In spite of his wife’s best attempts, Chief Grady found it virtually impossible to relax. He’d put on a good show for her behalf but while Sharon slept, he reviewed the video again and re-read all of their case files. I’ve got to be missing something here, his weary mind insisted. No matter how many times he watched the video, pausing, zooming, changing the speeds, it was impossible to tell what had attacked Josh Austen. Grady continued to fiddle with it until sunrise then he showered and headed over to the station. His pot of coffee hadn’t even finished brewing before Barker and Kline strolled through the door.
“You two are here early,” said Grady.
“We figured you’d probably roll in just after sun-up,” Kline replied. “Early bird catches the worm….or in this case the Cthulhu-land shark-demon bird-octopus-serial killer.”
“You are one twisted kid, Kline,” Grady laughed. “But I’m glad you’re both here. Let’s watch this video again and try to brainstorm a little bit…think outside the box.”
As Grady and his deputies viewed the video, their ordinarily-quiet town was bustling with activity. After the meeting, families like the Westbrooks, Crayburns, Millers, Goldsteins, Warrens, and Simms, decided they needed to get out while the getting was still good. Fortunata Reality had been overwhelmed with after-hours phone calls. When Mike and Janie Fortunata entered their office, the voicemail box was completely filled. Janie was still trying to retrieve the messages as calls poured in faster than they could answer them. All over town, frightened residents were packing up and looking for a fresh start someplace else, far away from the ocean.
Even the local schools were barren; most parents had decided to keep their children home and under close supervision. The handful of kids in attendance were lumped together in one room to watch videos, read or do whatever they wanted as long as they remained quiet. The school board policy against cell phones in the class room was flat-out ignored. Those in attendance were flagrantly interacting with their friends who’d remained home, the ones whose parents worried too much to let their precious angels out of their sight. The remaining faculty, the ones that had actually shown up, felt too worked up over the previous night’s meeting to care about something as trivial as students texting, or using Facebook and Twitter.
Local business either decided to close “until further notice” or they posted revised hours of operation. Even the convenience stores and gas stations were adjusting their hours to ensure no one was forced to be on the premises between dusk and dawn. No one wanted to assume liability in a worst-case scenario situation.
Mayor Farmington, freshly showered and shaved, wandered into the kitchen expecting to find his wife preparing his breakfast. Instead, she was huddled in the corner seat of their breakfast nook under a thick blanket sipping at tea that smelled suspiciously laced with liquor.
“Sylvia, what are you doing? You’ve got that meeting with the League of Women Voters this morning and you’re not even dressed. You’d better get moving!”
“Not going….already called…told ‘em I have a migraine. They’ll survive without me. Took a couple Valium and going back to bed,” Sylvia Farmington slurred.
“No! You have to go! After last night we can’t afford to look like we’re…we’re…”
“Like we’re what, Dale? There’s no ‘we’ in what happened last night and, quite frankly, I am too embarrassed to go anywhere, except back to bed. Why do you always make me feel so unimportant? You didn’t even bother to ask if I’m alright. You only care about your precious image.”
“That’s not true and you know it. Of course I care about you but you already told me you have a migraine. What do you want me to do about it?”
“I want you to go to work.” She murmured, rising slowly from her chair and padding across their imported tile floor. At the base of the stairs she stopped and turned to face her husband. “No, I want you to go to Hell.”
Hours later, Chief Grady and his deputies were no closer to unraveling the mystery than when they’d started. Even with Barker and Kline’s advanced training in technology there was nothing they could do to enhance the images or improve the clarity. They were just about to cue it up for another viewing when a visitor shuffled through the front door.
“Hello? Is anyone here? I’d like a word with Chief Grady, if possible,” an elderly woman in purple pantsuit called out.
Hearing his name and a familiar voice, Grady poked his head out of his office. Seeing Poole’s grandmother, Rose, he rushed out to meet her. He smiled warmly and offered her his arm, which she gladly accepted.
“Kline, Barker, this is Mrs. Rose Poole. Doug’s grandmother,” Grady explained. “What can I do for you? Is everything okay at the hospital?”
“Well, they’re keeping Doug pretty well sedated. I wish I could say he’s improving but I don’t really know. Listen, I hate to be a bother but I have a favor to ask of you, Chief. You see, I was a little rattled yesterday after what happened at the hospital and I, well, it’s embarrassing to admit but I had a little hot toddy to help me relax. Well, it worked and I slept straight through last night’s town meeting. Chief, I’d like to ask you if I can see the video? Please? I understand it was disturbing but I…well, I just feel as if I might find closure.”
Grady sighed heavily as he raked his fingers through his thinning hair. The poor woman had already been through so much. He hated the idea of bringing her anymore pain yet an acceptable excuse had eluded him.
“Chief, I hope you’re not trying to think of an excuse. You know I’m a tough old bird and if I hadn’t fallen asleep I would have seen it last night.” Rose Poole’s tone was light, a direct contradiction to the stern expression on her face.
The three lawmen exchanged bemused glances and ushered her into Grady’s office for a private viewing. Maybe an extra set of eyes will help, the chief thought to himself, well at least it can’t hurt. For Rose’s benefit they didn’t fast-forward through the forty-plus minutes of banal chit-chat but Barker was quick to turn off the video before Josh’s bloody arm splattered across the screen. The old woman thanked them and bid them a good day. Chief Grady offered to drive her home but Rose declined, insisting a good walk would help clear her mind. Before he could offer up a good argument, Grady was called to the phone.
“Hey, Chief, you’ve got a call.”
“Yeah, they can wait. I’m going to see Mrs. Poole home.”
“But it’s Hooper!”