Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Ten years earlier Kyle Kelley would never have thought this fish, of all the fish in the sea, was vulnerable. Man-eater? Yes. Mysterious? Yes. Nightmarish? Yes, definitely yes. What young boy wouldn’t? But vulnerable? That wasn’t the word that came to mind, until he stopped at the town fish docks with his father one steamy summer afternoon. On that cloudless August day, Kyle ran to catch up with his father, a local shark biologist, who had slipped through the back alley next to Kyle’s grandfather’s fish house just steps from the commercial fish loading dock. Kyle hopped the swinging chain that held the EMPLOYEES ONLY sign and rounded the building at a feverish clip. He nearly collided with his older brother Jack who was rigid and staring at one captain’s monstrous catch. “Kyle, come here!” Jack said. “Isn’t it the coolest thing you’ve ever seen? Dad works on some pretty bad fish, but this one―this one is totally wicked. Look at its teeth. How’d you like to go nose to nose with him in a wave?” At sixteen feet and easily 2,500-pounds, a female great white shark hung from a pier stanchion by a thick, bloodied rope wrapped tightly around its gills. Slightly shorter than a two-story building, she was gigantic and undeniably magnificent. Her head and jaws folded grotesquely over the rope cinched just above her torso. Her white, laden abdomen drooped downward, so swollen, she was either robust with a recent meal or carrying pups. Her crescent-shaped tail swayed an inch off the deck. Kyle couldn’t take his eyes off the massive fish. “Caught the old girl off that wreck about twenty miles north of here,” a man in a captain’s cap was saying in a loud melodramatic voice. “You know, the one they say is the pirate ship lost in a wicked nor’easter in 1720. Word is the shark was a regular around the wreck. Some called her The Warden who protected the ship’s buried treasure. Others hailed her The Executioner. One bite and you were gone, swallowed whole!” Boys younger than Kyle gasped at the captain’s exaggerated words. One even turned and buried his eyes into his father’s trousers. “For decades no one but those with a death wish would dive the wreck, not even with a lookout. Can’t say I blame ’em. This old girl was ruthless, ran my line out like a scalded dog. Nearly spooled out.” Kyle was appalled yet riveted by the story and moved with the crowd as they pushed closer to see the shark. “Put up a heck of a fight for two solid hours. But she was no match for me! And news travels fast,” he added, his chest puffing out. “I’ve already got collectors bidding against each other for her jaws, and I’ll be able to sell her teeth for a pretty penny.” The smug look on the captain’s face sent a surge of anger through Kyle. Why would anyone want to take the life of such an awesome animal? Sloshing sounds below the dock caught Kyle’s attention. Through the warped boards he glimpsed two gray seals struggling for position. They were jockeying to catch the stream of gurry, the guts and blood oozing from the shark’s jaw and streaming down to its tail and into the water. The heat of the day, a mental picture of the shark fighting for her life only to have seals gorging on her innards, and the smell of diesel fumes from a passing boat mixed with his anger caused his stomach to cramp as if he’d been sucker punched. Tasting bile, he turned and ran as fast as he could to the parking lot, where he heaved his lunch into a bush. He couldn’t get the smell of the gurry out of his nose, and he hurled again. As he stared down at the contents of his stomach, he brought his fury under control by mulling over the idea of marching back to the pier and telling the captain what he thought of his dead trophy. The monster-size shark deserved more; she deserved a better fate than to have its jaws hung above some trophy hunter’s fireplace, her teeth sold as jewelry and her fins sold in the Asian market for soup. He stood up and, wiping his mouth on his sleeve, looked around the parking lot, hoping his brother hadn’t seen. He’d never hear the end of it.
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