The Shark Tooth Key

  

The final mile of state route 43 crosses Breaker's Sound on the back of a low, steel truss bridge into the small coastal community of Breaker's Island.  Winds heading north from the remote tropics carry their exotic trade of spiced salts and fine sands and circle the island as heated, corrosive dervishes that shape and rearrange all bodies in a style to suit the Island's likeness.

Even the stoic and implacable slab of state route 43 loses its identity as an obscure ancillary of government highway and becomes the main street and primary commercial artery for the town of Indigo Dunes.  

Poseidon Boulevard, its former state skin shed at the truss bridge, stretches its new hide the entire length of the island branching off at some points to connect small colonies of beach houses, hotels and local businesses before ending abruptly at the coarse slats of a massive, wooden, barricade. Painted with alternating orange and white stripes and decorated with a panoply of reflective disks, the structure stands like a monument erected by the natural world to mark the point where man's invasion came to an end.

Beyond the sign lies the long mile of mountainous dunes whose tops are encrusted with golden, rustling sea oats.  The dunes rise and fall before finally smoothing out into a beach whose even, immaculate, body spreads out like a luxurious carpet for the sore feet of the eternally, wandering ocean.

Ed Green had left his pickup parked by the barricade at the end of Poseidon's crumbling asphalt and walked out into the dunes where he had chosen one of the tallest to climb.  From here he had a commanding vantage of the other dunes, the beach and the crashing surf.  The sea oats grew to Ed's waist and their braided spikelets brushed his bare forearms in the wind.

Ed usually came to this point late in the afternoon to watch the day fade before driving a few miles back down the boulevard to the Breaker Island pier where he would spend the night fishing.  He considered this point an ideal location to allow the heat of a long summer day to rise out of his skin, made leathery and brown by years of construction labor.  The sun would soon be setting to Ed's back spitting its last fire across the undulating waves turning their tufts of white foam a fiery crimson and orange and transforming the endless ripples into a myriad of dancing rubies and topaz.  

He thought of the autumn fishing season, a time when the town ordinance permitted pickups and 4x4s to roll out on the sand and into positions like a small armored battalion.  Facing the general direction of Africa, he reckoned, he would cast long, clear lines into the churning water and slide his rods into the rack he'd fabricated from PVC pipes and bolted to the grill. Then, as he sat sipping Dr Pepper behind the wheel, Ed would imagine himself driving on and into the waves, piloting his Dodge outboard on the writhing back of the sea where he would haul in great fish flopping and thrashing on the deck of his truck bed.

Turning and half sliding down the loose side of the dune, Ed made his way to the steaming cab of his truck. It was the end of August and Poseidon Boulevard had been bleached by the enduring summer sun from tarry black to a silvery gray.  Now, at the end of the day, it resembled the chrome on vacationers' cars, tarnished by the ocean air, and was in danger of fading into the sandy flesh of the island itself.

The entire staff in charge of Breaker Island pier's day-to-day operation knew Ed by name.  For the past 23 years he had spent nearly every Friday or Saturday night during the summer months on this pier dropping his rigs and heady bait over her weathered sides.  A large bulletin board displaying tide tables, game and fishing regulations also held photographs of the pier's successful clientele.  Staring out from dozens of grainy Polaroids and snapshots were the sunburned, smiling faces of fishermen holding up catches of mackerel, bass, fluke and other prizes — some the size of the sportsmen themselves.  Crowded among them were several featuring Ed Green and his varied catches; the most recent showed an Ed that was soaked and exhausted holding a 25 lb. striper he'd wrestled from the deep during a thunder storm.

Employed by his construction company, Ed had even spent more than a few hours atop the pier's shop and office building with heavy sheaths of tarpaper after a tumultuous hurricane season.  And although he was meticulous about keeping his seasonal pass in full view, no one, not even the rotating staff of summertime students, ever bothered to check.

Because of his intimate relationship with her, Ed gravitated to no particular spot when he fished; his choice of one location over another was based solely on its distance from the nearest fisherman. Ed's talents as a fisherman allowed him the luxury of isolation. Placed at random any where along the pier's 900 feet, he was prepared to fish for whatever the circumstance demanded.

