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Off Season

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All he can think of on the drive down to see Hooper is that it isn't her fault. They're on a much-needed break. This is all he can keep telling himself — that Ellen needs this as much as he does, that patience only goes so far, that a little separation will be healthy for them. He's seen things he can't scrub from his mind. He can't inflict them on anybody else.

Even traffic jams and tollways are a blessed relief from the omnipresence of salt water and the dim blue presence of the shore on the horizon. Once he's good and land-bound, then he can be happy.

In the doorway Hooper is faded and paler than before, beard trimmed a little neater, eyes a little more shadowed. He smells like ink — like fresh typewriter ribbons — and when he ushers Martin in it's a reflex to say something like, you're not looking too bad.

"All things considered," he says. "How have you been doing? I mean, after everything."

"Well, I can't complain."

After the attacks — and everything now is emphatically after, the same streak of killings that made the pair of them newspaper heroes made Amity a case study— Hooper's been living with extended family, writing a neverending series of papers for the Oceanographic Institute and getting drunk off his ass on the Institute's dime. The last part is by his own account, but Brody would believe it.

Over the telephone he'd sounded just the same — dry, funny, sympathetic, offering to put Brody up if he'd make the trip. Catch up on old times, he'd said. They've caught up in spades and bonded again over the absurdity of it all, the macabre turnaround from farce to crisis to farce again. One of Brody's many sisters is an avid reader of Mad magazine, and the two of them have graced its pages in the past year, portrayed variously as small-town snobs and disaster chasers — but no Quint. There's nothing funny about what happened to Quint.

Quint's dead, and Hooper is alive. He's doing as well as anybody could be, well enough for somebody who became entangled in all this because it matched his academic specializations and not because he'd come to town hoping for a moment's peace and been met with horror. His family seem like nice enough people, proud of his achievements and more or less capable of rolling with his peculiar sense of humor. He's working on a book — "just before anybody else does," he says, half-joking and half-serious, "they'd get the best parts all wrong." He's good-natured about it all — the famous photographs, the questions, the telephone calls.

But he's tired. Brody's tired too. He's earned that by now. There's no comparison that doesn't sound cheap and unreal — they aren't soldiers returning home from the front, they aren't the crew of the Pequod, they aren't — Jesus, they aren't firemen or rodeo riders or anything else, they're two men who responded to a public health hazard.

(Three men, Martin catches himself even in his own thoughts, three men who put down something mutely evil. An animal. The three of them brought down an animal, and only two survived.)

After dinner — Hooper asks him back, asks if he wouldn't like to take a look at a couple of his journals. This is where he works, but it is also where he sleeps — the one niche on ancestral property that's entirely his and where Brody is not a trespasser but a guest. He's brought him here for a reason — there's a bed in there somewhere, a burning reminder of Brody's own sleeplessness, but it's currently hosting the mortal remains of a juvenile whitetip shark mounted on a corkboard frame for ease of study.

Rubber-banded notecards, sheafs of paper and banker's boxes, every flat surface piled high with books, with specimens. Propped up behind his typewriter is a neatly sketched and bagged tray of shark teeth. (Brody doesn't need to ask what kind of shark they belong to. Their severity is all too familiar.) The combined effect is half-house of horrors and half-basement of a natural history museum.

"So this is where it happens," Hooper says, shrugging his arms. "It's not a hell of a lot of space, but it's close to the house, and it's better than living alone."

"It's nice. There's a lot of you in it. I didn't think—" He lets it fall off, somewhat uneasily. Of course men like Hooper came from someplace, and had to bed down somewhere at the end of trips out into the field — but in Amity that place had simply been somewhere else. He'd been a tourist, an out-of-towner.

The two of them are face to face in a constrained space — it would be too easy to turn it into a power-play, a subtle gesture of bullying, hardboiled ex-cop shouldering past effete intellectual. (He's not an ex-cop, he's not an ex-anything, Brody reminds himself. He's not even an ex-husband, and with luck he never will be.) They've both been drinking. There are several ways this could go. Brody knows some of them.

Watching his face, watching his mouth for some cue — waiting to be pushed away, waiting for the joke. Men didn't idle around in close proximity like this outside of locker rooms and Army barracks. Men don't do this. He looks, anxiously, for some sign that's not his own yearning.

"So this is when I offer to show you my etchings," Hooper begins to say. But Brody's kissing him, until there's no reason why that's something he can't do — feeling him stiffen up against him, and his mouth open.

They break apart, staggered, and Hooper rubs at his mouth with the heel of his hand. The innocence of the gesture is startling, even now — when it seems as if nothing about Matt Hooper can surprise him any more. They've seen each other in extremity.

