Already out of sorts, Grady dialed the number to the EconoLodge and asked for Hooper’s room.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Hopper just checked out. If you can hold on, I’ll run out to the parking lot and see if I can catch him for you.”
“Yes, please!” Grady struggled to keep his flaring temper from coming through in his voice.
“Hello, this is Max Hooper.”
“And where the hell did you think you were going?”
Ah, Chief Grady…Would you believe I was on my way over to see you?
“Prove it,” Grady snarled and hung up.
He’d decided to give Hooper fifteen minutes and if he didn’t show, there would be an APB put out for a silver Audi Q5 with Florida license plate SH8RKZ. He knew Hooper’s out of state tags would stick out like a sore thumb and the state troopers would deliver the sneak in no time. Grady briefly entertained what he’d do with Hooper if he tried to skip town but there was no need. Within ten minutes, the oceanographer pulled into the station lot.
“You didn’t think I was going to come, did you?” Hooper laughed. “For what it’s worth, I really was on my way. I wanted to say goodbye. You and I both know this has nothing to do with sharks. You’ve got a slew of crazy people killing each other. When I was at the diner having breakfast they said some kid tried to commit suicide and, of course, there’s that doctor’s wife who killed him for having an affair.”
“True, but you saw the remains of those kids at the Coroner’s office. There’s not a human alive that could do that.”
“I saw remains after that crackpot Coroner hacked them up. Nothing there convinced me that a shark attacked those kids.”
“Tell you what, Hooper, if my suspicions are correct there should be a body down on the beach right now. Come with me and see if you still feel the same way.”
After a little more persuading, Hooper finally agreed. Barker lost the best-out-of-three in Rock, Paper, Scissors, so he reluctantly accompanied the others to the beach. Grady drove straight to Sandcastle Lane and the three approached the beach from there. Just as Carl Hogan had told him the night before, they found evidence of two bonfires that had been doused. Down by the waterline, was the proof Chief Grady had been expecting, the remains of a partially digested human body.
“Oh Geez, another one,” Barker uttered between dry heaves. “Who do you think it is…er, was?”
“I’m pretty sure it’s Poole’s cousin, Josh. According to his grandmother the two went out together last night and ol’ Joshie-boy was rambling about furthering their careers. Idiot.”
“Chief, I don’t know what could have done this but I’m telling you, this is not a shark victim. Here, this is what someone looks like after a shark attack.” Hooper insisted as he pulled out his phone and brought up his photos. “See? In each of these, you can see the shredding from the teeth and massive tissue loss. This, this mess looks like something vomited a partially digested human onto the beach. Sharks only expel what they can’t digest, something like a license plate or a tortoise shell. A shark would have no problem digesting a human.”
“Well, what if it was sick or something…you know like it has a disease or cancer?” Grady asked, grasping at straws.
“Highly unlikely, besides, these attacks have been going on for a while now. If it was that sick, it would have died by now and the attacks would have stopped. Look, I get it…you need an answer. You need something to tell the people here but …Aw, man, don’t look at me like that. Maybe I could, um, tell you what, I’ll take some tissue samples and see if there are any enzymes that would support your theory. That’s really the best I can do.”
“Yes! Good! Now we’re getting somewhere. Take your samples and we’ll just see.”
“Just, don’t get your hopes up, Chief. I really don’t expect this to be anything more than a dead-end.”
While Hooper and Grady drove back to the station to get Max’s vehicle and equipment, Barker was left on the beach to start bagging evidence. He decided to start up by the bonfires and leave the grisly stuff for the chief.
“He makes the big bucks, let him deal with that mess.” Barker muttered, still trying to keep his breakfast from making a return appearance.
The minute Grady pulled into the station’s parking lot, Kline came running out to meet him.
“Chief!” He shouted, waving frantically. “The Mayor’s office just called. He’s on his way over to see you. It didn’t sound good.”
Hooper hopped in his car and left Chief Grady to wait for the Mayor’s arrival. He only hoped he’d be able to find something to help Grady out and potentially keep the rest of the community alive.