In the final sun, Ed had chosen a bench closer to the end and prepared his lines accordingly for the life beneath him.  A spinal column of tall, metal poles ran the entire length of the pier's back, each holding a spherical lamp covered with a round, pointed metal hat.  In the absolute darkness that exists between a black sea and sky, they cast light down in a conical shape forming bright, yellowish circles on the wooden surface. From a distance, it appeared as though a long row of tents had been erected out of thin material, each made transparent by an inner light, displaying everything inside including the single post holding up the center.  Ed's bench was situated in the shadows between two of these tents. He dug a hand through the loose ice of his igloo cooler for a Dr Pepper and waited for the night to fall completely.  

Usually while Ed waited for a bite, his attention was drawn to the population of the pier after sundown and how it swelled and dissipated.  Happy families full of fried seafood and barbeque came with children in tow to gawk at the naked, trembling catches of the fisherman before disappearing into cottages and hotel rooms.  Loud, awkward groups of teenagers practiced the offices of adulthood until some inaudible toll signaling their curfew returned them all to the role of child. Squads of drunken Marines came looking for action before swaggering off behind a restaurant dumpster or into the dunes to be sick, leaving behind a tasty breakfast for morning gulls. Now, except for the few remaining fishermen and a few pairs of young lovers entwined on benches against a chilly, ocean breeze, Ed was alone.  Completely alone in the world, in fact, Ed thought, contemplating the still and empty void of bright green below and wondering at his having been abandoned by even the ocean life. He shifted his eyes to the impassive face of his Citizen wrist watch; scratched and dulled by years of tormenting roof work and an unctuous tincture of perspiration and sea salt, it dutifully gave back the time: 1:13 am.  He threaded his fingers together and twisted them in a few directions giving out loud cracks.  He began pulling in his lines and collecting gear and looked out into the vast, empty, bleak area beyond the point where the lights from the pier or the houses that studded the shoreline could not touch and thought maybe his present mood to be of a similar shade.  He turned and headed back towards the lights of the pier office.

Ed carried his rig and pulled the cooler along behind him on its built-in wheels and passed by an old couple camped out to fish.  The man had laid out a blanket on the deck and was stretched out sleeping while his wife kept watch over the two rigs.  She sat in a lawn chair, motionless, save the bandana, tied kerchief-style around her head, which fluttered in the night breeze. She could have been asleep, too, for all Ed knew, and the bait at the end of those lines, long swallowed into the belly of a tiny sand shark.

The pier shop was bright beneath banks of fluorescent tubes but completely deserted of customers.  The door behind the shop counter leading into the office was open and Ed could see the ghostly lights of a tiny portable television dancing across the face of the night clerk.  He waved as he passed but the clerk did not acknowledge him and Ed stepped out into the empty quiet parking lot.

* * * * *

"She never had any interest in it at all, born and raised not 10 miles from the goddamn Atlantic Ocean." Ed pulled out onto Poseidon, thinking about the couple he had passed on his way off the pier.  His ex-wife regarded Ed's hobby as a genuine waste of time and money and possibly the most boring sport in existence.  Even though other wives complained of husbands who routinely divested what little savings they could manage on beer, she considered Ed's expenditure to be even more senseless and therefore more infuriating. Adding to her vitriolic displeasure for his hobby was a sour palate for seafood, rendering Ed's actual talent useless at mollifying her embittered opinion, which was copiously offered on his return: cooler full of fresh fish.

Still, Ed continued to be a regular fixture on the Breaker Island pier forsaking most, if not all, other conjugal duties. And so by the end of their short and angry year of marriage, she considered Ed to be as much a dead fish as the ones he gutted and divided for bait.

"Tried a few times but never tried too hard. Even early on, when couples are supposed to be always doing things together," he thought, trying to find something in the static of the pickup's radio.

