An Incident on Pensacola Beach
by Julian Drury
Sheriff Laird Montauk took his time to smoke. He had been trying to quit for the past five years, yet found there were only five years left until he hit seventy. He smoked not out of addiction, but perhaps out of spite to his critics, of which he had many. Pensacola is a spiteful town. Montauk was ready to retire, yet he could never bring himself to speak the right words or get his hands to sign the proper paperwork. Instead, Montauk smoked his cigarette with a gleeful scowl, peering out onto the shores of a grey and churning beach.
The beach was a special place that day. Montauk could see the cause of this specialty from the sand ridge, ingrained with pebbles and seashells, where he smoked. Beachgoers and reporters were swarming, and they had good reason. The seagulls were circling, waiting. The clouds were grey and the wind was cold. This was a neutral day for a Pensacola beach. Not gloomy enough for nature’s full potential during Hurricane season. Montauk finished his cigarette and walked carefully toward the beach-swarm surrounding the carcass.
Montauk shoved his way in, yet slowed himself the closer he grew to the thirty-five foot carcass splayed out in perfect order. Montauk did not appear frightened, rather strangely curious. It was an animal, for sure. Yet, it was not the carcass of any animal Montauk was familiar with. Jesus God, Montauk thought. What the hell is it?
“Are you in charge here?” A voice spoke to Montauk’s left. Montauk turned his head and saw the figure of a man with thick glasses facing him. The man was wearing a pink collared shirt tucked into his khakis.
“Guess so,” Montauk replied. “Who’s asking?”
“Swandive, Christopher Swandive. I’m a reporter.”
“Uh, yeah.” Montauk was silent for a moment, and turned his focus back to the carcass.
“So can you tell me what this is?” Swandive asked.
“No,” Montauk replied.
“Any ideas at all?”
“Listen, Mr. Swandive is it? I know about as much as you do. The best way for me to find out is to get a good look for myself, and then I’ll tell you what I know.”
“This is a big story, I didn’t catch your name?”
“Montauk, Sheriff Montauk.”
“Well, Sheriff, you ever seen or heard of anything like this?”
“This is amazing.” Swandive began taking photos, grinning with every snapshot he took. Behind him appeared a man in a brown suit, a man for whom Montauk immediately felt loathing.
“Laird,” the man spoke.
“Commissioner,” Montauk replied. City Commissioner Davis Hume always seemed to be present when Montauk least needed him around. Montauk withdrew a cigarette from his coat, needing to do so urgently.
“Surprised to see you here, Hume,” Montauk said.
“Story like this spreads like wildfire,” Hume replied. “Jesus Christ on white bread, this is something alright.”
Montauk watched as Hume took a good look at the carcass, the entire thirty-five feet of it. It was a well preserved carcass as well, which indicated it washed ashore fairly quickly after its death. It was definitely a sea mammal of some kind, though not a whale. It had a similar body physique as a dugong or manatee. It was slender, save for its chest and back which appeared muscular. Large front flippers stood out, as well as a tail with a trident-like paddle at the end. Its head was nearly hog-like, with a slender snout and bizarre fins extending from the sides of its head which gave a vague appearance of ears. Spear-like teeth stuck out from open jaws, and empty eye sockets which had been gored by seagulls.
“Sure the Mayor would love to see this,” Hume said. “Fish and Game are gonna have a field day! Never know, might be able to put it in the county fair next month. Might bring some more tourists in.”
“One can only hope,” Montauk replied.
“Sheriff! Sheriff!” A voice called to him. The reporter, Swandive, approached with statements rather than questions. “Sheriff, are you familiar with an incident that occurred here in 1962?”
“Before my time here.”
“So you’re not from Pensacola?”
“No,” Montauk said. “Georgia, originally.”
“Well, this might interest you then. Back in 1962, there was a report of a boating accident involving four teenage boys.”
“You talking about the Donaldson case?” Hume interjected.
“You’ve heard of it then?” Swandive asked.
“Yeah, old tall tale that gets passed around.”
“About the incident,” Montauk asked.
“Well,” Swandive continued. “The story goes that in autumn of 1962, here off Pensacola Beach, four boys took a small boat out a couple of miles to check out a scuttled World War II battleship. They were caught in a sudden squall, which overturned their boat. The boys clung to the battleship wreck, until sunset, when the storm passed. Well, the boys, being trapped two miles from shore, decided to use their lifejackets and swim back. Here’s where the story gets a little juicy. According to the incident’s only survivor, Tom Donaldson, the boys were attacked by a large sea monster while swimming back to shore.”
