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A full glass was set down in front of the former Mayor of Amity. Larry Vaughn only glanced at it momentarily. He raised his eyebrows at the bartender in mute request for an explanation.

The bartender understood. “From the gentleman,” she said, gesturing to the end of the bar.

He followed the line of empty stools to where a man had been seated since he arrived. He gave an acknowledging nod, raising his glass. He forced a smile, feeling the spotlight of public attention. The other mimicked, raising his glass in turn, before setting it on the counter and looking back down into his drink.

Larry was used to being recognized after his beach town became national news. Considering the type of reception he had received by those who harbored such bitter feelings against him, he was praying that the West Coast cared more about Hollywood than whatever might've happened on what was the other side of the world as far as it was concerned. Or, at the very least, it would be a distant, hazy memory so many news cycles later. Safest bet was to let it be. Still, there was something nagging him about this solitary figure. Larry took his drink and approached him, realizing that a passerby might assume that they were related. They both looked to be roughly the same age, had similar builds, and wore suits. The other man watched his approach, with an expression that was not easily discernible.

“Thanks,” Larry said in an expression of gratitude and an offer for further conversation.

“Since you aren't local, I thought you could use a friendly welcome,” the man explained, reciprocating.

“You, uh,” Larry began, swirling his drink, “you know for a fact that I'm not from around here?”

“Oh, I'm fairly confident that I can recognize the Mayor of Shark City when I see him.”

Ordinarily, hearing anyone reference his disparaging imposed title would be an indicator to make his excuses and leave. And yet, the other man was relaxed, his smile disarming, and he didn't make any unusual hints that he was ready to sock him in the face, or dump a bucket of fish guts on his sports jacket.

Larry did not have time to clear his throat as he gave the response he had coached himself, “The unforeseen, tragic events that took place at Amity were shocking to our community. At the time, I did everything I could to act in the town's best interest. I'm truly sorry. There's not a day that goes by where I look back without grief and shame.”

The stranger listened, and when Larry finished, he gave a smile. “And it's for those reasons I thought you could use the drink.”

Intrigued, Larry took a seat in an empty stool next to him.

“I appreciate that,” Larry said, sincerely, trying to gauge this lone patron. Wearing a three-piece suit and fancy wristwatch, he wasn't a low life or the ordinary kind of townsfolk he was used to. If anything, the way this man dressed and carried himself was an advertisement to all around him that he is somebody...there was also something very familiar about his face...And yet, to be alone and offering a drink to a disgraced politician? Surely it was a sign of a tragic backstory.

“You only have me at a bit of a disadvantage, seeing as you know who I am.”

The other man extended his hand. “Jim Teague.”

And with that, a connection crystallized. “Perhaps we have much more in common than I realized,” Larry commented as he took his in a business-like handshake. Since both highly valued the body language of the handshake, they immediately started assessing the meanings and motivations of the other man by it, which resulted in the gesture lasting longer than it should have.

“How's that?” Jim asked, giving Larry's hand a final, masculine squeeze before releasing it.

“Last night the news was covering the downfall of a once successful real estate company due to some strange things that happened over at, uh...” Larry struggled to voice the name that was right on the tip of his tongue.

“Cuesta Verde,” Jim filled in, straining, as if the words had to be dragged out of him. He then signaled to the bartender, and chimed, pointing to himself and the visitor, “Another one. For both.”

Larry hadn't even touched his drink, but he drained it on the spot. A pretty strong concoction, too.

“I was sorry to hear about it,” Larry commented, sympathetic but also buzzed.

“A whole 300 acres,” Jim sighed. “I saw what happened, you know. Saw it with my own eyes.”

“Really?”

“All the senseless destruction, the pipes bursting, gas leaking, fires... saw the home of my best employee get imploded into a giant portal.” Jim hesitated as the bartender pushed two glasses forward, and Larry reached into his pocket for a cigarette.

Jim almost grabbed the drink right away, but stopped himself, and teased the edge of the glass with a finger. “It's not the sort of thing that you'd pray would never happen, because how could you assume it ever would? Not in a million years. But then it does...” Jim's voice trailed off at a loss for what more could be said.

Larry sucked at the lit cigarette. It was only the cheap stuff these days, but it gave him the fix he craved. The residue he tapped into a nearby ashtray. “I can't imagine.”

“Frankly, I thought my major concern was going to be the usual, earthquakes and wildfires. More natural than supernatural. Everything we built there was fire and earthquake-proof, and that's not guesswork. We followed all the most up to date standards.”

“Of course. At Amity, we have the usual signage warning the public about drownings and the like. We have lifeguards. But none of it prevented what happened. I was told on good authority by marine experts that it was highly unusual to have not only such aggressively territorial sharks, but ones that get up close to land and boats.”

