Marie’s Secret

Photo by Susan Green

By the fourth year of the drought, Lake Marie no longer had much to hide. Positioned between parched hills and the dam at the north end, the small lake, once filled with cool spring water and streams, was a sad memory to the locals. For one person, the drying up of the lake didn’t make him sad…it made him nervous.

The cottages around the lake were everything from fishermen’s huts to lakefront homes and one mansion. The owners no longer went fishing, and their boats and jet skis had long ago been moved to homes in the suburbs. For sale signs that had popped up along the lake road gathered dust with no buyers who wanted a cottage on a dead lake.

A stench of rot permeated the area as the muddy bottom heated with the sun. Bones of dead fish were everywhere, and trash from generations of uncaring people littered the bottom. The only area of deep water left was near the dam, and it was quickly drying up. Kids from the nearby village of Marie would come to scour the bottom for any kind of treasure they could find.

The Lakeview Inn, a clapboard one story building with faded blue paint, sat at the east end of the lake at the deserted marina. A few of the locals and some remaining cottage owners still came and drowned their sorrows with beer and bourbon.

Dante Torrence, a former marina worker, sat at the bar nursing his beer. He was 35 years old, of medium build with black hair. He was also a former inmate of the prison upstate. He was a man who wanted to put his past behind him and start over.

“Hey, Mitch, how long you going to keep this place open?” he said to the bartender.

“Until you guys drink me dry. Then I guess the bank takes it and I am off to my winter place in Florida. And there the water is rising instead of this. Gotta love global warming.” A pained look crossed his face. “You want another, Dante?”

“Sure.”

Two cottage owners Eric Thornton and Jeremy Esposito came in, thankful for the air conditioning.

“Christ, it has to be at least 100 out there today. Grab us some cold ones, Mitch. The usual.”

Mitch grabbed the bottles of beer out of the cooler.

“Any luck on selling your cottage, Jeremy?” said Mitch.

“Hell no. You decide what are you going to do, Eric?” said Jeremy.

“I’m not going anywhere. I’m not selling.”

Eric looked out the big window towards the lake.

“Those kids find anything interesting?”

“Just bottles, and old Evinrude motor, even a bike some drunk thought might be funny if he rode it off the edge of a dock. Those boys smell like the dead when they came back here to hose off,” said Mitch.

“Easy on the drunks, Mitch,” said Jeremy. “We’re your best customers.” They all laughed at that.

They continued looking out at the kids on their treasure hunt on the dried lake, one more attentive than the others.

“What are you going to do around here, Dante, now that the marina is closed,” said Jeremy.

“The senator said he would keep me on for some handiwork. He thinks this drought will ease up and we’ll be back to normal.”

The senator was fifty-two-year-old state senator William Forbes, a man noted for his influence  and corruption. His mansion on the lake was a monument to graft. Laborers worked for free because of special favors from business owners who loaned out their employees, and specialists from various unions who owed the senator for certain pieces of legislation they wanted pushed. Building materials would show up with no invoice, compliments of certain people who also wanted favors. The parties at his place, especially the ones where the wives were excluded, were legendary among those in the know. And secrecy was enforced. An indiscreet mention would get you banned or worse. The senator could be a powerful enemy. Over the years he left ruined reputations and shattered lives in his wake. But he pleased his constituents with tax breaks and new jobs in the county. They voted for him over and over and turned a blind eye to the more unsavory aspects of his life.

“That guy is a piece of shit,” said Eric. “Thinks he owns the whole lake. Remember when he sued the Whitmores when they dredged their property for a new dock? Claimed it upset the balance of the lake. Bullshit. He had it in for them and just wanted to throw his weight around. A lot of us were here way before him. Hell, my dad built the place I’m in, you all know that. He and his friends built it on weekends just so they could have a place to fish and drink away their nightmares from the war. And when he died, he gave it to me.” Eric pointed across the lake to the senator’s mansion. “Fucking Lord of the Manor. And no, I didn’t vote for him.”

Dante said nothing. He owed the senator since he got out of jail after spending five years for robbing a couple of convenience stores and stealing a car. The senator had him released and got him the job at the marina. He was also the caretaker of his mansion. The warden of the prison upstate was a good friend of the senator and always kept a lookout for candidates the senator could use.

Dante’s cell phone rang. He looked and recognized the number.