He looked up from the dial in time to see the lighted sign of The Shark Tooth Ocean Court pass by in a blurred flash and contemplated it a bit more in the rearview mirror as he sped further down Poseidon.  It was a night, not unlike tonight, that she had ridden home with him from one of their few fishing trips together.  She had spent most of the time frequenting the large cooler full of single beers in the pier shop and was, by the time they left, quite drunk.  As they passed the Shark Tooth she began recounting her own encounters at the motor court.  Most of them included the motel serving as both speakeasy and flophouse in the confused underground of teenage weekend life.  But at times Ed recognized certain names in her slurred recollections and knew that she had begun mixing the distant past with a period just prior to or maybe during their marriage.

The Shark Tooth Ocean Court stood in a clearing surrounded by thick live oak and myrtles.  It was in what might be considered the last secluded area along Poseidon Boulevard. To its front, just across the street, lay the dunes and the Atlantic.  A few narrow yards on either side the stilted beach houses and a few modern hotels with sea vistas grew out of the island's skin.  To the rear the dense forest of coastal brush stretched to the quiescent sound side of Breaker's Island.

The motor court was a long, squat, single-level affair whose cinderblock construction, heavy iron windows and flat roof gave it the appearance of a prison camp barracks more so than that of an Ocean Court.  In the middle of a parking lot of sun-bleached gravel was a matching square building that served as the motel's office but in perspective may as well have a been the barrack's guard house.  Beside the office rose two poles supporting the establishment's name stenciled on both sides of a wooden sign encircling a large plastic replica of a shark's tooth.  Below the sign swung a metal box with connected letters of glass tubing that indicated the motel's vacancy status in humming neon.  The only embellishment to the stark, off-white encampment had once been smaller versions of the sign's gigantic black tooth affixed to each door just below the room number.  These, however, proved to be popular souvenirs for motel guests and over the years, with the prying aid of a fisherman's fillet knife, they disappeared one by one.

The Shark Tooth had a long-standing reputation for providing economy over amenities and seclusion over convenient location.  This reputation enabled the motel to compete against the Island's newer lodgings during tourist season and remain open during their long winter hibernation. Even after the weather had grown too cold for fishing, the ledger in the Shark Tooth's office remained reasonably full with the names of mainlanders escaping local neighborhood scrutiny and Marines furloughed into the bacchanalian night.

Practically everyone Ed knew had, at one time or another, boarded in one of the Shark Tooth's twenty-five dimly lit rooms and in the community surrounding Breaker's Island a reference to the Shark Tooth was a reference to salacious behavior or marital improbity.

Ed had been in the Shark Tooth once but did not spend the night.  It had been the night of his 25th birthday, a hot night in late August. Ed found himself sitting on the lumpy, king-sized bed in room 25 with a woman he'd never met until a few hours ago.   The evening was gift from his younger brother Travis who believed what Ed needed was "to have a good time for once without there being any goddamn fishing unless it involved using his special pole to catch the snapper in the mini-skirt."

Travis decided that a double date of drinks and steak dinners followed by an overnight at ‘The Tooth' was just what the doctor ordered.  And on the recommendation of a Marine friend stationed on the local base, Travis had secured Ed's female companion for the night.  He had called ahead to reserve room 25, which was, by comparison, the Shark Tooth's most luxurious offering. Travis and his date had taken smaller accommodations a few doors down in 22.

Ed remembered his surroundings smelling of stale cigarette smoke and the indistinct cooking odors trapped in the curtains and carpet from years of people cooking their meals in the tiny kitchenette.  Becoming increasingly nauseous from the effects of the stifling atmosphere and the woman's sickening perfume, Ed tried sipping at the Miller High Life this whore seemed intent on him drinking.

What seemed like an eternity of suffocating anxiety was suddenly interrupted by a thumping knock at the door followed by muffled, impish laughter from outside. Ed struggled out from beneath the woman and opened up to find Travis and his girlfriend standing in their bathing suits holding towels and bottles of beer; the fetid smell of liquor and sex they both were emitting reminded Ed of the hooker sitting behind him on the bed adjusting her top.  