“Awful,” Jim commented, taking a gulp from the refreshed glass.

Larry nodded. “I was there, during the first panic on that fourth of July in 75. I witnessed first-hand the sheer terror of it all. It took everything in my power to make things right. As right as they could be to the best of my ability. And they re-elected me, you know. The people put their trust back in me...and then there was another shark. How could've I've known? How does anyone prevent such a thing?”

“You don't. Just like you don't account for a haunting.”

Larry tsked. “What a thing.” He watched a thin line of smoke escape from the end of his cigarette, curious. “What even happened out there at Cuesta Verde?”

“Oh, you know, it's like they said...” Jim began, then his voice trailed.

Larry shifted himself, bridging the distance, ever so slight, between himself and his newfound compatriot. “I know what those reporters and newspaper people have been saying. They've all got their own spin and their own that they sent out there. Your company gave that press release, but I don't think I've actually heard your side of the story.”

“Of course that's how it was going to be,” Jim took a sip, gingerly. “The press was going to be hostile either way.”

“Oh, I know. They already have it set in their own minds what they're gonna say. Because it's damned if you do and damned if you don't. Classic catch-22.”

“Exactly.” Jim smiled. “And it really isn't about me at that point. It's everyone with a stake in the project. I had to be the one to try to salvage what I could...But what I saw...” This time he took a gulp. “Well, if you're interested, I've got a story, but it's a bit complicated, and unusual.”

“Go ahead. I'm all ears, and I've had my share of the complicated and the unusual.”

“If you don't mind.”

“I've got nowhere else to be.”

“Same here. And if it would be equitable, I'd be intrigued to learn more about your charming East Coast town.”

Larry raised his glass, and Jim met it with a clang.

As the evening passed, the glasses were once again filled and re-filled, and another round of cigarettes were lit. Larry and Jim moved to a booth, offering a more intimate setting and a chance to ease into the cushions as it became more difficult to keep upright. But it did become easier to talk, and both fortunately and unfortunately for them, they could fully operate under the influence, as was the prerequisite for their previous occupations.

“Everyone forgets that I was on the beach on that day!” Larry insisted, jabbing at the table top. “Did you know that my own kids were on that beach as well?”

“Really?” Jim said into his glass as he kept watery eyes on the man across from him. Alcohol and Larry Vaughn were now the only concerns in his world.

“My own flesh and blood. And people ask why I didn't do something? Do what, exactly? Harpoon the fishy bastard myself?”

“I've heard that you could've closed the beaches,” Jim offered, not accusingly, but feeling brazen to broach the biggest controversy surrounding the former mayor.

“Thank you for bringing that up.” Larry said, voicing his pet response, although the words were more slurred than polished. “It gives me the opportunity to clarify something—I was elected to represent the people of Amity. It's not in my power. I only act in the interests of my voting constituents and business partners.” He ended with a smug smile.

“But the way they spin it, they make it seem like you were the one insisting the beaches stay open.”

Larry raised a dismissive hand. “Bull. Our modest beach community depends on tourism for its livelihood. If I had closed those beaches,” he slapped an open palm against the table, “instant local economic collapse.”

Jim nodded enthusiastically. “Finally! A man who's talking sense. The welfare bums and hippie tree humpers don't realize how important it is for their own worthless skins and free-loading lifestyles to keep the economy going.”

“Maybe...” Larry frowned, trying to run numbers in his foggy mind, “five people were killed during the first shark attack, and then during the second, seven, allegedly. Seven is the more liberal estimate, and I'm willing to go by that. If you count the number of drownings and boating accidents during any of our summers, it would surpass those numbers. Yet not a soul would be screaming for...” Larry blustered, waving his hand as he became more animated, “water to be off limits. And don't forget that's what that scaly son of a bitch would've wanted.”

“I never considered that,” Jim mused thoughtfully, “from the shark's point of view.”

“I didn't even know for the longest time that there was a monster ass shark right off the coast. So says this...marine biologist. But what the hell am I supposed to do with the words from a man looking to get his name in the National Geographic? He didn't even have the tooth!”

Larry waited for a comment, but Jim didn't make one. All this talk had made his mind rethink all the events that brought him to his own particular predicament.

“Please, forgive the rambling,” Larry said, apologetically.

“No, Larry, it isn't that. I'm just thinking about how I never made it to Phase Five, and now I probably never will.”

“Phase Five?”

“The next part of our development. It was going to be a magnificent row of luxurious homes cut into the hillside.” Jim spread his hands out, as if he were on site and the panorama was in front of him. He sighed. “You know, I spearheaded the Cuesta Verde project myself.”

“Is that so?”

