The detective thought of Morgan’s fact-finding caveat as he loaded the HydraSport with supplies. Prudent, so long as it didn’t lead to indecision. He flipped the switch on the extra spotlight, made sure it was working, and checked that his pistol was loaded and ready in the shoulder holster. If his new deputy knew the kind of ordnance the he was packing, he might not have considered his warnings necessary. He placed the AA-12 automatic shotgun in the gun rack, twenty round drum mag already loaded. The thing wasn’t only a beast, it was waterproof, so he could keep it within easy reach without worrying about it getting soaked. Every shot was a titan of stopping power, and all twenty rounds could be unloaded in seconds.
Randall started up the engine and headed out of the harbor. He had at least two hours before dark, and had a hunch the party of doctors from Long Island wouldn’t be taking the warnings about the disappearances seriously enough to stay onshore.
He opened up the throttle and turned east toward Gatlin Island. He picked up the sailboat with his binoculars, its crew on deck enjoying martinis in a moment of clear sky.
A woman he hadn’t seen among their party that morning in the coffee shop was lounging in a deck chair. The bottom half of her bikini looked extra white against her tan. She wore nothing on top of course, and the middle aged man who came out of the cabin and kissed her took a moment to stop and admire his apparent trophy.
Randall did not dwell on speculation. Instead he moved the binoculars over to the boat’s low wake, looking for anything that might be trailing it—a small craft, fast or slow moving, any possible contact in its proximity.
He saw none, only the small whitecaps brought up by the stiff breeze. One of the crew put the sail up, and the craft began to tack its way back to Littleneck. The clouds had moved in front of the sun and the light had grown a shade dimmer when he saw it—a flutter against the surface of the water behind the boat.
He saw a fin next, a large one, but then something else—he recognized the shape, but no, it couldn’t be. The detective wiped his palm over his face and looked again. He saw something following the sailboat, though he could identify neither it nor the strange raindrop-like stipples that danced across the water.
Randall picked up the shotgun and drove the boat closer. He got within vocal range of the boat’s deck, but he no longer saw the thing in the water, only the tan, silver haired doctor holding the bikini-clad woman against him and looking irate.
He considered playing the cop card and coming aboard, but instead rounded the sailboat’s wake and headed toward the island as if he were on a routine patrol. He cut back across the point, was crossing a wind sheltered cove, when he picked up the shape again, moving fast beneath the surface.
The greenish-white form appeared to slither more than swim. Forty-feet long at least, like no whale or shark he’d ever seen. The serpentine tail made giant S’s, fins flaring like blades down its body. By intuition, Randall steered the boat broadside, was standing like a cannoneer about to unleash his battery—
—when between the scales, on a girth thick as an old oak, sprouted human arms. They danced beneath the surface, wriggling among the fins. The fingers extended their jagged nails like claws. He realized then it was the dozens of fingers he’d seen stippling the water behind the sailboat.
The thing’s head was hood shaped, flaring outward like a cobra’s. Paler than the thickly scaled body, it too had arms where its back spread outward. Randall was just picking out what the shape signified when his world flipped over—the entire monstrosity reversed its position in the water. One second it was gliding beneath, the next second dancing across the surface like a giant insect.
The displaced waves splattered over the Hydrasport’s deck. He fired the soaking shotgun on full automatic, aiming for he realized was a human torso attached to the serpent’s body.
From the torso extended a vein laden neck and pale faced head. Its hair hung in a mane of dark spines, and its fanged mouth stretched grotesquely too wide for its skull. Randall realized too late he’d emptied the drum clip into its scales, blowing off one of the arms, tearing a fin, but failing to even slow it down. The thing let out a wheezing, water-choked howl, as if it were mocking his tactics.
Three of the arms took hold of the cabin’s roof. They tore it away along with the steering wheel and throttle. The overwide maw lunged at him before he could reach another clip. Its fangs clamped into his chest, while steel strong hands tore his left arm off his shoulder.
In a last moment of consciousness, he was being dragged through the water as his blood and life fled in a flood of icy pins and needles. He was caught in the spines of the thing’s hair. As his body spun, he glimpsed the horror-struck doctor’s face, his mistress screaming, and the ghoul-green mass of scales ramming through the sailboat’s hull.
* * * * *
“They don’t want you to officially ID him, but you were his deputy so they want a report from you.”
Nate squinted at the unzipped body bag. Randall’s jacket and flak vest still partialy covered his chest, but his legs had been shredded into strips of red meat. He’d seen the body of a man mauled by a bear once in northern Quebec, and it had the same absence of dignity. The torn legs and missing arms together made him look like some morbid parody of an infant.
“Did he have any keys on him?”
“Yeah, he had a key-ring from his belt.”
“Let me borrow them.”
The Trooper insisted on following him to Randall’s hotel room and shadowing him as he searched through his notes. “I’ll let you copy them for your report, then I’m taking them, and we’re done.”
* * * * *
Two hours later, the state police car pulled away from the shipping office where Nate copied the documents. Nate headed over to Jeb’s Tavern where for some reason the door was still locked at two when it normally opened at noon. Nate sat on the sagging, bleached wooden bench, pulled out his flask and the copies of the notebook he’d taken from Randall’s room and began reading:
The inscription on the rocks was a type of charm, a spell, as it were. Professor noted not in true runes. When asked if typical, Prof. K. answered no. When asked why, said not protection. When asked what, said a summoning, a conjuring. When asked what, not sure, something erased, scratched out. Why? Perhaps scratched out afterward, perhaps something taboo to those who understood.
There was more, a sketch of that pattern of inscriptions found on an island a few hundred miles down the coastline. Mahannis was one of the furthest out, least populated.