Grady could hear the rustling of paper and the ripping sound of a mail opener slicing through an envelope. He sat on the edge of his chair, the anticipation was torture. Hooper’s letter simply stated that they had been unsuccessful in determining the origins of the residue coating the bodies and that they had unanimously decided the cause of death for all victims was not a shark attack. He continued on to explain that he had consulted several experts in the field and none of them had encountered any type of ocean dwelling creature that could mutilate multiple humans at one shot like the phenomenon at their beach. The rest of the letter was on a personal note: thanking Grady for his hospitality and apologizing for not being more helpful in the case. In closing, he explained about his grant and his expedition before wishing Chief Grady all the best.
“Did that help you any?” The receptionist asked.
Through gritted teeth, Grady thanked her and hung up before he lost his temper. Did that sound like it was helpful, you dingbat, he wanted to scream. His wife, Barker and Kline looked on expectantly, hoping for a miracle.
“Just taking a shot in the dark here but I’m thinking our game is back on.” Barker quipped, nudging Kline with his elbow. “Ready?”
“Rock, Paper, Scissors, Shoot!” The two deputies shouted out.
Unable to bear it any longer, Grady stood and walked outside. Sharon followed her husband as the boys continued to play.
“I’m so sorry, babe. I know you were hoping for a miracle but I think you owe it to them to-”.
“I know I owe them, Sharon! I owe them the job they were hired for and I owe the whole damn town a safe place to live. I owe you and Tommy and…and I’ve failed all of you.” Grady interrupted.
He raked his fingers through his hair that seemed thinner and grayer with each passing day. It wasn’t until he looked up again that he saw the tears welling in his wife’s eyes. He muttered an oath under his breath, internally kicking himself for lashing out at her.
“I’m so sorry, Sharon. Sweetheart, please, don’t cry. I’m a jerk. You’ve been knocking yourself out to help and I had no right to take all this out on you. Come here,” he murmured while pulling her into an embrace. He lifted her chin and looked deep into her eyes. “If you want, you can string me up and feed me to Cthulhu or Leviathan or whoever.”
“No way! You’re not getting off that easy.” Sharon laughed and squeezed her husband tight. “And for your information, you haven’t let me, Tommy, or anyone else down so cut that out right now. No one blames you. Now, c’mon, let’s go back in there and make sure the boys don’t decide to battle it out in a rousing game of tic-tac-toe.”
Laughing, they nodded and together they walked back inside, arm-in-arm.
“She’s right, Chief; no one blames you. We can’t…you’re an Independent. According to the Republicans, it’s the Democrats’ fault and the Democrats have laid full blame on the Republicans. See, there’s no room to blame you.” Kline insisted when Chief and Sharon Grady returned.
Barker sharply elbowed his fellow deputy and shook his head.
“What was that for? It’s not my fault the window was open and we could hear them.”
“You could have kept your mouth shut though,” Barker hissed through clenched teeth. “Geez, sometimes you are thicker than Poole.”
“Oh, way to go,” Kline sneered. “Pick on the nutcase.”
“Okay, that’s enough out of both of you,” Sharon Grady commanded. “Don’t make me call your mothers.”
Her outrageous threat offered just the right amount of levity to ease the growing tension in the room. Their laughter started off as a chuckle and escalated into a full-fledged guffaw. They laughed so hard and for so long they’d forgotten what they were laughing about in the first place. It wasn’t until the sun’s brilliance started to fade that they began to wind down.
“Well, Chief,” Barker muttered. “I lost…so…”
“Oh man! Steve, I’m so sorry,” Grady replied gravely.
“Me too! Loser had to stay so you’re stuck with me.” Barker laughed. “This lucky SOB gets to collect unemployment while he lounges at some posh ski resort with his girlfriend and her insanely hot co-workers. Some guys have all the luck.”
“Well, when you put it that way, I guess I should say congratulations, Ed, instead of I’m sorry.” Grady quipped.
He shook Edward Kline’s hand for the last time and wished him well. Though the chief was filled with sadness, he was glad Kline was leaving still intact. That was more than he could say for poor Poole.