Figuring the birthday couple had had plenty of time by now, Travis had stopped by to announce his idea of going for a midnight dip. Ed very much wanted to go along to breathe — if nothing else — the purifying ocean air.  But his hired date was already off the bed and dragging him back inside determined, apparently, that Travis get his money's worth despite his brother's antipathy.  Ed sat back on the bed, defeated, watching this stranger close the door on his smiling brother standing there half-naked with a fuzzy halo surrounding him from light in the parking lot.

In a few more bewildering moments, Ed found himself without a shirt and with a team of cold, groping fingers inspecting his groin through an open fly.  Lying on his back, Ed closed his eyes against the ugly yellow stains blotting the ceiling's stucco and tried his best to relax to the rhythmical string of trailer trash slang being blown into his ear on hot, moist breath. Ed found his seduction an impossibility and began to focus on the small comforting sounds between the syllables in her litany of dirty talk.  There was a distant knock like the sound of a hammer making contact with the head of a nail and above it, the shrill trumpet of a seagull. And as he concentrated on these intruding noises, he became aware of the sudden change in the timbre of his date's voice and her filthy poetry's loss in meter. Almost instantly this sultry, professional temptress changed back into the crude jezebel he had first met in the King-Cab of his brother's truck. Her hand made a hasty retreat from the reconnaissance of his crotch as she stammered, "Goddamn! What now?" in a harsh sigh of disgust.

The spongy mattress jiggled like fatty flesh and the weary box springs complained with loud squeaks as the woman bolted upright. She adjusted herself and marched to their motel door where the hammering sound had revealed itself to be someone's frantic knuckles; the gull, Ed recognized, was a screaming girl.  He raised his head off the mattress and stared down the white plateau of his bare torso at Travis' hysterical young girlfriend framed in the doorway.

In a second Ed was up and pushing past both of them, zipping his fly as he stumbled with tender feet across the gravel drive to Travis' truck, pulling the 3-cell Mag-lite from his tool chest and crossing Poseidon into the darkness of the dunes, the cool sand between his toes, and shining the high beam of the flashlight into the midnight ocean.  He ran in directionless patterns of desperation up and down the beach and then into the cold water, stumbling on the uneven, sandy floor covered in black, salt froth, waves crashing into his freezing shins and pounding his naked chest, calling his brother's name until his throat ached.  He trudged out of the surf bent with exhaustion and collapsed in a shivering heap, his clammy skin raised like hairy brail, waiting for Travis to emerge from the waves like a hoary sea monster or come running from the shadows, laughing at his best prank yet.

From the road came the beam of another Mag-lite, bouncing with the motions of its carrier.  It flicked in and out of the dunes and came to rest on Ed's huddled form and he heard the crackling gibberish of a police radio.  Ed and the deputy kept their flashlights lit even in the blinding headlights from the beach patrol's 4-wheel vehicle which arrived with louder, disembodied voices spoken in the language of hollow frequencies.  Behind them, alternating flashes of red and blue from the volunteer rescue squad punctuated the night sky above the dunes along Poseidon.

Ed thought of the empty casket at his brother's memorial service and how the daily searches following the accident uncovered nothing: neither body, bloated and white, entangled in a net of seaweed nor even a scrap of clothing wrapped around a chunk of Travis' remains.

After these recollections, Ed would always decide that, had he just gone fishing, none of this would have ever happened.  And, he considered, before drifting off to the low drone of cicadas outside the bedroom window, tonight was no exception.

* * * * *

Ed arrived at the pier much later than usual; it was already dark and the lights shone down on the worn wooden planks. The night air was hot and damp and it caused the pier lights to refract in an oily green. He felt nervous about finding a good spot despite the apparent absence of anyone else.  Even the pier office had been uncharacteristically quiet although Ed couldn't remember having passed through it.  In fact, he couldn't recall why he had chosen not to bring his tackle box or his rig with him and why the pier looked to continue on forever like a black tunnel studded with eerie green lights.  He thought he would stop and ask a fisherman, who he had not noticed up until this point, what he was going for.

The lone fisherman turned and Ed could see that his eyes lacked everything but large black pupils, which were perfectly round and shining like a polished onyx.  "I'm fishing for shark, Ed."

