Eric Downey finally rolled out of bed just before noon. He checked his phone and there were no new messages from his friends, the “shark-hunters”. Their last message was a picture of all four of them, out on the ocean at sunset, followed by unabashed mocking for being a “massive chicken”. Certain that they’d failed in their quest, Eric sent his own message of belittlement.
Yo, losers! What happened? I thought U were gonna be famous by morning. Dunno know about U but I slept like a rock last night-warm & cozy in my own bed.
Just for fun, he added in a selfie, sprawled out on his bed and flipping them the bird. Usually, he would receive a reply from at least one, if not all, of the guys within minutes. After twenty minutes and a follow up text there was still no reply. Concerned, Eric headed over to the docks to see if Mr. Warren’s boat was where it belonged. What he found instead was Blake’s dad, Blake Warren Sr., filing a police report that his boat had been stolen.
“Eric!” Mr. Warren called out. “Do you know anything about my boat?”
Just then Deputy Kline’s radio called out for him to assist on the beach. Mr. Warren’s face paled and Eric’s stomach did flip-flops. It was clear by the look on their faces that they feared the worst.
“Hey, Chief,” Deputy Kline called back. “There wouldn’t happen to be a boat involved, would there?”
“How did you know? Grady replied.
At Kline’s insistence, all three of them piled into the cruiser and headed to the beach. More than anything, Eric wished he’d just stayed in bed a few hours longer. His feeble attempt to weasel his way out of going had fallen on deaf ears. Even on a good day the police made him uncomfortable but the thought of being crammed in the back of a cruiser while on the way to identify his dead friends made him physically ill.
The disaster on the beach was more horrifying than Eric could ever have imagined. Not even his worst nightmares came close to the raw carnage that had befallen his friends. Organs, partially digested flesh, and shattered bones befouled the beach with stinking muck seeping into the sand. Most of what remained from the boat could be boxed and sold as toothpicks. Against his will, Eric’s eyes welled with tears and his stomach threatened to go into reverse. Trembling, he turned his back on what was left of his friends and choked back a sob. To his surprise, Mr. Warren hugged him.
“There’s no shame in tears, son,” Blake’s dad whispered. “I just wish I had told that to Blake…while he was still alive. I wish I h-h-had s-s-said…”
“He-he knew, Mr. Warren,” Eric lied. “He knew.”
Eric saw no reason to torture a man who was already devastated by sorrow and guilt. Instead, he tried to think of some words of comfort for the grieving man.
“You were a good friend to Blake,” Mr. Warren bawled as tears flowed freely down his cheeks.
Again, Eric found himself in Mr. Warren’s vice-grip embrace and it was enough to unleash the torrent of tears he’d been trying to hold back.
“Excuse me, Mr. Warren, I’m so sorry to interrupt,” Chief Grady whispered after allowing several minutes of sobbing. “I found this piece of the boat’s registration number. Could you confirm these numbers for us?
Without a word, Blake Sr. released his hold on Eric and turned to look at the piece of broken hull. His expression confirmed what they’d already suspected; it was most assuredly his boat. Not wanting to prolong a grieving father’s misery, Chief Grady ordered Deputy Kline to take Mr. Warren back home.
“Eric can stay here with me, Deputy. I have a few questions for him anyway.”
Those words, ‘I have a few questions for him” instantly turned Eric’s insides into water. A multitude of potential questions, interrogation, sprang to his mind each making him fearful that a jail cell might be in his near future. He absentmindedly fumbled in his pockets, praying he did have any weed on his person.
“Geez, kid, you look like you’re about to puke or something. Relax; I’m not looking to pin this on you.” Grady insisted. “I’m just hoping you can shed a little light on what your buddies were trying to accomplish and what time they went out.”
“We were all sitting around talking and I dunno, Collin put on Jaws and the next thing I knew they were planning it out. They wanted to be heroes so they talked Blake into taking his dad’s boat out to hunt the shark. I told them it was a stupid idea but they just called me chicken.”
“You were right; it certainly was a stupid idea. I wish they’d listened to you.” Chief Grady replied, gently placing a reassuring hand on Eric’s shoulder.
“No, they were right. I was scared. That’s why I didn’t go and… because I’m a chicken; I’m still alive and they’re gone. Chief, can I go now?”
“Sure, on one condition. Promise me you’re going to spend a couple of days at your parents’ house. You shouldn’t be alone. C’mon, I’ll give you a ride.”
“Nah, thanks but I’d rather walk. It’ll clear my head.”
Grady watched the troubled boy trot quickly across the sand. Once he reached the pavement, Eric’s pace slowed. The Chief wondered if the boy was afraid of being on beach now. Upon further consideration, Grady decided that perhaps the young stoner was smarter than he appeared. Yet, there had been no issues on the beach during the day and this puzzled the chief more than anything. He fished his cell phone from his pocket and dialed Max Hooper’s number. There had to be a connection between the nighttime attacks and some sort of predator in the sea. Hooper made it clear that it wasn’t a shark but he hadn’t offered a speculation as to what he thought it could be.