“I have to take this, be right back.” He stepped outside.

“This is Dante.”

“Hold please for the senator,” a soft female voice said.

“Dante, how are you, son?” The voice was deep and hollow.

“I’m good senator, what can I do for you?” A knot twisted in his stomach.

“As you know, I haven’t been able to get to my place for a few weeks and I wanted a status check. Everything ok at the cottage?”

“Everything is ok, senator, just a few minor repairs, nothing serious.”

“And the water in the lake? Still the same?”

Dante could hear the apprehension in the senator’s voice.

“Afraid so, sir. The deep part is almost gone.”

“We’re going to need a plan, Dante. I’m counting on you. You don’t want to go back to prison, do you?”

Dante hesitated.

“You still there, Dante?”

Dante could hear the hardness of the senator’s voice.

“I’m still here, sir. You can count on me.”

“I intend to.” The senator disconnected.

With that, Dante walked back into the Lakeview Inn. Memories of his time in prison sprang into his head and he shuddered.

“Jeez, Dante, you’re white as a ghost.”

“Just the heat, Mitch. Pour me a bourbon on the rocks.”

I am going to need it, thought Dante.

The first bourbon kicked in fast, and by the third, he knew it was time to go. After saying his goodbyes at the Lakeview, Dante went to his run-down camper off to the far side of the senator’s property, hidden in a patch of woods, out of sight like slave quarters of old. The only time Dante was in the mansion was to make sure everything was ok or when summoned by the senator. He wasn’t invited to any of the parties, except to hustle a drunk out or fix a mess.

Dante pulled out a bottle of cheap whiskey from the cupboard and poured some in a glass. He looked around at his meager dwelling and his anger built up. “For what I have done for him, I should have my own cottage. The bastard!” He would have thrown the glass, but he was running out of them.

The next morning Dante struggled to wake. His head throbbed. The whiskey bottle lay empty. He had slept, or more accurately, passed out in his clothes. The small bunk bed barely held his body, and the stiffness in his legs and back proved it. He went to the sink, turned on the faucet, and let the tepid water run down his head.

He grabbed the keys to the senator’s place and walked over. The mansion was one of those upscale log cabins that would have housed ten pioneer families in the old days. Two stories with big plate-glass windows overlooked the lake.

Dante walked into the cottage. It was stifling. He turned on the air conditioning. Dante figured if the senator wasn’t here, he was going to enjoy some comfort as he checked out the place and watered the wilted plants. The senator’s wife wouldn’t like it if they died. Dante waved to the camera, knowing the senator’s service would let him know someone was inside. The senator would have the service turned off during his parties, but his personal surveillance system kept recording. The senator liked it that way. You never know when a random video might come in handy.

Dante walked through the large main room with its Native American and western décor. The gigantic stone fireplace took up one whole wall. Against another wall was the well-stocked bar. He passed through an equally large dining room and into the kitchen with all the latest appliances and a huge black granite center island. All ok here. He went to the staircase and walked up polished wood stairs to the guest bedrooms. He noticed that the hidden cameras were still on. Dante knew where they were, the guests didn’t.

Next, he went into the master bedroom and looked out the large window towards the lake. The local boys were still out there scavenging for treasure. Dante shook his head and went downstairs, locked up, and left the mansion.

Dante went to the dock, now high out of the dried-up lake bottom, and looked out at what was left of the lake.

                                                                           #

It was night when the murder had taken place five years ago. The senator’s mansion and grounds were lit up. People were packed in the house and some strolled along the lakeshore in front of the house. It was a couple’s night. Wives or girlfriends were allowed this time. A cool breeze floated across the lake’s moonlit shimmering surface. Lights from cottages around the shore looked like a string of pearls glowing in the dark.

Dante stood along the wood line near his camper, drinking a beer and watching the party. He heard two people talking, the senator and the owner of a local roofing company, named Wyatt Donavan.

“Come on, Bill. You know I have been good to you. Where else would you have gotten the deal I gave you on your roof? I took a hell of a beating on that. All I am asking is that you kinda make up for my loss, considering I need it now.”

The senator, a trim and muscular 6’2” stood over the shorter overweight Donavan and gave him an oily grin.

“You and I both know you lost thousands gambling. Why should I subsidize a loser like you?”

Wyatt stepped back as if slapped.

“That’s not fair, Bill.”