Brody has never been a towering specimen of a man — well within the parameters for law enforcement, firmly average for the modern American man. But Hooper sinks back against his desk, bent crooked, and for a moment Brody is a colossus. Martin kisses him again, with his hands on his face, thumbing against his beard. He needs something he can touch. Like opening a door that's been painted shut, reaching in and drawing out some sequestered part of him that's incompatible — with fatherhood, with law, with marriage, with Amity. If he keeps this up he won't have to think any more tonight — this might be a mistake but he won't have to think any more. He'll shut his eyes and see bodies in guilty collision instead of endless black salt ocean.

Hooper's reciprocation is something he can't account for, even when he'd bet on it — there are a lot of ways this night could have gone, and few of them involve getting pawed by a colleague. But his response is deft, and makes Brody a little ashamed of his own tactlessness.

“I haven’t slept,” and his mouth is on Brody’s, “through the night, I mean. I get a hell of a lot of work done like that. But I’m not enjoying it. I just thought, if we talked—"

"You're not the only one." And now they've talked. Stirred up old trouble and made a display of old wounds. "I just needed to get out of town. You know, I should be thanking you."

“You ought to go home to your wife, Chief.”

Brody's eyes drop. “She’s staying at her sister’s.” The aftershocks haven't stopped yet. He can't blame her. There's a doctor for Michael there, and people who don't ask personal questions.

“Go home to your kids, then.”

Like she'd leave them in Amity after all that happened? The tangible benefits of getting out of the city did not, ultimately, outweigh the knowledge of what had happened — and what could have happened, what might happen again, inescapably close to home. Maybe Brody will join them, somewhere else on the mainland that's just a glance at a road map away instead of vanishingly far away, across dark water.

“Them, too.” Brody smiles lamely. "They're doing just fine."

“Shit. I’m sorry, I really am. You're a good man, Martin, I didn't mean anything disrespectful—”

"It's my fault. I should go." He's good to drive, and he's got his keys. Someone needs to take responsibility here. It ought to be him.

"Please, don't."

Hooper plucks the glasses from his face, draws them out by the temple. Brody blinks, drawing in dizzy breaths.

His own voice sounds strange to him, hoarse, distant. "What do you want me to do?"

He can take direction, or he can improvise. All this is new, and exciting, and harrowing.

Hooper's still half-laughing, even rubbing up against him, in fuzzier focus. “I haven’t done this since graduate school. You’re going to have to forgive me if I’m a little rusty—“

He’s not about to throw stones. Matt Hooper’s hands have found the bottom edge of his shirt, and his body is braced against him now like Brody will collapse from shock if he lets up — maybe he will.

They're not two heroes out here — two haggard men in unseasonable layers with nervous smiles. Two men in a small cramped room like the belowdecks of a ship, meeting with mouths and bodies.


Knees touching under the faded blanket, passing back and forth a cigarette between the two of them — it's cold for this time of year, or Brody just feels the cold hand of obligation pressing against the back of his neck, and he'd prefer to insulate himself like this.

Hooper is writing a book, and there's a lot to be said about it in the postcoital haze— he's talking to fill up the silence, recounting telephone calls with publishers, drafts and indexes, points of phrasing, assigning blame. He asks if Brody wouldn't want to write the foreword, to talk a little about how he came to Amity and how the human-interest side of it unfolded. Human interest, in this case, being a euphemism for mauled girls and mauled kids and gutted carcasses hung up on the beach. He'll need to think about it.

Face to face, he can catalogue every aspect of him, every sunburnt line and every freckle — Hooper's fingers trailing on his appendix scar, warm skin against warm skin, the flannel shirt discarded and balled up behind his head like a pillow. On the bedside work table Brody's glasses are dangling from the baby teeth of a man-eating shark. It's a good a place to keep them as any; at least he'll never forget where he put them.

Hooper has finally gone quiet. The backs of his fingers trail up to Brody's cheek; he has soft hands, and the red ember of his cigarette shines in the periphery of Martin's vision.

"We need to do this again some time. Get together and talk shark, I mean."

"Sure," Brody says, self-consciously taciturn.

That's not all he means, but that alone doesn't sound half-bad. To talk about it all with someone who was there for the worst of it, who remembers the struggle and the exhaustion that came after, which was worse, who remembers being on the water and not knowing if you'd ever make it to land — all the cold empty horrors Brody can't share with Ellen, more than any one honest woman should be asked to bear. His wife can't be his confessor every day of the week. This is his dispensation, signed in Ellen's hand — find someone else who's an easier audience for the telling, and tell about it.

Brody arranges his arm over Hooper's bare side, companionable, easy. Hooper transfers the cigarette to his lips — a guilty thing, an indirect intimacy even after all that's happened between them. The two of them can stay up until the morning and talk, just like this but with another cigarette and another. Or Brody can let himself sleep, in this room full of trophies and carefully collated memories, and not dream any more of the open water.

They've been through hell and out the other side again — two hunters home from the field, two swimmers back on shore.