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Val and the White Shark

by Lance Garrison Ballard

Table of Contents
Part 1 appears
in this issue.

The boat shimmered into clear view. Val and Laddy squinted from the harsh beam of light.

Once the spots cleared from their eyes, they saw Manny Chavez. He glided his rig up to Steady Stride, tied up, and hopped aboard.

“Suppose you’ll need a tow back to shore, huh?” Luckily, Manny had been out fishing the very same stretch of water. Had he not? No telling what would have happened. To Val and Laddy, that is.

Softly, Val said, “That harpoon should’ve killed it!”

“Harpoon or not,” Laddy voiced, “that shark was just too much for us.”

Didn’t take much more said then that for Manny to get the gist. He was now beside Val. “Coming out here and hunting down some shark and hoping it’s the same one?”

“Won’t bring Sarah back,” Val cried. “I know.”

Time had come for Manny to make a much needed confession. “I loved Sarah, too.”

The week before Sarah was attacked, Manny had finally talked himself up enough courage to ask for a date.

How it came to be, though, the only date Manny ever got with Sarah, was typing out SHARK ATTACK on her DEATH CERTIFICATE and taking her ravaged remains down to the morgue to be put on ice until time for cremation.

Two days later, Sarah’s ashes were scattered across deep blue as a single white dove flew over head and the last rays of sun slowly melted away, beneath the horizon that gave away to dusk, which gave away to night.

Moonless, it had been.

But not on this night.

The cool shine of the moon continued to shimmer off those vast waves of black. Morning wasn’t but an hour off, when the gentle tug of sleep came. And came quick. Then, as if a dam that divides the conscious from the subconscious, gave way to the subtle call of dreams. Val and Laddy could no longer resist, and surrendered to the subtle call.

Yet, no dreams came.

Half an hour later, the fog had lifted some, and Manny had both boats tied to the pier. He ambled back below the deck of his rig and filled a pot with water and lit the stove and put the pot on the burner and waited patiently for the coffee to brew.

Slowly, it did.

It wasn’t long before the smell had Val and Laddy roused from subconscious depths and rubbing sleep from their eyes.

Manny then poured three cups. Piping hot. With cup in hand, and bearings level again, Val thought of his sister Sarah and the beast that had been set free.

Next time. I’ll be ready. Will, I ever.

Decades later...

“This right, gramps?”

Val smiled at his only grandson. “Give your line a bit of slack, Liam,” then ducked down below deck. Then popped back up topside, bucket of chum, holes punched through lid then tied rope around the handle, the other end of rope tied tight to a cleat, and heaved the bucket overboard. Considering the years, Steady Stride had weathered well, with no more damage done then any other sea dog that rode strong and proud amidst those vast waves of infinite black.

The bucket of chum hit with a deep splash, and the pungent stench of cow blood and rotted fish, hung heavy in the summer breeze.

“What is that stuff there in that bucket, anyway, gramps?” Liam’s hand was over his nose from the torrid stench.

Val grinned, “Stuff to help catch us something big.” Then he went back below deck again and snatched the harpoon. Weary thoughts then surfaced...

Wish Laddy were here.

But Laddy was nearly fifty years dead now, murdered by none other then his own mother two weeks after Laddy graduated from high school and talked about moving off that same fall. Janet just couldn’t have that and kept up violent ways by hitting the bottle hard. But not as hard as hitting Laddy.

That’s how it went for Laddy, two weeks after graduation: his skull fractured so badly that he never woke from the coma. Should be said, though, karma had a final say in all this.

Shortly after being found guilty of murder in the first, and sentenced to life without parole, Janet Lasko died. Heart attack. Stress had finally done her in, much the same as how that belt and brass buckle had done in Laddy. Only not quite as violent, and not quite what you’d call even-steven, either. Wasn’t but a few years following Laddy’s untimely demise that another untimely demise struck.

Manny was lost at sea and never heard from again. Just how it had been like with Sarah, five years prior. With Sarah though, Catalina islanders knew for sure she was more than dead. But with Manny... Hope that he was alive, somewhere, was easier to believe because to this very day no boat or body has ever washed ashore.

