his southern drawl. “This sub helped find the Titanic. It sure as hell can find a fish in this little pond.”
“I sure hope so,” was all Piccolo could say.
“Let’s go inside the trailer and I’ll show you all the electronic hardware we have in there,” Connor said. “It’s pretty amazin’ stuff.”
He led Piccolo inside the trailer where three technicians were sitting at consoles with screens in front of them. It was dark except for a red glow that made reading the screens easier. Connor explained that whatever Sea Hunt saw would be transmitted to one of the screens. Whatever sonar picked up would come through two large speakers at either end of the long narrow room. The shark would be spotted first by radar if it was moving, sonar would then pick it up as it got closer. Once it was in sight, the spear guns would be aimed and fired.
“Our speed underwater is only seven knots,” Connor said. “A shark can swim faster than that, so we have to be ready as soon as it comes into range.”
“What if he doesn’t come close enough?” Piccolo asked.
“He will,” Connor said optimistically. “We’ll be sitting still and he’ll want to check us out. That’ll be his big mistake.”
Connor moved behind one of the Navy techs who had a nautical chart of the lake on his screen.
“Specialist Nevins here is our navigator,” he said. “During the next four hours he’ll guide Sea Hunt into every nook and cranny of the southern end of the lake. Tomorrow we’ll do the northern end. If the shark is dead we’ll see it on the bottom. If not there’s no way it’ll escape our radar and sonar.”
Piccolo had thought there was no way the shark could have escaped the Orion’s sonar either, but they hadn’t heard anything. The advantage Sea Hunt had was the ability to find it if it was dead. At least then they would have proof and the lake could be reopened.
Thirty minutes later the sub was launched and made its way out into East Bay. The depth was thirty feet and it slowly dove to the bottom. The cameras came on and transmission was established with the two men inside.
Piccolo watched the image from the sub’s bow camera. He had read the history of Arrowhead which described the farms and small groupings of houses that dotted Maplewood Valley before the lake was created by Norton Utilities. Now he was seeing the first of the remains of those settlements. The sub passed over stone walls that had separated pastures, foundations of buildings, tree stumps and rotted fences. It moved over rusted farm equipment protruding out of the sandy bottom. At one point it slithered by concrete pilings of a bridge that must have crossed over a stream.
Schools of sunnies clustered in front of the sub, then scattered as it got closer. A large bass scooted out from behind a sawed off telephone pole. The bottom got rockier and the sub dove deeper down to forty feet. Piccolo looked over at the navigator’s screen and saw they were in Simpson Pond one of the deeper ponds in the original valley. Here the growth on the bottom was thicker. Stringy millfoil undergrowth reached up through the water with green tentacles that threatened to encircle the sub. Piccolo knew the thick vegetation was the result of the deteriorating ecological life of the lake. Overbuilding and overuse of pesticides caused thick undergrowth that sucked oxygen from the water. If left unchecked, the water quality would eventually be so deprived of oxygen that it would endanger all fish life.
For the next hour Piccolo heard the steady ping of the sonar as it searched for solid objects. Occasionally the ping would get sharper as it hit something that bounced back with a different frequency. Radar would visualize the object and Piccolo and Connor would get their hopes up. But it would only turn out to be a piece of farm equipment or something else lying on the bottom.
“There’s an object about two hundred meters ahead,” the radar operator told Connor. “It’s the right shape and the right size.”
The helmsman in the sub had seen it and was steering toward it.”
“No movement,” the sonar operator reported.
“There it is,” Connor said pointing to the bow camera screen. “It looks like the shark lying in the sand.”
Piccolo agreed. It was a dark, long tapered shape partially in the sand. Since it wasn’t moving, maybe it was the shark…and it was dead.
The sub moved closer, the helmsman keeping the bow searchlight on the object. But as they got closer, Piccolo could see that the exposed part wasn’t the skin of a shark. It was partially rotted wood, the remains of an old rowboat lying in the sand.
“Thought we had it that time,” Connor said turning away from the screen.
Piccolo didn’t say anything. For him this was just one more disappointment in a long string of them.
Sea Hunt moved on resuming its planned sweep of the southern end of the lake. During the next three hours there were a few hopeful sightings but turned out to be something other than the shark. With every additional disappointment, Piccolo wondered how it managed not being seen or heard. The sub had covered almost all of the southern part of the lake. Was the shark so lucky as to be in the opposite end all this time? It was possible he thought because the sub moved very slowly. But what about the Orion? It swiftly flew over the entire lake monitoring ninety percent of it with sonar buoys. Was the shark so lucky then to be in the other ten percent? For over three hours? He doubted it.
Time passed until Connor told him they’d have to end the search for the day because Sea Hunt’s fuel was very low. Piccolo said he understood and thanked him for his efforts.
“Don’t get yourself down,” Connor said patting him on the back. “We’ve got another day yet. We’ll get ‘em.”
Outside the trailer Connor continued to be optimistic. “I don’t think we’re going to catch a live shark Sheriff,” he said. “But I think we’ll find a dead one. The sub’s sonar extends much farther than its radar and we didn’t hear anything. That leads me to think the shark is dead on the bottom. Tomorrow we’ll go over every inch of the northern end and I’ll bet I’m right.”
“I hope so,” Piccolo said. He tried to sound optimistic but something told him they would come up empty again. They would never find this shark. It was too clever.
Rolf Welty sat in a small cafe off Bahnhofstrasse having lunch while he read the New York Times. It was a clear day so he took one of the outside tables near the street. This was one of the few times during the summer that he wasn’t having lunch with a fellow Swiss banker or a supplier wishing to do business with Union Suisse. So he had taken advantage of a free day on his calendar to enjoy the fresh air and later walk among the flowers in a nearby park.
There was an article in the Times about the shark supposedly still in Arrowhead Lake. A picture showed the Navy submersible being hoisted out of the water having failed on its second day of searching for the elusive shark. A Commander Connor was quoted as saying that the submersible had combed the entire lake using both radar and sonar without any success. He also reluctantly admitted that the Navy had no other means of searching and that there would be no additional effort made by them. “As far as we’re concerned there isn’t a shark in Arrowhead Lake,” Navy Admiral Hogan had said. “If there was, either our Orion aircraft or the submersible would have seen it.” Apparently the Navy hadn’t given up. There simply wasn’t a shark in Arrowhead Lake.
Welty still didn’t believe though that real estate prices on the lake would return to normal any time soon. His client had told him that prices would continue to drop long enough for him to make a dramatic profit. Welty remembered his exact words. “When the time is right for profits to be made, there’ll no longer be a threat to Arrowhead Lake.”
That time hadn’t been reached yet.
Admiral Hogan was wrong. The shark was still in the lake.
Other books by Bob Neidhardt are
Kill The Author, Mr. Best Selling Author and Tarnished Bronze.
All are available on Amazon.com