“It’s Senator Forbes to you and don’t forget that.”

“I can spill the beans on you, Senator,” Donavan said venomously as he grabbed the senator’s arm.

Forbes’s eyes narrowed to slits.

“You need to think twice about that, Wyatt. I wonder how your wife would react to the video I have of you in one of the guest rooms last year. You remember that cute little blonde I hooked you up with, don’t you?”

A look of shock came over Donavan’s face.

“I thought that might jog your memory. Now listen and listen good. You don’t threaten me ever. I will break you and your family. Understood?”

With that the senator walked back to his party smiling and joking with people out on a stroll along the lakeshore, leaving a dejected Donavan all alone.

By 2 am the party had thinned out.

After the last guest left, the senator and his wife surveyed the remnants of the party, empty wine bottles, glasses left on the bar, and more than a few of the top-shelf liquor bottles empty.

“Let’s leave this for tomorrow, Bill. It’s late and I’m bushed.”

“Ok, Mitzi, you head on up. I need to check on things and lock up.”

The senator went into the kitchen to make sure everything was turned off.

By the refrigerator, a very drunk Wyatt Donavan was barely standing. Drink in one hand and a large kitchen knife in the other, he looked menacingly at Forbes. He had been waiting hours for the right time, and the nearly empty bottle of scotch on the granite counter proved it.

“I want that disc, Forbes,” he slurred.

“What disc would that be, Wyatt,” the senator said mockingly. “The one where you fucked that blond? Sorry, little man. No can do. I will store it in the greatest hits collection. Oh, and the roof will need some repairs next year. Of course, you will give me a big discount, like for free, right?”

Darkness enveloped Donavan’s mind. The rage had been building all night. It wasn’t just his financial troubles. He was fed up with groveling to the senator. He was tired of being belittled. Now this. He would be beholden to the senator forever.

No, I won’t, thought the fevered brain of Wyatt Donavan.

“You bastard!” Donavan threw the glass at Forbes and missed by a mile.

Forbes let out a big laugh.

“Jesus, Donavan, you will never make it in the big leagues with that throw.”

Forbes stared at Donavan, his blue eyes frosting over.

“Get your fat ass out of here, Donavan, while you can.”

Donavan lost all control and lunged at Forbes with the knife.

Forbes grabbed Donavan’s wrist as they twisted and turned for possession of the knife.

The senator pulled the knife out of Donavan’s hand and in a fit of rage thrust it forward. Donavan let out a gasp, and a gurgled sound. The knife had plunged into the neck of Wyatt Donavan and severed the juggler.

The body slid down the front of Forbes.

“You stupid son of a bitch!”

He looked at his blood-covered shirt, a mustard yellow Cuban style shirt with a tan floral design.

“And this was a $200 shirt!”

It took a minute for the senator to recognize the gravity of the situation.

As he calmed down, he pulled out his phone and called Dante.

“Dante, I need you right now. Get on over here. Come in through the kitchen door.”

Dante climb out of his bed, shook the cobwebs and booze out of his brain, got dressed, and went over to the mansion.

“What the fuck does he want this time of night,” he mumbled to himself.

Dante walked into the kitchen. A shirtless Bill Forbes stood by the sink. On the floor next to his blood-covered shirt was the lifeless body of Wyatt Donavan in a pool of blood.

“Jesus Christ, senator! What the fuck happened?”

“We had a slight argument. He lost.”

“It was self-defense, right?”

“Well, I drove the knife into his fat throat, so I don’t know. But I have an election coming up in November, and I don’t need this. Clean this up and get rid of the body.”

“It ain’t that easy, senator. His wife will report him missing.”

“Do what you’re fucking told! I will come up with a plan, don’t you worry. After all, I am a senator. I’m going upstairs. We will talk more tomorrow.”

Dante worked for hours. He knew he had to finish before the senator’s wife woke up and came down for her morning coffee. Hopefully she will sleep late, he wished.

Dante cleaned off the knife and put it back in its holder. He got a blue tarp from the toolshed, wrapped the body, and the senator’s shirt in it. The mop and rags he used to clean up the blood would be burned in his firepit by his camper. He dragged the tarp with the body down to the dock. Dante put it in the senator’s boat along with some leftover cinder blocks from when the mansion was being built, along with some chain from the tool shed that was used for pulling stumps out. He drove the boat out towards the deepest part of the lake, secured the body to the cinder blocks with spare padlocks and dumped it in. It quickly sank.