And probably never will, either.

Yet, for Manny’s family, hope burns bright that, one day, he might just up and show again. But Val knew, even way back when, that Manny wasn’t ever coming home.

Today. Some day. Any day. Lost at sea and dead, Manny was. Really no other way to be lost at sea. Other than dead. Like Manny.

And for years, Val felt the same: lost at sea, and just as dead. Had it not been for Leslie Hollingsworth. Yes, Leslie Hollingsworth, passionate lover and caring wife.

Leslie had saved Val from what surely would have ended as a life unsatisfied. Leslie helped sooth away the haunting memories of Sarah, Laddy, and Manny.

Wish they were all still here.

“What’s the hold-up, gramps?” Liam asked.

Val, harpoon over shoulder was heading up topside again. “Nothing,” he said and appeared behind Liam.

He studied the cold, sleek steel. He hadn’t ever seen anything so ancient before, but had a hunch on what it was. “Harpoon?”

“Yep,” Val said, then smiled. “Ever tell you the time I went shark hunting?” Liam shook his head, and Val went on, “Then today’s the day I shall. And tell you all about it,” and began bringing to life the tale of yesteryear and the beast-revenge for Sarah.

Though how Val told it, made it seem as if he knew for sure that the suspected beast had been the guilty predator all along. Course, Val never knew for sure. It just sounded better being told how it was then how it really happened. Besides, how Val wanted it to be was still worth relishing over, as if true. Truer than true, far as Val was concerned.

So, the tale continued.

Strange that Val nor Liam never saw the bucket of chum go suddenly under. Stranger still, no notice was even paid to the dorsal fin that stealthily sliced through infinite waves of black, away from Steady Stride out to deeper sea.

Dusk had finally swelled across the horizon.

On the beach, houselights began to flicker. Val was amazed that he still saw them as tiny neon specks of winking glass. But he did. And after telling the tale of battling the white shark, the sorrow that had stayed since Sarah’s death, finally lifted. There was no more yearning for sweet revenge on the beast. All Val wanted now was as much time possible with grandson, Liam. Before it was too late.

But as seasons soon fade, that is how it went for Val. Six months later, he faded away. To the other side.

At the wake, Liam told, for the first time how his grandfather had battled the white shark in revenge for Sarah. Those there that day, Luke, Val’s only son, and Cindy, Luke’s beloved wife, and of course, Val’s own beloved one, Leslie, cried from the pain of knowing that Val O’Connor, was forever gone, laid to rest beneath a eulogy that reads...

In hushed splendor, peace has finally found thee...

And such hushed splendor as that would be eternal in heaven, forever lasting with Sarah, Laddy, and Manny. But not as intense splendor, as with beloved Leslie.

She came to be with Val, mere months after his funeral.

Liam gently cradled his newborn son, but not three weeks old, and stared out over the waves that rocked steadily against the wooden stilts of the pier, and thought fondly of the one for whom he had named his only son.

Grandpa Val, of course.

Liam couldn’t help but lovingly smile at his son. Then sullen memories of those for whom the battle with the white shark had been waged, and why, took hold, and Liam knew that if he and his wife Trisha were lucky enough, next time, to have a baby girl, then she would without doubt be christened Sarah.

Yes, Liam thought. Sarah will be the christened name, then cradled his new-born son back home.

Val O’Connor was alive again. If only by name.

Yet, life was new. And it was good. The future of all to come, now lay ahead in calm serenity.

This seemed certain, for Val kept precious watch over Liam and Trisha — especially careful watch over their new-born son sleeping soundly in a crib of fine crafted oak and under a warm, cozy blanket.

And Val wept in tearful joy over the child who would one day know the pride his father had in naming him after his grandfather.

A sudden, gentle pull had Val, and he descended up and out of the room to where forever lasting splendor awaited in heavenly peace. As did friends of a time long ago and a love which never died. Nor ever would. Having returned to heaven, Val took Leslie’s hand, and was soon lost within her soul. As she with him.

And somewhere off the coast of Catalina Island a dorsal fin stealthily sliced through vast waves of infinite black.

Infinite black...

Copyright © 2005 by Lance G. Ballard

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