Ed didn't think to ask why this stranger knew his name but seemed more interested in his choice of bait and he heard himself ask the question to which the fisherman replied, "Your baby brother, Ed."

The black-eyed man returned to his fishing and leaning on his elbows against the pier's railing.  Ed went to a Styrofoam cooler and removed the lid.  Inside, his brother's head winked and began laughing.

* * * * *

Since Travis disappeared, Ed rarely passed a day without thinking about him. A natural pragmatic, Ed's thoughts were mostly focused on the matter at hand leaving only small, brief apertures for wistful matters. But an exacting confluence of idle time and ordinary occurrence would bring a memory of his brother snaking towards him like a sudden draft from a door carelessly left ajar.  A radio throbbing from the open window of the car idling beside him at a stop light brought the memory of his brother's liver-colored Maverick and the disarray of dusty cassettes scattered throughout the littered interior.  Half-time commercials featuring sumptuous blondes serving up sweaty bottles of beer reminded Ed of Travis' seemingly tireless appetite for both.

In life he was the shining opposite to Ed's remote and withdrawn nature and Ed handled him as such, interacting with his brother from a distance, observing him with curiosity and mild distaste like unpredictable wildlife. But since his death, these random and unexpected visits had forced Travis into a perimeter of Ed's life he would have never entered while he was alive. In fact, his death had elevated his status from that of wayward sibling, rarely regarded, to inseparable soul mate.

In all these years, however, Ed could not remember a time when Travis's memory had manifested itself into a dream from which Ed awoke to the sound of his own bellowing scream, his thin tee-shirt soaked through with sweat.  Ed spent the remaining hours before dawn using cable television as a talisman for warding off the images in his nightmare and against any real demon that might have escaped to lurk about in the darkened corners of the early morning.

Despite the wrathful, unforgiving nature of a high summer sun, its incandescent sermons effectively burned reality into Ed's dream and he was relieved to find himself dismissing its characters as they became increasingly ridiculous in his corporeal world.  He imagined watching the ghosts from atop his scaffold melt in the merciless haze of the afternoon sun like Nosferatu as the curtains were opened on a glorious sunrise.  Ed even felt comfortable relating his story to his workmate as they wrapped a layer of Tyvek around the side of the new split-level. During a break his partner sat dangling his legs through the scaffold's frame and blew his comments on a cloud of cigarette smoke, "Damn, Ed you should watch what you eat before goin' to bed or give up fishing, one".

But as he stood in his usual place atop a dune, Ed figured that fishing was all he had, probably all he ever had. And now this odd dream seemed so vacant and meaningless he began to wonder if it had dreamt it at all. It wasn't until both his lines were deep in the Atlantic and the orange aegis of the sun was vanishing into the mainland that these visions began to crawl again in the blackening sections of the pier.

Two teenage boys had started fishing near Ed and when the wind was right, he occasionally got a strong whiff of their pungent body odor masked by Lagerfeld or fetid marijuana. Now they were struggling with a rod bent under the weight of a catch to which its design was wholly inadequate. Rather than watch the line snap or watch them lose the entire rig to the drink, Ed fetched one of the pier's nets and went over to see if there was anything worth hoisting on deck.

"Ya'll boys better let me take a look at what you got before you lose it".

He set the net down and the boy carefully transferred the rod, slowly loosening his grip as Ed took over the operation.  By the way it fought, t he knew immediately the two kids had hooked a shark and with a few rocking motions, he brought the writhing fish to the surface.  The lights that ran along the bottom of the pier to illuminate the night water had changed the gray ocean around the pilings to phosphorescent green and the shark's black back floated like a slick pool of glistening motor oil in the luminescent water. Ed estimated it to be at least three feet.

Ed reached for the net and slung it over the side, landing with a splash beside the fish.  He navigated it around and beneath the thrashing tail with the rope and pulled up closing and trapping the fish in the webbing.

"Now, grab on and go ahead and pull it up."

He handed the net's rope to the second youth who began pulling slowly and Ed kept hold of the rod, taking in the line as it came up. A small group had gathered to watch the shark fight against the net in angry contortions as it was hoisted up and then over the rail and on to the pier where it flopped spreading a large, black puddle of sea water on the dry boards.