“What kind of sea monster?” Montauk asked.
“One just like this one, actually. He—Donaldson—described it as incredibly big, body like a manatee, big teeth, and a tail with a trident-like end. The monster stalked and attacked his three companions, one by one, leaving only Donaldson to tell the story.”
“Hell of a story,” Montauk said and flicked his cigarette butt away.
“Well that’s the thing. That version of the story was only printed once in the local paper, which was later changed it to a boating accident.”
“Then how did you know about it?”
“Google is a wonderful thing, Sheriff.”
“Well, looks like that old tall tale might have some truth to it,” Hume said.
“This is a story of a lifetime,” Swandive said. “Best part is, there’s another one out there just like this one.”
“How can you be sure?”
“Because this one is, or was, expecting.”
“Yeah. You can tell by the swelling around the chest lining. Hate to see what the kids of that thing would look like.”
Montauk raised an eyebrow at Swandive.
“I studied Marine Biology before I got into journalism,” Swandive added. “If Mamma Monster is washed ashore, then Papa Monster is still out there. Could even be close by.”
“Maybe you should go track that Donaldson down, Laird,” Hume said. “Might get a better story for the National Geographic or something.”
“Yeah,” Montauk said softly. “Maybe I should.”
Montauk discovered that Tom Donaldson was still alive, living in Escambia County. He lived three miles outside of Pensacola, and had the reputation of being mostly a recluse. The men at Donaldson’s favorite bar (The Sour Trout) said that he never spoke to them about any incident in his youth. Montauk did not press the details. He approached Donaldson’s small house slowly, observantly. The house was box-like, and painted entirely white on the outside. Rotted remnants existed of what was a stockade, eaten away by lack of care. Montauk stepped out of his Jeep and waited. He knew Donaldson would come outside to him. Indeed, the door opened, and a man with a matted gray beard, and a black sleeveless shirt greeted Montauk with unease.
“How did you know about me? How did you connect it back to what I saw?”
“I had help. Strange story, I’ve been told.”
Montauk described the carcass from the beach and told Donaldson about Swandive’s wild story.
“You’d better come inside, Sheriff,” Donaldson said.
Montauk followed the old man into the house.
“So it came back,” Tom Donaldson said, in a low, raspy voice as they crossed the threshold. “After all these years, it came back.”
“Dead,” Montauk responded. “Washed ashore on Pensacola Beach. Fairly recently, I should say.”
“Do you have any pictures of it?”
“Yeah, here.” Montauk withdrew his cell phone and showed two pictures to Donaldson. There was a silence, a beautiful one. Donaldson took a deep breath, and scratched his head. He got up from his seat, and made his way to his small kitchen. Donaldson poured himself a glass of Wild Turkey, and lit a cigarette. He seemed to have trouble turning and facing Montauk.
“It was October 22, 1962. Couple days after we nearly saw World War Three in Havana, great days.”
“You mean the incident.”
“Yeah. There were four of us. I was the youngest, at fourteen. My friends were older. Chip at sixteen, Bill at fifteen, and Jeff at seventeen. Jeff’s dad had a small sail boat, which we took out to the beach as we did every week at some point. That day, we were sailing out to the wreck of the U.S.S. Maryland, an old World War II ship. We wanted to dive there, but then the squall came. The wind got so rough that it ripped our sail and overturned the boat. The shipwreck stood partially out from the water, the mast especially. We waited until the storm passed. Sunset came, and we had no boat. ‘We’re only two miles from shore,’ Jeff said. ‘We could swim that easy.’ We held tightly to our life vests, and swam our way toward shore. Nightfall came quickly.”
“Is that when you saw it?”
“No. We heard it first.”
“There was a fog that came. The ocean was quiet. We heard splashes behind us, or maybe in front. Loud splashes, in patterns. Then there was this noise, this unbearable hissing. Sort of hiss you’d hear from an angry gator, but with a louder and trembling echo. After we heard it, we could smell it.”
“Horrible smell. Dead fish and seaweed. It took Chip first. Dragged him under, couldn’t see anything. Just heard his screaming, then he was gone. We panicked. Jeff thought it was a shark, but I knew better.”
“Then what happened.”