“Yeah. I went down to the valley with nothing more than a briefcase and a quarter of a million dollar loan. This was a decade ago, when it was nothing more than a swath of land full of rocks and overgrown weeds. But you know what was there?”

“The cemetery?”

His flow interrupted, Jim hesitated, reluctant to even address that embarrassing aspect of the project. “Very old and underused, yes,” he conceded. “But everything was done well and proper, with paperwork!”

“So wait a minute...what about the...” Larry rolled his hand, a gesture that substituted the one morbid word he didn't want to utter.

Jim shrugged. “Nobody complained! If I had known that there were going to be hauntings, rest assured, I would've spent the ridiculous fee to have those coffins and everything in them transported and reburied. I do get it. If you're working in the death industry, it's like my line of work. Cemeteries are prime real estate. But it all should've been one inclusive package, know what I mean?”

“Same reason why I countersued Ben Gardener's family for trying to get me to foot the bill for their funerary expenses. Barely legal robbery is how that funerary home operated, and I know because the director served on the Amity Town Council. And I say all this as a friend of Ben's, and as someone who firmly believes in respecting the dead.”

“Exactly! People make it out to be so macabre, gruesome even. But really, what's the difference between keeping grandma in an urn on the mantel, or in a coffin under your home? And let's not lose sight of the main objective here: there is nothing out of the ordinary about taking an underutilized lot and having it realize its full potential. All land used to be something else before it became a single-family home or shopping center or Disneyland. As for Cuesta Verde, I oversaw it in its entirety,” Jim smiled as he affirmed out loud what he had to start denying for legal reasons, “and let me tell you, there's nothing more beautiful than seeing groundwork laid out and those structures being built up from their foundations...” he hesitated, suddenly finding himself struggling with the words. He turned to Larry as he held his glass. “You see, what was there, was purpose. Having the project of your dreams take off is indescribable. Then to only have to watch helplessly as it all crumbles...and I mean literally collapsing before your very eyes...” He shook his head, taking a sip to stifle his wavering voice and a tear.

Larry leaned across the table, resting a comforting hand on Jim's shoulder. “I don't know what it's like to go through what you did, but you did it. You were the one who built it. You were at the forefront of progress in a state that was in need of growth. Real growth. Homes for families where otherwise there would be shortages. You basically built up middle America out of dirt.”

Jim's lips curled and broadened quickly. “You're goddamned right about that.”

“Sure, because it's true.” Larry gave an affirming tap on his shoulder before sinking back into seat. “But goddammit, no one will talk about that.”

“Oh, never. It's much easier to just vilify men like us.”

A new voice interrupted, “People will never know the truth, because the media loves to spin yarns to line its own pockets.”

Jim and Larry turned to the intrusion on their conversation. Although his eyelids had begun to descend into his field of vision, Larry rubbed them to regain it. Standing at the table was another man who fit right in—glass in one hand and in a well-tailored suit (if only a tad too conservative for his liking). Most distinctive about him was that this man was a ginger, complete with a red beard.

“I couldn't help but overhear and recognize two prominent men.” He looked from one to the other. “Mr. Teague and Mr. Vaughn, I want you to know that I personally hold you both in the highest regard.”

Jim grinned and nodded his head in acknowledgment, recognizing another potential associate. “Thank you, it's a pleasure.”

“Likewise, and that's a fine collar pin,” Larry chimed in, automatically turning on his charm, the one he had so fine-tuned for his (more than he cared to admit) intertwined political and business projects.

“Why thank you,” the man replied, touching the knot of his tie, just below the elegant accessory. “It goes with my cufflinks,” and as he spoke, he tilted his wrist so that a circle of gold would catch in the light. “Would it be too much trouble if I were to join?”

“Make yourself comfortable,” Jim said, and he and Larry exchanged a look that told the other they were both in agreement.

The man pulled out a vacant chair from behind him and brought it up to the remaining open side of the table, seating himself.

“I'm Walter Peck,” the man said. “Environmental Protection Agency.”

“Christ,” Larry said louder than he had anticipated, shifting in his seat. “I have to ask, what is it? Roaches?”

The rest of his company frowned at him.

“Larry, what're you going on about?” Jim asked.

Larry gestured about him. “What's wrong with this place? Are we talking rats or...?”

“You're thinking of a health inspector,” Walter corrected, then grinned, somewhat mockingly. “No, I'm not a health inspector. I used to represent New York's third district.”

Larry grinned in embarrassment, rubbing his head. “Right, I don't know why I heard ‘health inspector.’”

“And what do you represent now?” Jim asked after a pause.

Walter blinked. “None. As I said...oh, it's the way I introduced myself, right?” He looked into his drink, as if he didn't have the esteem to continue while looking in anyone's eyes. “Hard to get used to being no longer employed.”