Donavan’s car was another problem. Where to stash his silver Ford Escape? He made some calls to a friend who was also a former felon who would take it to a chop shop, no questions asked.

Later that morning the senator, after a fitful night, was the first one up. He went directly to the kitchen. It was spotless. He called Dante and told him to come over.

“Well, son, it looks like you cleaned things up pretty good. I see you even put the knife back in its holder. I assume you wiped it off. What did you do with my shirt?”

“Yep, wiped it off,” said a weary and hungover Dante.

“And the shirt?”

Dante didn’t know why, but he said. “I burned it in my firepit.”

“OK, now the big questions. Where is the body and his car?” The senator’s eyes bored into Dante.

“Given such short notice, I wrapped him up in a tarp, loaded him down with weights, and took him out to the deep part of the lake. The car went to a chop shop. The parts will be all over the country in a few days.”

“That better work, Dante. As for the body, need nothing floating up if you know what I mean.”

In the back of the senator’s brain, another plan was being formulated, just in case.

Of course, Wyatt Donavan’s disappearance did not go unnoticed.

Later that day, Sarah Donavan, Wyatt’s wife, called the Senator and asked him if Wyatt was still there, possibly too drunk to drive home and sleeping off one of his usual benders.

“My caretaker said he left about midnight, Sarah. I have to say he seemed despondent and a little down at the party. I don’t know if I should tell you this, but there are rumors he has lost a lot of money at the casino the past few months.”

The whisper campaign had begun. The senator passed on false information around the county to tarnish Donavan’s reputation.

Before long, Wyatt Donavan’s life became the fodder of gossip. He had gambling problems; he ran away with another woman; he was suicidal. All designed to draw attention away from the senator.

Eventually the case of the disappearance of Wyatt Donavan went cold.

#

Dante shook the memory of that night out of his head and started walking back to the mansion. The noise of kids yelling turned him around. He looked at the lake in panic.

“Oh, God,” he said and hurried back to the Senator’s mansion cell phone in hand.

At the same time, Eric and Jeremy sat at a table near the Lakeview Inn’s big window.

“I don’t know, Eric. I’m probably going to let the county take my place for taxes. I can’t afford it anymore.”

“Hey. Look on the bright side, Jeremy. In ten years, it might be a meadow and we can raise beef cattle here.”

“Not funny, Eric.”

A gloomy Jeremy took a long swig of his beer as Eric looked out the window, lost in his own thoughts.

“What the hell? What’s going on with those kids?”

The kids, five of them, who as usual were exploring the lake bottom, poured out of a depression at the deep part of the lake like ants who had their hill knocked over.

They burst into the Lakeview Inn, mud caked and sweaty.

“Whoa, slow down. Did you find pirate treasure?” said Eric.

They all spoke at once.

“Stop. What did you find?”

“A dead pirate,” said a small tow-headed boy.

Now Eric and Jeremy were chuckling.

“A dead pirate, you say. Was he wearing his buccaneer clothes?” said Eric, grinning.

“We couldn’t tell. He was wrapped in a blue tarp and chain,” said an older boy.

A half hour later, after Eric and Jeremy walked out with the boys to the depression in the lake, they called the sheriff.

“We thought they were kidding around until they said blue tarp,” Jeremy explained to County Sheriff Tom DeHaven. “When we went out there and saw the bones poking through the disintegrated tarp, we came back here and called you.”

Sheriff DeHaven wrote down Jeremy’s statement and went out to the Lakeview parking lot and over to his deputy, Brian Willis.

“I already took a look, Brian. Don’t let anyone into the parking lot or the bar. We have a crime scene and I don’t want any spectators or potential suspects.”

“You thinking what I’m thinking, boss?”

“That Wyatt Donavan is in that tarp? Yep, and someone on this lake disposed of his body. It is up to the coroner to say if I am right.”

After pictures of the scene were taken and the area combed for evidence, the remains and the tarp were put into an ambulance and taken to the coroner’s lab at the county hospital.

“I think we need to talk with Senator Forbes,” said Sheriff DeHaven to his deputy. “He told Donavan’s wife and us that Donavan left at 12 am the night he went missing.”