“I knew it was something, something bad. It didn’t eat them all right away. It stalked us, followed us. It played with us. It wasn’t just hunting for food. It enjoyed the hunt, like a human would. It followed us for hours, it seemed. It took Jeff next. We looked up to Jeff, him being the oldest. I saw its tail then, shot out of the water when it grabbed him. Tail shaped like a pitchfork, three points on it. Only Bill and I remained, and we swam as fast as we could. We reached a shore marker. We were so close. Bill was so close. That’s when I saw it. The hissing came back, and I looked past Bill. There it was, gigantic monster of a bastard. I could see its teeth sticking out from the side of its mouth. I saw its eyes, its black eyes reflect the moonlight. It just sat there, on the surface. That horrible smell. I heard Bill scream, and felt a splash.”
“Then what happened?”
“I swam. I thought about nothing but swimming. Saltwater ran through my nose. Moonlight shined bright for me. The next thing I remembered was waking up near a sand ridge on the beach. The seagulls were crying. The sun was rising. There was the gulf. Chip, Bill, and Jeff were gone. I knew it was still out there, waiting for me too.”
“Thank you, Mr. Donaldson. Your information has been helpful.”
Montauk was enjoying coffee at Tilda’s Diner. Technically there was no smoking in the diner, yet Montauk sat in a back booth, and no one would dare challenge his right to self-indulgence. Montauk was waiting for someone, as patiently and silently as he could. Montauk finished the cigarette, and sipped his coffee. A figure suddenly appeared and slipped into the booth across from him.
“Sheriff,” the figure spoke, taking off his sunglasses as he sat down.
“What you got for me, Terry?” Montauk asked.
“Well, give me a second here,” Terry replied. He began rifling through manila folders withdrawn from his raincoat, trying not to spill the files. “Interesting day, yeah? Never seen anything like that, yeah?”
“What are you talking about?”
“That thing on the beach. Bet it’s gonna cause a big fervor around here.”
“It just might,” Montauk agreed.
“Now I can go home to my wife and show her a dead sea monster.”
“Could’ve gone home with less.”
“After today, your services are no longer needed,” Montauk told the private investigator.
“You sure? Think you’ve got enough?”
“Okay. Well this is what I got.”
Montauk scoured through a series of photos that were presented to him. They were pictures of his wife, having an illicit affair with Davis Hume, City Commissioner. Montauk had known about the affair for at least two years. Terry’s services became helpful, finally Montauk had the evidence he needed. The photo with Hume whispering into the ear of his grinning wife drew Montauk’s attention. The picture with the kiss did not gain such a response, nor the one with them holding hands romantically at an outside café. It was settled, as far as Montauk was concerned.
“Thank you, Terry,” Montauk said. What’s the name of that hotel you saw them staying at?”
“Holiday Inn, at Via De Luna.”
“Not far from the beach?”
“Not at all.”
“Alright then, Terry. You take care of yourself.” Montauk got up from the booth, placing a check for $6,000 on the table as he did so. Terry smirked.
As Montauk began to walk away, Terry said to him, “Don’t think that I don’t know about St. Mary’s.”
Montauk paused, yet did not turn and face Terry.
“What did you say?”
“I know about you, Sheriff Montauk. You couldn’t hide forever.”
“What are you getting at, exactly?”
“I might advise another check, for about $6,000 more, at this same booth by tomorrow morning.”
“I’ll have it for you tonight.”
“Even better. When should I expect it?”
“I’ll call you.”
It was around seven p.m. Montauk’s wife, Gladys, was taking a cab with Davis Hume to the Holiday Inn on Via De Luna Drive. The sun was close to setting, and both Gladys and Hume were oblivious to everything around them. Hume’s phone rang suddenly. Seeing it was Montauk calling, he answered without hesitation, even after pressing his lips and tongue harshly onto the sheriff’s wife.
“Laird?” Hume said as he answered the phone.
“Yeah,” Montauk said.
“To what do I owe this pleasure?”
“Calling it in for the night. Letting you know the paperwork to Fish and Game is still pending.”
“Oh, that’s fine Laird. Hey, speaking of, I got some experts down at the aquarium to take a look at it. Well, turns at that reporter fella with the glasses was right. Big bad sea beast was a big bad momma.”
“That’s interesting,” Montauk said.
“Yep, they also suppose that this might be a breeding ground. Papa monster is still out there somewhere.”
“Goodnight, Hume.” The phone went silent as the sheriff hung up.
“You shouldn’t be so chummy with him,” Gladys said. “He might suspect something.”
“That dull buzzard? We’ve been banging for three years Gladys.”
“Don’t say it like that!”
“Let’s save all of that for when we get to the hotel.”
Flashing lights appeared behind the cab. It was a police car. Gladys and Hume were not concerned by this at first. That was until Gladys saw the officer approaching the car. The officer tapped on the cab driver’s window. The cab driver rolled the window down.