“That's rough,” Larry chimed.

“And it should never have happened,” Walter continued. “I would be in my office right now if it weren't for those...” his lips curled into a sneer with a twitch out of the corner of his mouth as he spat the next word, “Ghostbusters.”

Jim's eyes lit up. “Ghostbusters! Shit, if only those guys were around!” He slapped an open palm on the tabletop, considering what could've been...an image of those four uniformed weirdos geared up with their gadgets, patrolling the suburban streets and zapping the zombies and ghoulies. It only would've been a matter of convincing that stingy homeowners association to enroll the ghost catchers on the security personnel payroll.

“So you say, and the thousand other guys with problems,” Walter sighed, “but let me tell you, they are peddling the lowest class of snake oil.”

Jim shrugged. “Whatever it takes for the job.”

“Not if there wasn't much of a job in the first place.” Walter rested his head in his hand, elbow on the counter, and shifted towards the other two men, speaking in a conspiratorial low voice. “What happened in New York was an entirely manufactured crisis.”

“Are you saying there weren't ghosts?” Larry asked, incredulous as he didn't think he could ever forget the non-stop news commentary and looping of the same seconds of film featuring a giant snack food mascot terrorizing the Big Apple.

“All I'm saying is that, in all my years as a public servant, New York never had any sort of supernatural problem of that magnitude, let alone even a minor one, until these so-called paranormal exterminators so happened to conveniently show up. Their operations were far from transparent. How is their success rate measured? They don't bother! Hell, I don't believe they keep any sort of records. They simply filled a niche market and catered to the most gullible.” He took a swig. “And from my insider's knowledge, I can tell you that they were in violation of many, many environmental laws.”

“Everything you're saying are just sound business practices,” Jim commented nonchalantly.

Walter pressed his lips together, biting back a quick retort. He gave his head a slow, deliberate shake. “Nope, I'm not going to go there. That phase of my life is over. No longer have to defend the Man.” He gave the former mayor a casual bump on the shoulder. “You know what I mean, right Larry? Aren't we through being public servants?”

“Not of my own choosing. There's being disgraced, but there's nothing worse than being disgraced and in the public eye.” For reasons unknown to him, but exacerbated by alcohol, the cavalier manner that Walter mentioned that they no longer held their positions of power brought the emotions that Larry had long repressed were suddenly made raw and bubbled to the surface. “The day they put my name on the recall ballot was the day Marcia demanded a divorce and the kids.”

“And that,” Walter continued, quickly, “is what is driving me to my main point, gentlemen, is that this society we live in, the one we helped shape as career men, has chewed us up and spit us out. And if you're thinking of eking out a low-profile existence, think again.” He leaned in, crossed forearms on the table. “This world is only going to get more hostile. Based on what I've seen and heard during my time in the EPA...” he gave a dramatic pause, “the way things are going, in another 10 years, you both won't be able to enjoy a smoke in this club or any enclosed public place.”

“Jesus H. Christ,” Jim uttered.

“I swear,” Walter insisted, placing a hand over his heart and raising an open one. “I firmly believe that if we continue on this path, that will be the saccharin future of this pathetic society.”

Both Jim and Larry absently but simultaneously brought in their cigarettes in for a deep inhale.

“But it doesn't have to be that way,” Walter continued, a twinkle in his blue eyes. “You have options and you're in luck, because we are hiring.”

“We?”

Walter reached into his coat pocket and removed a folded sheet of paper. “Here's our flier.”

The words “now hiring” were printed in a large bold font across the top, but the rest of the flier forced Larry and Jim to have to review it more than once due to its strangeness, not to mention the full figure photograph of the recognizable employer.

“Mr. Luther is expanding his enterprise, and he needs people to help him run it.”

“All the way in Metropolis?” Larry questioned.

“Only for the hiring process. This venture will take place at a...undisclosed location. Mr. Luther desires secrecy, and he needs it with...” Walter lowered his voice, “with that alien in tights flying around all over the place.”

“Exactly what kind of work is he looking for?” Jim inquired, intrigued by the prospect.

“All kinds, including the sort of work you gentlemen have done. That's why I made it an effort to approach you today. It's like with any organization, a little bureaucracy really helps with delegation.”

“As long as it isn't henchman work.”

“Oh no, nothing like that. Mr. Luther has all the henchmen he needs. It's the professional positions, the managerial and the like, that need to be filled.”

“Well, it isn't like I have anything else going for me at this rate.” Jim declined to mention how this opportunity might help him evade all the legal trouble he had accrued.

Larry would have preferred the chance to think it over, but two sets of eyes were on him, and perhaps considering his sorry state of affairs, this was the proverbial gift horse he shouldn't look in the mouth or anywhere else too closely.

“Sure, why the hell not?”