Sheriff DeHaven walked into the coolness of the Lakeview and made his call to the senator. Unknown to the sheriff, Dante had already made a call to Forbes.

The sheriff reached the senator’s secretary and transferred to the senator.

“Hello Tom, what can I do for you?”

“Good afternoon, senator. Sorry to disturb you, I know you are busy. Something has come up at the lake.”

“Yes? What is it?” said Forbes calmly.

“We found human remains wrapped in a tarp in an area of the lake near the dam.”

“My God. That is awful. Any idea who it is?”

“We won’t know until the coroner finishes and we get the report, but I wanted to ask you again, you said Wyatt Donavan was at a party at your place the night he went missing.”

“Do you think it is Wyatt, Tom?”

“We won’t know until the coroner’s report. When we first investigated his disappearance, Sarah Donovan told me you said he left at midnight the night he was last seen. You also told me you heard he left at midnight. When did you last see him?”

“Oh, about Ten, I think. He was pretty hammered.”

“Who told you that Wyatt had left at midnight?”  

“It was my caretaker, Dante Torrence. Why?”

“We just need to follow up on these things, senator. I am sure you understand.”

“Yes, I do, Tom. By the way, how is your re-election as sheriff going. As before, you can count on me to put out a good word for you.”

“Thank you, Senator Forbes. I will keep you updated on the case.”

The senator set back in his leather chair comfortably contemplating his next move. Who are they going to believe, an ex-con or a senator who brought jobs and tax breaks to the county?

Fucking Wyatt Donavan, he thought. Couldn’t stay where he was supposed to.

Sheriff DeHaven came out of the Lakeview Inn and called over to his deputy.

“Follow me, Brian. We are going over to the senator’s place and talk to Dante Torrence.”

They drove up the crushed pebble driveway of the mansion and parked.

Dante saw them from inside and came out the front door.

“Hi, sheriff.” Dante nodded to the deputy. “What’s all the excitement?”

“Some kids found a body wrapped in tarp at the shallow part near the dam.”

“A body? You’re kidding me?”

“When was the last time you saw Wyatt Donavan?”

Keep your cool, thought Dante.

“You think the body is Donavan?”

“We don’t know for sure. Answer the question please, Mr.Torrence.”

“It was one or two weeks before he disappeared. He was checking on the senator’s roof.”

Sheriff DeHaven looked straight into Dante’s eyes. Dante kept his cool.

“Are you sure of that, Mr. Torrence?”

“That’s what I recall, sheriff.”

“Ok, that is all for now. Thank you for your time.”

“No problem, sheriff.”

Dante smiled and walked back into the mansion.

The sheriff and his deputy walked back to their cars.

“Somebody is lying,” said Sheriff DeHaven.

“You can’t possibly think the senator is lying, do you, sir? That Torrence is an ex-con. I wouldn’t put it past him.”

Dante went back into the mansion, the smile gone and sweat breaking out. He went straight to the bar and poured himself a tumbler of whiskey. He held it up to the surveillance camera. “I don’t care if you are watching!” He slammed the drink and walked out.

The next afternoon Sheriff DeHaven received a call from the coroner, Josh Taylor. The coroner asked him to come to his office at his convenience.

Sheriff DeHaven pulled his patrol car into the parking lot, got out and went through the main entrance of the county hospital and to the coroner’s lab.

He waited in the outer office.

Josh Taylor came out of the lab and greeted the Sheriff.

“How are you, Tom? Another scorcher out there.”

“Sure is.” Not one for small talk, the sheriff got directly to the point.

“What do you have for me?”

“Well, all the speculation that it was Wyatt Donavan shortened our discovery phase. I got his dental records and confirmed it. There was no wallet where he was found, but yes, it is Donavan.”

“The rumor mill has been working overtime with that. Mrs. Donavan has called me repeatedly for confirmation. At least now we can give her some closure,” said the sheriff. “We know he didn’t wrap himself in tarp and chains and throw himself into the lake, so what else have you got for me?”

“Come with me into the lab.”

The sheriff and coroner walked into the lab, over to the coroner’s autopsy table and the decomposed remains of Wyatt Donavan.

Sheriff DeHaven blanched.

“You ok, Tom? I know this isn’t your first rodeo but yea the smell here is never pleasant.”

Sheriff DeHaven and the coroner stood over the skeletal remains that still had bits of flesh hanging on it.