“Get out of the car,” Montauk said to the driver. The cab driver complied. Once the cab driver stepped out, Montauk handed him a stack of money. Montauk approached the passenger door and opened it gently. Montauk grinned at Gladys and Hume.
“Let’s take a ride to the beach,” Montauk said.
The tides were rough at the beach. The moon danced the waves violently, pulling its unseen marionette strings with sour rage. A small boat trekked through these waters. Three people were present in this boat, two of them being held by gunpoint. Montauk grinned while he steered the boat motor, aiming his pistol stiffly at Gladys and Hume. The salty air was perfect, Montauk thought.
“I don’t know what you think you’re doing, Laird,” Hume said. “But you’ll never get away with this.”
“You think so, don’t you,” Montauk replied.
“You have to stop this foolishness, Laird,” Gladys said.
“I will, soon enough,” Montauk replied to her.
“I’m sorry you had to learn like this, but our marriage has been dead for years. You know that. This isn’t Davis’ fault. It’s our fault, Laird.”
“It’s perfect tonight,” Montauk said. “Don’t you think?”
“What are you gonna to do to us, Laird?” Hume asked. “You gonna to shoot us? The City Commissioner and your wife?”
“No,” Montauk said. “The gun was just to get you out here without a fuss.” Montauk turned off the boat motor, looked around and took a deep breath of air. “This is the right spot,” he said.
Montauk reached in between his legs and pulled out an object carefully wrapped in newspaper and plastic wrap. Montauk tore at it briefly, until the wrapping was loose enough to release the object underneath it. Gladys and Hume looked with grim curiosity, plotting perhaps to rush him and take his gun even though the boat was too small and could capsize.
Montauk smiled at the pair and said, “I’d like you two to meet someone. Say hello to Terry.”
Montauk then revealed the severed head of his private investigator, grasping its black hair tightly in his fingers.
Gladys shrieked. Hume widened his eyes and said nothing.
“Terry,” Montauk continued, “was a little eye I hired to keep tabs on you two. He did a good job for the most part. But, you see, Terry here got a little too nosy and sniffed around the wrong guy’s past. He should have known better. Still think I’m not going to get away with it, Hume?”
“Don’t do this, Laird! My god, please don’t do this!”
“It’s already done.” Montauk grabbed two orange life vests and handed them to Gladys and Hume.
“Put them on,” Montauk said. “You’re going for a swim.”
Gladys and Hume put on the jackets. They plunged into the choppy sea. Montauk tossed Terry’s severed head in after them.
“So this is it, Laird?” Hume said, bobbing near the side of the boat, grasping the arm of Gladys. “You’re just going to leave us out here?”
“You won’t be out here long,” Montauk replied.
“What the fuck does that mean?” Hume shrieked.
“You’ll hear it before you see it. Then you’ll smell it. He’s going to creep on you slowly. Then he’ll probably swallow you up.”
“What do want Laird, money? You want your wife back, you can have her, Laird. You hear me? You can fucking have her!”
“Bastard!” Gladys shouted while smacking at Hume, creating a series of splashes.
“That’s good,” Montauk said. “Noise and splashing will draw it closer. That way you won’t have to be out here so long.”
“You’re crazy, Laird, certifiable!”
“I know that. Your problem is you didn’t learn that sooner. I’ve never figured out how to kill people so cruelly. Yet, if there was ever a better moment, it’s now. Shhh, listen.”
The choppy waves stemmed their violence. The air was calm. Gentle splashes could be heard sporadically. A fog emerged. A horrible stench began to fill the air, overpowering the salty waves. Gladys and Hume could smell it, as could Montauk. There was a sound, a hissing that emerged. It started slowly, and then rapidly progressed to an echoing pattern that grew louder with every passing second. Montauk glanced out into the waves. He grinned widely. The smell was stagnant, and the waves churned by a massive trident-shaped tail. Gladys and Hume stared into black eyes, reflecting the moonlight. Montauk chuckled, and lit a cigarette.
“Big Papa,” he said.
About Julian Drury
Julian Drury‘s work has appeared online and in print for Quail Bell Magazine, Bewildering Stories, Rainfall Records and Books, Danse Macabre, and the Eunoia Review. He also has work published in Night Lights, a sci-fi anthology published by Geminid Press, and writes a weekly column for Quiet Mike. Julian resides in New Orleans, his hometown, where he attends university, cares for his dog, and holds down a part-time job as a good human being (though he prefers not to elaborate on this).