Ed passed the rod back to its owner and went over to his gear returning with a towel and small sledgehammer.  The kid in charge of the net had knelt beside the fish and set about untangling it from the webbing.  Each time he began twisting at the nylon cords of the net, the shark would thrash and turn towards him.

"That's a good way to lose a finger, son. Look out."

Ed draped the towel over the shark's head like a condemned man, knelt and raised the hammer, bringing the dull, gun-metal weight down with full force on the shrouded head. He struck it repeatedly, the hammer making a soft, moist crunching sound and the towel stained with a few spots of red.

"If you guys want to keep it, I'll cut it up for you for a nice piece of the steak."

Both of the boys wore a vague, glassy eyed expression that Ed attributed to their pot smoking and so took their unison shrug as a nonverbal acceptance to his offer.

He stripped away the net and grabbed the three- footer at the tail end, dragging it along the worn planks leaving a dark trail of water and blood which the two boys followed to an old, porcelain sink mounted in a 2x4 frame.  Placing the hammer and towel down by the sink, he cupped his free hand on the shark's belly and lifted it onto the plywood counter so that the head was hanging over the edge of the deep, white basin.  Ed angled it up by the tail allowing the animal to drain into the sink from an incision he made below its mouth.  He reached over to turn on the faucet and the slick, unctuous blood swirled around with the brackish water from the rusting tap.  Ed slid the body back on the counter covered with translucent fish scales and mysterious, dried viscera baked into the wood by long, summer days.  He cut down and around the head and gills removing them along with the pectoral fins in one big piece.  From where they stood, well above the water, the carcass made only a faint sounding splash when he threw it over the side and he imagined it being a windfall dinner for scuttling crabs on the sandy floor. Turning the body on its side, Ed inserted his knife and went through it with a sawing motion, splitting the tough, snowy white belly towards the tail. The coarse skin brought to Ed's mind the business end of his belt sander and he reached into the cavity, pulling out handful of gelatinous entrails.

Since the age of these boys, Ed had known the stories of sharks and how their voracious, undiscerning appetite had sometimes led to bizarre discoveries by fishermen spilling the contents of a dead stomach: remains of aquatic prey mixed in with trash flung overboard or washed out with the tide.  Tin cans, license plates — all of these things Ed had heard tell of and he now thought it would be lucky to find some wealthy vacationer's copious wallet amidst the crab and fish parts in all these guts.  But as he went to scoop up the mess, his knife blade sounded off something hard. He thought it might have scraped the head of a nail protruding from the warping plywood and he stirred the blade around in the viscera to reproduce the blunt, metallic sound.  It wasn't a nail he found but a copper colored key attached to a plastic tag.  He was sure these two hadn't noticed anything and he picked the key out and slid it into the pocket of his jeans.

He finished steaking it for them and cut himself a generous piece, hurriedly gathered up his gear and called it an early night.  Later, as a slab of shark lay marinating in a bath of lemon juice and water as Ed sat at his kitchen table regarding the motel key he'd scavenged from the stomach of the teenager's catch. He held the key and ran his thumb over the diamond shape of the green plastic tag reading the gold print aloud.  "Drop In Any Mailbox, We Guarantee Postage".

Tossing it with a clink on the table he thought, "Hell, I can save them some money.  I can drive it by the Tooth's office in the morning. For that matter, I reckon I could just as easy open up the room and leave the damn thing on the top of the television or in the drawer with the Gideon Bible."

* * * * *

"You still going for shark?" The sand between Ed's toes was cold and although it was pitch black he could plainly see the black-eyed man on the shore casting a line out into the midnight surf.

"No, I am fishing for Travis, Ed.  He's out there somewhere and I aim to bring'm in."

"You ain't gonna catch him out here, he's back in his room." Ed pointed over his shoulder with his Mag-lite back over the dunes, across Poseidon, towards the Shark Tooth Ocean Court.  He turned and headed back to the lights of the parking lot. He heard the words "Thanks for the tip" shouted at his back.