The corner drew down a large light, so it shone brightly on the skull and neck.

With a gloved hand, the corner drew the sheriff’s attention to the jawbone.

“See that mark there? A sharp edge sliced the bone, probably a knife. At that angle and with the force used, our killer cut the juggler. Wyatt died quickly.”

“Now we have to find out who killed him,” said Sheriff DeHaven.

“I might be able to help with that,” said the coroner. “You aren’t going to like it. It is something you and I have seen before.”

An hour later Sheriff DeHaven called his deputy, Brian Willis.

“Brian, I am headed over to the senator’s place. Meet me there. Our victim is Wyatt Donavan. We need to bring in Dante Torrence for a few more questions.”

Sheriff DeHaven pulled into the driveway of the mansion alongside Deputy Willis’s patrol car.

“I was in the area already. Nothing moving over at Torrence’s camper. Not sure if he is there,” said the deputy.

“Let’s see if he is.”

They walked over to Dante’s camper and knocked on the door. Deputy Willis stood to one side.

Dante looked through a small window.

“I’ll be right out. Just need to put a shirt on.”

Sheriff DeHaven noticed the shirt was well worn and not of good quality.

“What size shirt do you wear, Mr. Torrence?”

“That’s an odd question, but if it will make you happy, I usually wear a medium, sometimes a large.”

“The senator ever give you any of his shirts?”

Dante laughed. “No way. First, they wouldn’t fit, too big, and second, I don’t like his style.”

“Mr. Torrence, I would like you to come to my office for some more questions if you don’t mind.”

Deputy Willis moved closer to Dante.

The sheriff waved him back.

“Mr. Torrence will come peacefully, won’t you, Dante?”

Dante knew something was up and all because of the finding of Donavan. He wondered what the sheriff had in his bag of tricks.

Dante got into the back of the sheriff’s SUV and they drove off with Deputy Willis close behind.

At the sheriff’s office, Dante was escorted in by Deputy Willis and taken to an interrogation room.

Sheriff DeHaven entered the room and placed a large evidence bag on the table next to him. He made sure the recording device was on.

“Am I under arrest,” said Dante.

“Not at this moment, but we have a murder on our hands. The body recovered from the lake is Wyatt Donavan, and he didn’t drown. He was wrapped in a blue tarp and weighted down with cinderblocks. The autopsy report shows that Donovan’s throat was cut.”

The sheriff stared at Dante for a reaction.

Dante fidgeted and his face became flushed.

“What’s that got to do with me?” he implored.

The sheriff pushed.

“Dante, I know your record. Prison time for robbery and grand theft auto. Numerous run-ins when you were a juvenile. You really haven’t walked the straight and narrow, have you? But what I haven’t seen in your record are any violent crimes. So, what happened? You and Donavan get in an argument and things went too far, and you killed him?”

“Now what a minute, sheriff. I have never killed anyone!”

“When I investigated Donavan’s disappearance, you said you hadn’t seen him for a couple weeks.”

“Yea, I guess that’s right,” Dante said hesitantly.

Sheriff DeHaven pushed some more.

“You guess?”

“Yes, I mean no, I’m not guessing. I am sure it was a couple weeks.”

“Well the thing is, Dante, when Donavan’s wife called looking for Wyatt after he didn’t come home the senator told her you told him he left at midnight. Which means you are lying to me. You appear to be the last one to have seen Wyatt Donavan alive.”

“What! That son of a bitch! I’m not going back to prison for something I didn’t do.” Dante rose from his seat.

“Sit down, Dante, or I will call the deputy in.”

Dante collapsed into the chair. He had done what the senator wanted because he owed him for getting him out of prison. He kept silent because he didn’t want to be sent back to prison for aiding the senator’s crime. Now here he was being threatened to be sent to prison for a crime he did not commit.

“I didn’t do it, sheriff. Honest.” Dante’s voice cracked.

“So, if you didn’t who did?”

“I….I don’t know,” Dante stammered.

Sheriff DeHaven slammed his palm on the table.

“Damn it, Dante, you know. Do you really want to be put on trial for murder?”

Dante stared back at Tom DeHaven, his face ashen, his body numb.

“I am going to ask you again, Dante. Do you know who killed Wyatt Donavan?”

Dante lowered his head.

“Yes,” he whispered.

DeHaven leaned back and let Dante relax for a moment.