Ed slid the key into the lock and opened the door to his room and went inside.  In the bathroom sharks were hung upside down to drain in the tub.  On his bed another was being cleaned with meticulous care by the black-eyed man using a blade that looked more like a fossilized shark's tooth.  The head of the shark was gone and in its place was the one belonging to his brother which laughed and then told Ed that tonight was a bad night for swimming.

* * * * *

There was hardly any traffic at this hour but his pickup passed a few other travelers on his way to the low truss bridge: a late partier going home, a late worker driving to a shift. Poseidon Boulevard was equally deserted as he passed the dark rows of clapboard beach houses full of exhausted, sun-burnt tourists. The utility poles that ran the length of the island were each given a weak greenish street light and as he passed beneath from one to another, everything inside the black cab would reveal itself as pale ghostly figures before disappearing back into night.

It would be sensible and surely easier to wait until the next day, drive to Breaker's Island and hand the key over to the desk clerk. But he had sat bolt upright, heart pounding with no time to think before stumbling to the bathroom to vomit up his shark dinner.  Unconsciously, he had stripped himself of the wet bed clothes and slid into a pair of jeans draped over a chair in the corner, grabbed the flotsam key and had been halfway to the island before he'd considered what he was doing.

The gravel crunched beneath the truck's tires as he pulled into the parking lot of the Shark Tooth Ocean Court and he extinguished his headlights, coming to stop in front of room 22.  When he switched off the ignition the still quiet of the island's primitive night drifted in through the open window.  He sat for a long time listening to the gentle rumble of breakers beyond the dunes and the low drone of the motel's nightlights. He thought he might drift off to sleep and be shaken back to consciousness in the early morning by the worn, nicotine stained fingers of a blonde from housekeeping so he quietly opened the cab door and stepped out into the lot.

There was a thin line where the drapes did not fully meet and Ed closed one eye and peered through the window like a man looking into spyglass. Except for a pale, flickering, light being thrown around the room by the television, everything was dark and also quiet as if someone had turned off the sound and was using some late night western to read by.  

He stepped away from the window and looked back and forth from the 22 stenciled on the door to the gold number on the shark's key as if matching a claim ticket to a piece of luggage. The key's teeth bit into the lock with slow, rusty clicks.  Ed realized, with the key lodged firmly in the lock that he had taken it for granted that this ocean foundling would even fit much less open a door at this motel.  He noticed his hand was shaking so he let go of the doorknob and stood for a moment wondering again, what exactly it was he thought he was doing. The hotel's ice machine that purred warmly in some dark recess suddenly gave out a glassy, metallic crash as its innards belched up a heap of fresh cubes, making Ed jump with a start.

The lock gave no resistance as the key twisted the doorknob clockwise, allowing the room's air- conditioned breath to seep out onto the moist skin of Ed's face and forearms as he slowly swung the door ever wider before stepping into the room.

* * * * *

It was noon the next day by the time the day manager decided to check the motel's records of registered guests against the license plates in the parking lot. By mid-afternoon Ed Green's abandoned pickup was riding piggyback on a local wrecker down Poseidon Boulevard. to the county lot.

The sole member of the Shark Tooth Ocean Court's housekeeping staff had had an easy day.  Only rooms 3 through 11 had been occupied by overnight guests and two of these wore Do Not Disturb plaques swinging in the gentle, morning breeze. As she locked the utility closet she watched the strange pickup being hitched up for a tow.  

Later that evening, over dinner, she told the story to her husband about how she had passed room 22 on her way to the car and saw the key in the lock.  

"So I thought, that's strange, ain't nobody checked in here.  So I knock but don't nobody answer and I go in to look if something's wrong.  Well, there ain't nobody in the there but the damn tv's on.  Well, I switched it off and went back to the office to tell William, the day manager, but he's gone, something to do with his girlfriend. But the new night guy is there so I give him the key and tell him what I seen."

Her husband dragged a french fry through a dollop of ketchup, "And what'd he say?"

"Oh, he didn't say nothin'. He's as weird as they come.  I don't like him, either.  Damn big, beedy, black eyes of his give me the creeps."

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