He reached over to the evidence bag and brought out the shirt that Coroner Josh Taylor had found entangled with Donavan’s body. It was a washed out mustard yellow Cuban style shirt with a tan floral pattern. Large brownish stains covered the front.

“Is this your shirt, Dante?”

“No, it’s the senator’s shi…”

Dante caught himself.

“Senator William Forbes’s shirt?”

“Yes.” Dante sighed and put his head on the table.

“Thank you, Dante. Now I want you to tell me everything that happened the night Wyatt Donavan was killed. I’ll have the deputy bring in some coffee and we will get started.”

Three hours later after Sheriff DeHaven pushed, clarified and prodded, he had Dante sign the confession. He told Dante he would ask the judge for leniency because of his testimony, but he needs to cooperate. Dante wasn’t going to a cell, not yet. He was to remain free so as the senator would not become suspicious. Keep everything normal and don’t run or it will be worse for him.

DeHaven stepped out of the interrogation room and stood next to Deputy Willis.

“What the hell, boss? We have a senator who killed someone. How the hell are we going to bring Forbes in?”

“No one is above the law. Not in my county anyway.”

Over the next couple weeks, the testimony and evidence were presented to a grand jury. A warrant was issued for William Forbes.

Sheriff DeHaven and Deputy Willis were in the office when word came through of the warrant.

“I would never have suspected the senator,” said Willis. “What decided it for you, boss?”

“Well, it took a turn when I saw the shirt at the coroner’s lab. Both Josh Taylor and I had seen the senator wearing that shirt at a party we both were at. No mistaking it. It was also too big and too expensive for Dante Torrence to have. I figured Torrence was the patsy, so I pushed him hard and then showed him the shirt. It was easy after that.”

Dante had done what the sheriff told him and kept to his usual routine. When the senator called, he reported that everything was fine, that the sheriff was still working on the case, but it was going nowhere.

The senator felt comfortable. He would incriminate Dante if it came to that. He didn’t know his $200 blood-stained shirt was found wrapped around Wyatt Donavan’s bones or Dante’s testimony.

It was late afternoon and Dante was in the senator’s mansion with the air condition on. He turned on the big screen tv in the main room as he made his rounds.

At the same time Sheriff Tom DeHaven and Deputy Brian Willis arrived at the State Senate building in the capital. They walked up the long steps, into the building and down the polished corridor to the office of Senator William Forbes, who they knew to be in. No one paid them any attention. They walked into the senator’s ante room where his secretary greeted them.

“Good afternoon, officers. Is there something I can do for you?”

“We are here for the senator,” said Sheriff DeHaven.

With that the two officers went to the senator’s door, opened it and walked in, leaving the secretary bewildered.

Senator Forbes was on the phone and visibly annoyed at the officer’s arrival without an appointment and just barging in.

“Let me call you back, Alan, I have some visitors.”

“Hell, Tom. You just walk in without so much as an invite?” he said angrily.

“It is about the Wyatt Donavan case, senator. It couldn’t wait.”

“Good. I’m glad it finally got solved. I hope you arrested Dante Torrence.” The senator jutted out his chin. “I figured he did it. Lied about the last time he saw Donavan. I tried to give the boy a chance, but some ex-cons just can’t be reformed.”

Sheriff DeHaven pulled out his warrant.

“Senator William Forbes, you are under arrest for the murder of Wyatt Donavan.”

All hell broke loose.

The senator glowered at the sheriff.

“I’ll break you for this, DeHaven! You have the wrong guy.”

“You’ll get your day in court, senator. Please stand. You have the right to remain silent…”

Sheriff DeHaven and Deputy Willis escorted an angry, handcuffed Senator past shocked office workers and down the hall.

Dante came back into the main room, the tv catching his attention with breaking news.

The local channel was on, and a reporter was standing on the steps of the state capital building. The pool of reporters thought it would be just a normal day until County Sheriff Tom DeHaven and a deputy pulled up in their patrol cars. A half hour later they brought a belligerent William Forbes down the steps and into DeHavens SUV.

William Forbes yelled over to the reporters. “They can’t do this! I am a senator!”

Dante stared at the tv. He should be elated, but he knew he wasn’t home free. He helped cover up a murder. But for now he intended to stretch out on the senator’s bed and sleep as if there was no tomorrow. Tonight, at least, he had a cottage of his own.